Excavation in Buxton July/August 2015


What follows is a day-by-day account of the excavation, as it progressed. To download our dig director's (Winston Hollins) report of the dig as a whole, click on this link: Buxton Pavilion Gardens Excavation Report


Following the survey last year (2014) we were asked to investigate some of the anomalies we saw in  the survey results. Having obtained permission from the relevant authorities (Winston, our dig director, submitted a detailed proposal which was accepted) we scheduled two small excavations to be carried out on two successive weekends. The first commencing Friday 31st July, the second to commence a week later on the Saturday. Each time we will excavate a 2m by 2m square, one over each chosen anomaly.

Weekend 1 day 1: 31st July


The hope is that we will find traces of Roman occupation, but we are certainly not low enough in the layers yet. We have removed the turf from the first 2m square trench, and trowelled through layers of grit and then sand (presumably laid to aid drainage of the grass) followed by foundry waste. In the foundry waste are set some stones, possibly remnants of a formal garden which we believe was here at one time. The site has also been a bowling green, too - maybe the stones edged that? More will be revealed tomorrow, when we may find more stones... A few pictures of our progress below - click on any one for a larger view.

1st turf last turf
Dick is starting to remove the turf The final turf is lifted
spading trowelling small audience
Now we are spading off the layer immediately under the turf Under this layer was a layer of sand which we are now trowelling through, to a small interested audience
trowelling unde rsand layer trowelling larger audience
Removing the sand reveals a layer of what appears to be foundry waste, quite hard trowelling, with lots of bits of slag Our trowelling of this layer reveals some stones which seem to be set around a larger one. Many people watch us reveal these stones
end of trowelling for today trench put to bed
We have finished trowelling for the day. You can see the stones on the left of this view We have put the trench to bed for the night, behind a large fence with a gazebo over it. More tomorrow...

Weekend 1 day 2: 1st August


A day spent removing more of the foundry waste layer, revealing more stones, including, in one corner, a short length of a drain capped with chunks of limestone.

The gazebo stayed in place over the trench today, and was handy for keeping the rain off the trowellers! Finds? nothing of note: some bits of slag, some of it glassy, one or two sherds of victorian pottery - and one small plastic fork (how did that get there?) See some pictures below.

raining outside this foundry waste is hard
We are grateful for the gazebo even though it is a bit gloomy - it is raining outside We did have some sun, though. But this foundry waste is hard trowelling. You can see more stones emerging, but there is very little sign of the bottom of this layer yet
end of day 2
Just about the end of the day. This final photo was taken looking north. You can see diagonally across the SW corner a short length of drain, capped with pieces of limestone

Weekend 1 day 3: 2nd August


Today we removed more foundry waste to reveal building rubble beneath! From the occasional piece of pottery and pipe stem, we think this was possibly dumped around 1800. We decided to not open a second trench, but to continue with this one next weekend. Winston, our dig director, sums up our progress so far:

"After talking to the Derbyshire County Archaeologist, and the controllers of the Pavilion Gardens Buxton, it was decided that it was only possible to do a very small scale excavation. We decided that there were two areas of anomaly in the geophysics results which might produce some interesting results. The first anomaly appeared to have a series of thin parallel lines (area A). The second was a wide swirl of low resistant material (area B). It was thought that looking at these two areas might "ground proof" the geophysics and show us how much confidence we could have in the results. We started on 31st July by opening up a 2 by 2 metre square in the middle of the area A position, well away from any of the modern drainage. By Sunday 2nd August it was clear that area A was an interesting area but the lower features were very compressed. This meant that progress was quite slow despite the efforts of lots of willing members. So far area A has shown 3 distinct layers below the turf. The first layer is an even layer of black ash with some fragments of glass and pottery (mainly tile). It is believed that this provided the surface for the turf of the very fine bowling green that had been on this site. The second layer was of yellow sand with some gravel. This layer was very homogeneous and is thought to be a levelling layer, again for the bowling green. Beneath this the third layer is very mixed. It appears to be a dumped layer, some of which may be foundry waste, together with demolition rubble. This demolition rubble contained 3 types of roofing tile: pottery; slate and sandstone. It also had lots of "Buxton Lime", a mixture of lime and ground up boiler ash which produces a type of mortar. Perhaps the most interesting find so far is a small fragment of Victorian facetted glass, a part of the Victorian candle-lit fairy lights. The groundsmen showed us an almost complete one of these fairy lights that they had discovered when working on the beautiful pavilion gardens. We have decided that the last three days of the dig, 8th to 10th August, we will continue to work on area A and perhaps return to look at area B some other time. There have already been several hundred people interested in the dig and the accompanying display of the finds from our Roman dig and other recent digs. Here Dave and Maureen have been inundated with interested visitors."

Here are some photos from our last day this week:


Display Lunchtime
This is our display in the conservatory. Maureen is explaining finds from some of our previous digs to a group of visitors A view at lunchtime. Our excavation is in the white gazebo together with a display by the Friends of the Pavilion Gardens. Our display is in the conservatory in the distance, which is against the wall of the Opera House
Lunch shift Nearly end of day
The lunchtime trowelling shift Nearly finished for the day. The gazebo has been removed, taken away for safekeeping until we return next weekend. Looking roughly East.
Last photo looking N
This weekend's final photo, taken looking N.  In the section you can see the layers Winston refers to above. The white material in the SE corner is the "Buxton Lime" which he mentions. You can also see the drain in the SW corner.

Weekend 2 - Day 1: 8th August

We started the weekend by continuing to trowel through the very hard, compressed layer of foundry waste and demolition rubble. Today (Saturday the 8th) we washed and displayed the finds so far on a table beside the trench. This was very popular with visitors, who were able to see this demonstration of another archaeology process - as well as to handle some sherds of (largely Victorian) pottery found here.


As we were trowelling this layer, thick black clay started to emerge under it. We used an auger in one corner of the trench to try to get an idea of how thick this clay layer was.

Room for four Clay showing and augur core
We can get four trowellers in a 2mx2m trench! Looking NE Looking E now. Just about visible are the hole in the NW corner where we brought out, using an auger, the material on the newspaper; and some black clay showing through the surface to the north of where Anita and Chris are trowelling
Washed finds
Here Winston is explaining some of the finds which we have been washing
Auger core
This is a close-up of the material which we drew out using the auger. The higher level is to the right and is mostly black clay. To the left, sandier material below the clay. The scale is marked in alternate black and white sections each 10cms long. The overall length of the sample is about 65cms, of which the uppermost  ca 45 cms are the clay.

Weekend 2 - Day 2: 9th August

With only half a day of excavation after today, we decided that progress towards the layers under the clay would be quicker if we halved the area of the trench. So, working now only in the northern half, we trowelled the clay for the rest of the day but it was very heavy going and there was no dating evidence in it.  Today we also removed some stones from the drain in the SW corner to find a broken earthenware drain pipe, probably broken by heavy machinery on the surface when the modern drains were laid about 15 years ago.


Black clay in north half Broken drainpipe
Here is the black clay in the northern half of the trench. It has taken us all day to trowel out to the depth you can see in the newly-created baulk This is the broken drain in the SW corner. We have removed some stone so you can see the fractured pipe

Weekend 2 - Day 3: 10th August. Our last day

On the Monday, our final day, we decided that we would not be aable to trowel through the black clay in the time remaining to us.The auger core had shown there was sandy, loamy material below the clay, so we spaded the clay out to reveal what was beneath. This was a thin layer of dark loamy material on top of a much sandier layer. Grittier beneath this but all very easy to trowel, we made good progress, with a few sherds of pottery emerging. In one corner, we encountered some stones behind which appeared to be a small void. Maybe this was a drain, but we could see no drain pipe. This one seems different from the broken one we exposed yeterday. As the time to backfill the trench was nearly upon us, we dug a small sondage in that corner of the trench. The gritty material, maybe river silt, continued down, as did the stone feature in the corner. This may be a remnant of a garden feature, or some sort of drain or soakaway...but then we had to backfill.


I will add our dig director, Winston's closing remarks about the dig later, together with some pictures of the finds. In the meantime, I will repeat what we all felt about this dig: that it was an interesting project which gave many visitors to the Pavilion Gardens an insight into an archaeological excavation and gained the Society a lot of welcome publicity. Our thanks go to the two extremely helpful and accommodating groundsmen, Geoff Scott and Iain Wright. We would also like to thank the Friends of the Pavilion Gardens, who encouraged us to come to Buxton, helped to organise the excavation and allowed us to use their gazebo.


N baulk
Trowelling after removal of the black clay. This much-easier-to-trowel layer is sandy, with a few shards of 18C pottery Nearly time to backfill. You can clearly see all the layers we have worked through, in this section on the N baulk.
A stone feature is just visible in the bottom of the NW corner
Corner cavity Back filling
Here is a close-up of the stone feature in the NW corner, with our sondage cut down to reveal more of it. Ah well, unfortunately it is time to back fill!

Push it down
With the groundsman's tractor to press it down, the spoil nearly fits!
Would not know we had been there!
You'd hardly know we had been there



Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeological Society, 19th January 2016

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