A phased programme of heritage consultancy and archaeological works, including historic building recording, desk-based research, evaluation, excavation and monitoring and recording, is being undertaken by Oakford Archaeology since December 2016 at Halswell House, Goathurst, Somerset for Thread Architects on behalf of Mr Edward Strachan. The archaeological consultancy and fieldwork programme is part of an extensive programme of conservation works being undertaken with the aim of restoring the Grade I Listed house, outbuildings and historic structures within the wider Grade II Listed pleasure grounds and parkland.
Halswell House has previously been the subject of limited archaeological work by different archaeological contractors. The first in September 2014 focussed on outbuildings to the south of the main complex, while the second in July 2015 concentrated on the main ranges. The latter report was undertaken without the benefit of invasive works into the fabric of the building, and the interpretation of the historic development of the house was therefore based upon the fabric visible at the time, together with documentary research and parallels drawn with other examples of vernacular buildings in the area.
Since December 2016 the removal of small areas of modern plasterboard, partitions and stud walls for the purpose of identifying areas of dry and wet rot has permitted closer inspection of the historic fabric of the house and allowed the identification of areas that contain original features and areas where these have been replaced. These areas and relationships have not previously been visible. Tantalising new evidence is emerging that suggests that the remains of an earlier, perhaps late Elizabethan or early Jacobean structure, may be preserved within the fabric of the later Baroque wing. New evidence has also been recovered from the east elevation of the medieval south range, suggesting the presence of a now lost medieval range.
The work between May 2017 and March 2018 has focussed on the south garden and an outbuilding previously investigated in 2014. Extensive building recording and limited excavations within the building have suggested the presence of a late medieval structure; extensively rebuilt in brick in the mid-late 17th century; the building may have been used as a brew house at this time. Converted to a dairy in the mid-18th century the building was converted to servant’s accommodation in the 19th century.
Excavations in the south garden have shown that the first identifiable garden was laid out in the late 17th century. No planting beds or pits were identified, and it is likely that this was the site of the early kitchen garden. The south garden was subsequently converted to a formal garden in the 19th century when the walled kitchen garden to the northeast of the main house was built.