The South Midlands branch of the Council for British Archaeology held a conference entitled Castles of the South Midlands: Recent Research at the Town Hall, Towcester on Saturday 25th April. Three HiFARS committee members attended.
Steve Capel-Davies, Chairman of the Wallingford Historical and Archaeological Society (TWHAS), gave the first talk, which was entitled Wallingford: a Power in the Land. Wallingford was a large, fortified town, or burh, built by King Alfred, and was comparable in size to his capital, Winchester. In 1066, Wallingford was a vital Thames crossing point for William the Conqueror, who had a massive castle built here. It became one of the largest castles in the country, with a square keep, three baileys and ramparts to the north, west and south. Following a three year pilot study, TWHAS was awarded funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Board UK for a major three year programme involving detailed documentary, geophysical and topographical surveys which, together with extensive garden test-pitting, has provided a detailed understanding of the Saxon origins, Norman remodelling and Medieval development of Wallingford.
The second talk was a joint presentation from Dr Steve Ashby and Dr Aleks McClain of the University of York on the Torpel Manor Archaeological Research Project. Torpel Manor Field is a Scheduled Ancient Monument near Helpston, in the soke of Peterborough, which contains a series of medieval and later earthworks. Very little archaeological work has been done on the site, and the aim of this project was to develop a greater understanding of its character, context and development. Detailed archival and earthwork surveys, followed by magnetometry and resistivity surveys, has shown evidence of a ringwork construction, surrounded by earthworks that suggest further development throughout the medieval period. A large number of late- to post-medieval artefacts have been found by local residents and this has helped with the interpretation of the site.
After lunch and a short tour of Towcester, Joe Abrams, Regional Manager of Headland Archaeology South & East gave a talk about Lutons’ two medieval castles. The earliest castle was a motte and bailey type, built by Robert de Waurdari in 1139; this was demolished in 1154. The second castle, which Headland have been excavating, was built by Fulk de Breaute, Anglo-Norman knight and favourite of King John, between 1216 and 1221. His home in London was called Fulks Hall, later Fox Hall, then Vauxhall, the name taken by the motor company based in Luton. Fulks’ heraldic emblem, the griffin, is still used as the Vauxhall badge. Fulk made many enemies in England, and exiled to France, where he was allegedly poisoned in 1226.
Andrew Norton, Regional Manager of Wessex Archaeology North, gave an interesting talk on Oxford castle, which was originally a fortified burh, probably built in the tenth century, to defend against the Vikings. A wooden rampart with a ditch surrounded most of the present-day centre of Oxford; stone walls were added later. Although the positions of the north, south and east gates have been known for some time, the position of the west gate was uncertain. It was probably destroyed when the Normans arrived and built a castle on the west side of the town.
The final talk of the day was entitled In search of Northampton Castle by Andy Chapman, Senior Project Manager at MOLA Northampton. Andy gave a brief history of the castle from when it was built in the late eleventh century to its demolition in the nineteenth century, to make way for a railway station. Excavations prior to the building of a new, larger station revealed evidence of the sites’ Saxon, medieval and Victorian past.