After four weeks of fun, frivolity and fascinating finds, the first series of Pub Dig series has come to an end. Their final foray took us to Banbury, today an attractive market town – but during the English Civil War this Parliamentarian stronghold was the site of some of the bloodiest fighting of the whole conflict, which also flattened the Medieval town. Banbury is notoriously lacking in archaeology, we are told, but the Pub Dig team have never yet passed up a challenge.
This week the team are digging beneath Ye Olde Reine Deer Inn, the only Civil War-era building still standing in Banbury and, according to legend, Oliver Cromwell’s headquarters during the fighting here. The backdrop of the Civil War prompts some good-humoured stereotyping, with Paul Blinkhorn being labelled an ‘archetypal roundhead’ and curly-haired Catholic Rory Mcgrath cheerfully self-identifying as a Cavalier.
Speaking of cavalier attitudes, while this playful banter has become characteristic of the series, so too has a strange lack of planning. Once again the team are taken by surprise by cables and pipes, which surely a spot of desk-based research pre-digging would have warned them about. This might all be for dramatic purposes, of course, but if not it must be rather inconvenient when time is so short. This series has otherwise been an admirably accurate reflection of what excavating is like, and having worked as a researcher in archaeological TV myself, this reviewer wonders who was responsible for checking plans of the site…
The team refuse to be deterred by this setback, however. ‘You have to be zen about these things,’ Paul muses. And admittedly some of their mishaps do add to the rollicking boys-own adventure feel that makes this programme so entertaining – not least when they accidentally almost break into a bank vault. I won’t spoil the story by telling any more, but suffice to say the staff of Nationwide are rather less ‘zen’ about this detour than the archaeologists.
Bit by bit, the story of 17th-century Banbury emerges as the team piece together evidence of defences and burnt stone. In terms of narrative this is the most dramatic of the four episodes, veering from apparent disaster to some fantastic – and very unexpected – discoveries. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this series has been watching the reactions of the local archaeologists to what has been found. It really brings home how important the information micro-digs like these uncover can be to understanding the bigger picture. At the start of this episode a Banbury archaeologist enthuses about his passion for the town’s past, and the wondering look on his face as he surveys the trenches is rather heartwarming.
The archaeology in this episode provides a lot of mystery and a rapidly-changing story – this is probably the most satisfying to watch of all four episodes. Incredibly, the biggest find of all – and it’s a real game-changer – turns out to be hidden in plain sight. What a brilliant site.
This has been a rip-roaring series, and the fun continues in the final episode with a matchlock musket demonstration from the Sealed Knot. There are also blokey jokes galore about the local tipple, ‘Cock Ale’, and an unfortunately-named local street which has been rechristened as the rather demure ‘Parsons St’.
To see our interview with Paul Blinkhorn and for more information on the four pubs featured in the series, click here.
Reviews of previous episodes:
Episode 1: Chatham, Kent – hunting Elizabeth I’s lost dockyard, once home to the fleet that defeated the Spanish Armada.
Episode 2: Alfriston, East Sussex – chasing smugglers from the notorious ‘Alfriston Gang’.
Episode 3: St Albans, Herts – digging for Romans and Medieval pilgrims.