The Plot Thickens at Water’s Clough

Our delicious mystery site at Water’s Clough is keeping us busy!

So far we’ve completed three more test-pitting days answering questions from our investigations last year. You’ll remember, and see previous posts, that by the end of 2018 we had revealed the remains of a very, very large building, interpreted now as a 13th century monastic grange.

Measuring 74 metres long and comprising an east and west range of similar proportions flanking a central range on a north-south axis, the building had clear evidence for internal rooms and rather strange projecting chambers at each corner. The walls, where they survived, were uniformly built of grit-stone set in a distinctive orange mortar. But in many places the stonework had been reclaimed for building elsewhere, leaving just the foundation trenches to show where walls had been.

A stone track running tight up against the southern edge of the building contained two sherds of 13th/14th century pottery. They were found in a cart rut on the track which seems to have been built for carts to remove stone from the dismantled walls. Remarkably, no fragments of roof tiles, architectural pieces, flooring or even pottery have come from the building interior which suggests either very thorough dismantling or that it was never finished. Here is the plan from last year:


The 2019 investigations by the Friends are seeking to ‘fill in the gaps’ from last year’s work. We aim to further our understanding of the layout and form of the building, examine the area to the north, and hopefully get some more artefacts to help with dating.

Here’s a summary, with photos, of the work carried out over the three investigative days this year.

Sunday 12th May 

And what a lovely sunny welcome at the site for our first day of digging in 2019!

As usual we excavated a mixture of one metre square test pits and small trenches which could be completed in one day. We set out to do 4 separate days of excavations, working our way across the building from west to east.

So this day was spent in the western range area.


The team get cracking.


Cliff and Jane cleaning up the fully exposed south west corner project chamber, which is the same size as the one revealed last year at the south-east corner of the building. At 1.7m by 2.4m internal size it’s a small room, perhaps a monk’s cell? You can see here where one wall foundation has been completely removed/recycled/robbed out but the other three sides retain the wall foundation.

We also revealed the north west corner projecting chamber shown below. This turned out to be considerably longer than the one in the opposite, south west corner, but the same width. Why? A lot of head scratching over this! Mainly by Sonia, Rachael and Nora, who are cleaning up the wall.


And above right Nick and Gill followed the line of the stone track outside the southern wall and found that it terminates exactly opposite the western end wall of the building – the photo shows orange sandstone and grit-stone track metalling dying away on the left to reveal the natural clay. This proves that the track was constructed for the purpose of dismantling the building.

Another sherd of medieval pottery, below, came from the track – a body sherd of lead glazed pottery.


The find above excited a lot of interest! Closer inspection however suggests it is a fragment of a clay pigeon.

Below is Steve happily digging out an old depression and spoil mound to the north of the building. This is of unknown function but you can see a stone deposit coming to light.


And here’s Margaret digging a negative feature revealed by geophys – sadly this turned out to be a field drain.

Below Nora is pleased with her walls at the NW corner of the Western range, although there’s some later concrete there as well.


End of the day and time for team photo!


Sunday 9th June.

Not such a nice day today – overcast and one heavy shower that stopped play for half an hour early afternoon. A lot rain overnight as well making conditions rather squidgy to start with!

We focused on the central range this time, although Mike and Steve had unfinished business with the depression just north of the western range.

This is it after excavation and widening out. We seem to have a stone deposit which could be an early track/road – it’s certainly quite deep down and sealed under a mixed clay deposit. No finds and this might be one to come back to in the future.


Above, the rest of the team start investigations on the central range

From previous work we know that there is a central corridor in the central range. It runs up to what appears to be an entrance, however there is a low stone wall blocking the ‘entrance’ so we wanted to work out what was happening here. Carol and Anne working on the north ‘entrance’ while Cliff and Mike look on




Cleaned up and with a rubble deposit removed – sadly no finds in this nor on the floor sealed underneath. Natural clay found under the rubble and two sondages exposed the depth of the wall foundation in the corners. The wall at the top blocks the corridor and ‘entrance’ but the wall appears to be integral with the side wall on the right (although the one to the left butts up against it) so has this all been rebuilt or was there never an entrance here? Within the wall construction are a couple of re-used stones with evidence for tool dressing so we could be looking at a rebuilding phase here, although the same orange mortar seen elsewhere has been used. This area has the best preserved and only visible walls, up to a metre high, and perhaps a small structure survived here long after the rest of the building was dismantled.

   We also followed the corridor walls until they met the narrow corridor running west to east across the middle part of the central range. We discovered that the corridor carries on to the south beyond this corridor, so effectively the central range is divided into four areas


Above you see projecting from the north east corner of the central range another of our odd little chambers. We found the corner of this which can be seen in the test pit on the left with the photographic scale. The north wall for this chamber has been ‘robbed out’ and can be traced as the linear depression on the right running up to the central range.


Dave and Phil undertake a geophysical survey over the site of a possible rectangular enclosure lying next to the Roman road and identified from last year’s drone photography

The cattle were particularly curious about the survey techniques, especially this young bullock photo bombing this picture!


Saturday 6th July.

A lovely day after early rain, which cleared just after we arrived!

This time we concentrated on the eastern range, in particular the chamber projecting from the north east corner, but also revisited the room beside the central range


Below are Sonia and Anne revealing yet another wall. This one subdivides the chamber projecting from the north west side of the central range, creating very small rooms which are a bit of a mystery.


This photo above right nicely shows the neat cut of the foundation trench and its fill.  The fill is comprised of clumps of mortar which were chipped off the stone when it was reclaimed, together with pieces of discarded stone that were not worth taking away. They were then neatly laid and packed in mortar suggesting a deliberate infill and perhaps represents a second phase of construction, with the discarded material being used as a foundation for a later structure.



Margaret and Carol look very pleased with their handiwork. And why not! The eastern wall of the central range runs from left to right and is joined by a wall in the foreground which is for the projecting chamber, but yet another new wall has been revealed on the far side within the central chamber. Looks like further investigation will be required on this.

And further investigation was undertaken today in this central section revealing the wall in the middle distance joining with the central corridor wall.


Mark and Steve are working on revealing the walls of the chamber projecting from the north-east corner of the eastern range. Cliff and Alan are working on the corresponding walls in the background. And later Alan cleans up the north east corner which is overlain by a dump of stone left on site rather than carted away.

On the left the projecting chamber’s walls are clearly revealed, now just discarded stones and orange mortar left in the foundation trenches for the former walls.The room was larger than the corresponding one on the south-east corner, being 1.9 metres wide and 2.9 metres long.. The photo above right show the north east (left) and north west (right) corners of the projecting chamber.


Above, one of the internal rooms’ foundation trench, beautifully revealed by Nick and Gill. In the foreground it meets the eastern wall of the central range with the corridor wall just visible on the near side.


Nora and John working on proving the line and character of the north wall of the east range. And here it is on the right..

Mike was set the task of investigating the earthwork bank just north of the central range overlooking Water’s Clough. Below you can see that it was found to be made of sods of clay and turf, revetted with stones. However, a deep cut feature filled with grey sandy silt was found on the inside of the bank. Could this be a ditch or hollow way? We will be returning to this feature next time. And attempting to find out! 

Below, another area of archaeological interest at Waters Clough is how the Roman highway crossed the deep clough. A future project will be to look for evidence of bridge abutments. First of all it is hoped that geophysics, courtesy of Phil and Jane, will be able to trace the road line up to the edge of the clough. Some of that we managed to establish today, you can see the Roman Road clearly moving towards the edge, which then shows high resistance all the way along the area of geophys. To be continued!





A well-earned lunch break!

Till next time, best wishes from all the Friends at Castleshaw Roman Forts, with grateful thanks to all the wonderful diggers, to Norman for his motivation and expertise, also to Norman for most of the words and photos here, to Phil and Jane for additions, and also to Phil for ably masterminding the geophysical surveys.


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