Excavations at Halswell House, Somerset

Here’s a summary of  the archaeological features and exciting bone and pottery assemblages recently excavated by our archaeological team at Halswell House, Somerset. Oakford Archaeology have been heritage consultants at Halswell House, Goathurst, Somerset since December 2016.

Archaeological excavations during the spring of 2019 in the Knot Garden at Halswell House, Somerset revealed a substantial pit a short distance in front of the east entrance into the Knot House.

Post-excavation showing modern truncation, Halswell House, Somerset

Post-excavation photograph of pit showing level of modern truncation.

The work recovered a substantial assemblage of animal bone, incl. cow, sheep, pig, rabbit, fowl and fish, and a small assemblage of 17th century pottery. The latter included several sherds from imported salt-glazed stoneware jugs (also known as Bartmann jugs) from Frechen, Germany, with its distinctive mottled glaze.

Bartmann jug showing decorative medallion, Somerset

Bartmann jug showing decorative medallion.

In addition, a single sherd of Westerwald pottery (another German import), was also recovered. More local wares included at least half a North Devon sgraffito dish, several substantial sherds from a North Devon slipware bowl or dish, and a number of more local South Somerset redware vessels, including half a pot and the remains of at least two large bowls.

North Devon sgraffito dish, Excavations at Halswell House, Somerset

Remnant of a North Devon sgraffito dish.

The subsequent complete excavation of this feature in early 2020 recovered several sherds from a large Bartmann jug, as well as two sherds of what may be Wan Li blue-and-white porcelain.

Photograph of the possible Wan Li blue-and-white porcelain, Somerset

Possible Wan Li blue-and-white porcelain.

The importance of this feature is that it was capped by the slate drainage layer that was laid down to help the drainage of a kitchen garden in the late 1680’s, implying everything found beneath is older still. The fact that the slate layer inside the pit was as much as 600mm lower suggests that a large amount of organic material was deposited within the pit at one point, but has long since decayed, leading to the slumping of the overlying deposits.

Section through pit, archaeological excavation at Halswell House, Somerset

Section through pit

The presence of this interesting pottery collection and the presence of a substantial animal bone assemblage pre-dating the extensive late 17th century works in the Knot Garden is extremely exciting. We have for the first time recovered a substantial animal bone assemblage which will provide us with a brief glimpse of the diet and economy of the estate, while the pottery provides an insight into the material life of the house at this period.