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New excavation area for 2019!

Bookings are now being taken for 2019 – season dates are 30th June – 9th August - for courses and bookings please follow the link

Saggy Horse Field – New excavation area for 2019 season

Exciting times ahead! In addition to the ongoing work in Trench 23 (the malting complex), we are opening a new area of excavation for the 2019 dig season in Saggy Horse Field. We thought it would be a good idea to give you some background information on why we have chosen this area, and what we are hoping to find.

So, where is Saggy Horse Field? – Saggy Horse Field lies in the western half of the village roughly between the sites of the Anglo-Saxon village, centred near Boneyard, and that of the Post-Conquest medieval village around West Hall and the Church. The field lies immediately to the south of the site of the medieval manor owned by the Norwich Cathedral Priory and was once part of their lands. The 1630 Estate Map indicates that the present field was once two separate plots, the southern portion being part of a field known as ‘Grasse Croft’. It was therefore probably pastureland during the medieval period.

Why is it called Saggy Horse Field? – The field was named after a very saggy-backed horse called Percy who used to live in the field. The field’s real name, ‘the eastern portion of West Hall Long Meadow’, was thought to be too long and confusing for recording purposes so the project renamed it several years ago.

Why here? - The field lies between two distinct areas under investigation and has been considered of archaeological interest by the project for several years. To the east of the study-area we have the previously-excavated cemetery in Boneyard and a settlement area in Chalk Pit Field – both Middle to Late Saxon in date. And we have the extensive malting complex in Trench 23. In addition, excavations have been undertaken in the heart of the medieval settlement, directly north of the study-area, at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Ladywell Field, and West Hall house and its gardens.

At some point during the 11th century, there appears to be a definite shift in settlement at Sedgeford; from the south to the north of the River Heacham. It is not known whether this movement was driven by political or environmental factors, or a combination of both. This movement also coincided with significant management of the river. A causeway was created across the river and there were four watermills on the estate of Sedgeford, according to the Domesday Book. In the medieval period the village is known to have been prosperous and a market was established in AD 1225. The neighbouring villages of Docking and Fring also obtained market charters in AD 1250 and AD 1372 respectively. All three were predominantly agricultural settlements making use of the surrounding fields for barley and malt production, but particularly for sheep rearing. The development of St. Mary the Virgin Church, the oldest surviving building in Sedgeford, commences at the time of the settlement shifting across the river.

For this reason, Saggy Horse Field offers the potential to study the transition of the Sedgeford settlement within the landscape and from the Anglo-Saxon to medieval periods.

So what work has already been done? - In 2002, an electrical resistivity survey was undertaken. This revealed two contrasting areas of resistivity. Predictably, the higher, dryer ground running across the southern part of the field had a much higher resistivity than the damper, low ground to the north, which corresponds with the river floodplain. Nevertheless, within these distinct areas, geophysical anomalies could still be distinguished. On the higher ground several small areas of low resistance, which could represent pits, were recorded, as well as a very large amorphous positive anomaly - possibly a large pit, a natural geological feature or a spring (as it is sited along the valley spring-line). The area of low resistance in the northern part of the field revealed fewer anomalies. A single linear feature ran approximately east to west across the field following the edge of the floodplain where the land rises to the south. The anomaly gets wider towards its eastern and western extents, giving the northern edge of the feature a curved appearance. This corresponds with a curvilinear cropmark recorded by the National Mapping Programme.

Following this, in the summer of 2003, two evaluation trenches were opened up. Trench 1 was a rectangular trench measuring 7m x 5m and was sited in the south-west corner of the field within the boundaries of ‘Grasse Croft’. Thick layers of undisturbed topsoil and subsoil suggested that this part of the field had been pasture for many centuries. There was sealed evidence of Anglo-Saxon activity below this. A layer of soil that contained animal bone and pottery of late Anglo-Saxon date covered the northern part of the trench. Cut into this layer, also containing late Saxon pottery, were several small gullies running parallel to each other down the slope of the site. Also associated with this phase of activity was a small shallow pit, a single posthole and a possible chalk postpad, likely relating in some way to settlement activity. There was also a phase of prehistoric activity – a possible boundary ditch running east to west across the trench that had been recut once it had silted up. This contained fragments of Iron Age pottery as well as animal bone and the occasional fragment of worked-flint tool.

The second trench measured 1.6m x 20m running north to south across the western portion of the large east-west ditch indicated on the resistivity survey. This ditch had been recut at least 14 times and, in the medieval period, may have been a crucial part of the water-management system in the valley, possibly a canal. Unlike trench 1, Anglo Saxon activity was sparser, possibly due to its marginal position lower down the valley site and in the river flood plain. Only one domestic rubbish pit was recorded containing large quantities of mussel shell, butchered animal bone and late Anglo-Saxon pottery. This waste probably originated from the activity discovered on the drier land discovered upslope in Trench 1. Also found was a large ditch of late Iron Age date running north to south down the length of Trench 2, within which was found substantial pottery and domestic waste. This was cut into an earlier ditch which ran east to west across the trench. Twenty-three postholes and five stakeholes were also excavated within this trench, and, although no dating evidence was found, their association with the ditches suggests they were Iron Age or earlier.

Trench 2 looking south (2003)

Trench 2 looking north (2003)

Trench 2 (2003)

Several years then passed as the focus of excavation activities was on the settlement area and malting complex in Chalkpit Field. But in August 2017 we were given the opportunity to undertake a magnetometry survey (using a fluxgate gradiometer) in Saggy Horse Field. The results indicated several anomalies normally associated with postholes. In addition, there were at least two, possibly more, postholes in a circular array. This pattern is consistent with an Iron Age structure or building. In addition, there is a ‘rectangle’ feature of postholes; possibly another building. A large ditch orientated east-west in the southern sector is associated with the steep slope. This is also visible to the naked eye and may be associated with water-management. There also appears to be a ditch or track, orientated southwest-northeast through the edge of the ring of postholes.

Trench 24 Horseshoe

Trench 24 Victorian Pipe

Rebecca excavating in Testpit 1 (2018)

For two weeks in 2018, using a very small workforce, two further evaluation trenches were opened. One over an anomaly shown on the magnetometry survey and the other over a linear feature shown on the magnetometry. Even though the first trench was excavated to 2m in depth nothing was found to explain this anomaly. In the second, at little depth a broken Victorian drainage pipe, and a horse shoe were located. Alas we really didn’t have enough people to make further significant progress on the site.

So what is the plan for 2019? - We have reviewed the geophys results alongside other investigative work carried out by the medieval team during the 2018 season. The plan is to initially open an area of 2m x 10m, taking in the east-west ditch/water management feature, and to gain a full stratigraphy of the area. The excavation will be open for the full 6 weeks of the season, and we are looking for your assistance to help us to understand the transition of the Anglo-Saxon settlement in Chalkpit Field to that of the Post-Conquest medieval village around West Hall and the Church.

So why not come and join us in helping to add another piece to the puzzle that is Sedgeford! Further details about the project and information about bookings for the 2019 season can be found here


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