Trial Dig - June 2012
In 2012, an archaeological evaluation was undertaken as part of the development stage of the HLF funding application. Over 40 volunteers, together with youth groups and local school groups carried out the investigations on site, under the supervision and direction of AOC Archaeology. The Friends of Eastcote House Gardens provided public tours and talks to the schools and youth groups. AOC Archaeology also conducted two weekends of training workshops, along with a well attended open day at the end of the excavations, which attracted over 250 visitors.
Four trenches were excavated: three to find the outer walls of Eastcote house with a fourth trench located in the area of the coach house. Trench 1 uncovered the foundations of the west and south walls of Eastcote House and also part of a basement or cellar of the house. Trench 2 revealed the front wall of the building. Trench 3 revealed part of a vaulted cellar as well as the steps leading down to the cellar. Trench 4 uncovered two parallel wall foundations made of brick that dates to the 16th or early 17th centuries. These may be part of the historic coach house.
Most of the finds related to the 18th century house, although a few pottery fragments date to the 12th century.
As a result of these findings, the Heritage Lottery Fund and London Borough of Hillingdon decided to support community investigations for the years 2014 - 2017 inclusive.
Year 1 - June/July 2014
Three trenches were opened. The main trench was on the site of Eastcote House, with smaller ones exploring the ha-ha and the site of the former Coach House.
The ha-ha was dated to some time after 1780, both on the evidence of finds and the type of construction used. It appears to have been both a decorative feature and a drainage channel and seems originally to have been about two metres wide and one-and-a-half metres deep.
The ha-ha seems to have silted up during the 19th century. Later still, a glazed ceramic drainage pipe was inserted in the ditch.
The Coach House trench revealed a four-foot square brick floor with a very worn threshold and a fireplace, all probably dating from the 17th century. It seems to have been a forge. There was a central brick area with some burnt bricks at the rear, possibly the site of the furnace, and at the opposite side a pit full of clinker, where the anvil could have been installed. This area will be the site of the new building housing the Tea Rooms; the brick structure is too fragile to move, so will be lost.
The main trench uncovered large parts of the west end of the foundations of Eastcote House. The full width of 13.2 metres was excavated, but not the full length. The foundations used bricks dated to the 16th century, but it appears that the house was extended to the west in the 18th century.
Beneath the house, two large inter-connecting cellars were uncovered; also a rather mysterious underground room just six feet square, with small arched sconces in three of its walls, marked with soot from candles.
These cellars appear to be part of the original Tudor house, presumably built at the same time as the Stables. Timber in the roof of this building has been dated to 1595.
But the most exciting discovery was in the closing stages of the dig, when a small area of flint rubble flooring was found below the Tudor level and at a different angle. Could this be the earlier house, Hopkyttes, mentioned as being here in 1494? These foundations will be fully explored in 2015.
Members of the community between the ages of 7 to 70+ took part in this project. Members of FEHG formed the nucleus of the 'diggers' and finds washing. But over 500 young people - from eight different schools, three uniformed groups and the Challenge Network - also attended the dig.
Year 2 - June/July 2015
This year, trenches were opened to concentrate on two main areas. One was looking for the east end of Eastcote House and the medieval foundations we discovered last year. The other looked at the area to the north of the house.
We were able to define a door, one external corner, and the base of a chimney stack that was inserted into the building, possibly in the 15th century. Pottery found nearby dates from 1150-1250, so this could put the origins of Hopkyttes to the 13th century. It seems that at least half of the foundations were cut away when the cellars of Eastcote House were built. These cellars were excavated into clay, and the upcast clay dumped over the former landscape to the north of the house. This formed a level terrace.
In the first trench, the remains of Eastcote House were uncovered. As in Year 1, we found brickwork foundations of the outside walls as well as drains; also a vaulted cellar, which was considered too dangerous to investigate further. Finds included window glass, tiles, and pottery from the Tudor and Medieval periods. And beneath this, at an angle, the medieval property called Hopkyttes was uncovered.
In this area, we found a large dump of mixed medieval and Tudor period finds, with pieces of broken pottery including cooking pots, storage jars and tableware; also a couple of broken knives, tiles from a fireplace, and evidence of residents’ dinners, including oysters, lamb, mutton and beef.
On the very last day, several feet below the modern ground level, we uncovered part of a man-made circular ditch. The oldest pottery found may be 12th or 13th century in date. We also found flint tools, a broken axe, a scraper and a fishing spearhead. All of this seems to indicate that there may even have been prehistoric occupation of the site.
So there are plenty of loose ends to follow up in our excavations in Year 3.
Year 3 - June/July 2016
This year, four trenches were opened up: two to examine the outbuildings attached to Eastcote House; one to further examine the landscaped ground to the north of the House; and one to investigate a possible building in the meadow revealed in an earlier geophysics survey.
Trench 11: We were looking for the remains of the service areas of the demolished Eastcote House, for example scullery, kitchen and pantry. The foundations show different periods of construction, with at least three, maybe four phases, suggesting that repairs and alterations were being carried out over several centuries. These are the only parts of the range of outbuildings that stood until the1960s; other parts are likely to exist beneath the lawns and paved areas between this trench and the new café.
Trench 12: This trench is located across the side of Eastcote House, where the service buildings joined it. We have found a basement, perhaps a food store, with window openings in one wall and tons of rubble from the demolition. So much rubble, in fact, that it would have been dangerous to dig any deeper. It is dominated by the remains of a basement under the service range of Eastcote House, so we are thinking that it could have been a cold store. There was not much in the way of architectural remains here, but this was the service rooms, not the rich part.
Trench 13: Our previous excavations showed that when Eastcote House was built in the 17th century, the ground was made level, and the old land surface towards the river was buried under all the soils that were scraped off. So, we removed that to find the earlier horizons.
A large ditch was excavated, dating to the 13th-14th centuries and gradually filled up until the 16th or 17th centuries. Whether this is a drainage channel, a leat to a mill, a moat, a defensive measure, or a fashionable addition to the landscape is yet to be proved. Household debris including broken jugs, jars and cooking pots was discarded in the ditch, as well as food remains such as cattle bones, sheep bones and oyster shells. The ditch was finally filled in with rubble of brick, tile and flint, which is likely to be from the demolition of ‘Hopkyttes’.
Trench 14: Our geophysics survey from 2012 showed some signals in a field near the dovecote, so we have excavated a trench to find out what that signals represented. The trench revealed a sturdy foundation of brick and rammed chalk, with an adjacent area of brick. South of this were rows of flint debris, suggesting a fallen wall. The function of the building is not yet known, but amongst the rubble were clinker, slag and a horseshoe, so one possibility is that it is a forge or smithy, possibly from the 16th century.
It is intended to have a larger trench to examine in this in 2017.
Year 4 - June/July 2017
Last year, one of our trenches in the meadow revealed the remains of a building that seems to have been built with flint walls, but we could not prove when it was built nor what it was for, so this year our trench was ten times bigger!
Our diggers revealed a rectangular building with low flint walls with post-holes for a timber frame. It dated from the middle ages and was presumably related to the pre-Tudor house Hopkyttes. The roof must have been tiled, as a lot of tile debris was found on the floor. The building was divided into two, with a cobbled floor at one end and a beaten earth floor at the other. It must have been either an agricultural building or a blacksmiths. The finds include iron objects including horseshoes, and lot of clinker and slag, so there may have been a forge nearby, although none was found.
The finds dated from the 13th to the 19th centuries (plus a 10p coin dated 1992!). We think it must have been demolished before Eastcote House was built in the late 16th century, but may have been a visible ruin or earthwork for some decades.
A separate trench revealed a garden feature, perhaps a raised circular bed, near the front of the house. It is not marked on any maps, nor recorded in any photographs. But it was obviously a major feature and had well-constructed drainage around it. Much of the excavation of this trench was undertaken by pupils from Coteford Junior School.
As usual, the final Sunday of the dig was an Open Day, with tours of the site and with both the trenches and the finds on show to the public.
This was the final year of the digs. The entire excavation will be published by AOC Archaeology.
Further details are to form part of the Friends publication 'Eastcote House Uncovered: Including Long Meadow', scheduled for issue in Spring 2020.