A community excavation at Fulham Palace has revealed a wealth of post-medieval finds, including this stoneware drinking jug from the 16th-17th century. (Image: Fulham Palace Trust/C Hilts)
The CA editorial team loves visiting excavations for the magazine (have notebook, will travel!), but it is a rare treat to go to see a dig in our neighbourhood. Along the river from us, the Fulham Palace community archaeology project has been searching for traces of the former residence of the Bishop of London.
Acquired in c.704, Fulham Palace was the Bishop’s country home until the 20th century, and his main dwelling place until the 1970s. Its extant buildings range in date from the 15th to 21th centuries, but excavations within its grounds have yielded artefacts spanning the Mesolithic period to the present day, including possible hints of a nearby Roman villa, and traces of the palace’s previous medieval incarnation.
The latest undertaking – part of the ‘Discovering the Bishop of London’s Palace at Fulham’ restoration project, funded by the HLF and community crowdfunding – was led by Community Archaeologist Alexis Haslam, working together with professional archaeologists, students, and local volunteers. They aimed to locate the palace’s Tudor dovecote, which was demolished in the 1760s, and while the footprint of this structure remained elusive, the team did uncover a wealth of finds from the site’s 16th-17th-century use.
One trench in particular yielded large quantities of high-quality post-medieval building materials, including Tudor brick, and higher-status elements like finely moulded plaster and carved faces that may have once adorned long-demolished palace buildings. The same trench also contained a ditch that was thick with Elizabethan-era refuse, from intact pottery to butchered animal bones, shedding vivid life on the site’s occupation at this time. Among the star finds singled out by the team was a near-complete stoneware drinking jug dating from the late 1500s or early 1600s and, more unusually, the fully articulated skeleton of a dog whose body had been carefully placed in a pit – possibly the grave of a loved pet.
The project also recovered a small gaming die, an appropriate find as from the Elizabethan period onwards loaded dice were known as ‘Fulhams’ – perhaps the area was particularly notorious for gambling cheats. For more information on the palace and the dig, see www.fulhampalace.org.
This article will appear in CA 334.