Oswestry & Border History & Archaeology Group OBHAG
Oswestry Castle Research Project
Oswestry Castle Precis
In September 2015 Archaeologists spent two weeks excavating part of Oswestry castle. Not much appears to remain today but this was an important and early Norman castle. It was mentioned in the Domesday book and therefore must predate 1086. A previous small scale Archaeological excavation did suggest the possibility that much more remains under the present day turf surface than was previously thought.
The 2015 excavation consisted of a large trench measuring 10 by 4 metres along the base of two standing walls on the North side of the castle mound. The reason for choosing this spot was to determine if these two standing walls were part of the original castle structure and, if so, how much of them remained below ground. There was also a small scale excavation of the Northern side of these walls.
It was quickly discovered that the irregular looking wall is part of the castle wall. It looks irregular because it is constructed of boulders and smaller stones embedded in lime mortar and is a actually a wall core. The outer ‘facing’ stones have been removed, possibly in the 17th century, to build some of the older buildings in the town centre. The more regular wall was proved to be modern reconstruction and not part of the castle at all.
Beneath the turf was a layer of soil 20cm thick which contained modern rubbish such as bottle tops, broken glass, pottery and modern coins. This was probably brought in from elsewhere to level the site and to help establish the turf. Below this was a 1m deep layer consisting of numerous smooth stones, some up to football size, sandstone chippings and smaller pieces mixed in a very pale sandy soil. Archaeologists call this a demolition layer and it probably represents the unwanted parts of the castle walls left behind after the more valuable dressed stone was removed.
Once these layers were removed the castle wall below the ‘wall core’ seemed to be largely intact. This was an exciting discovery because it suggests there is actually a considerable amount of the castle left under the surface. For safety reasons the trench could not be any deeper than 1.2m, but it did not reach the bottom of the wall – there is clearly more to find.
A small excavation was also undertaken of the North (outer) side of this wall. This determined that the wall was 2.4m thick at his point and so is a substantial structure. The presence of well dressed sandstone facing stones suggest that underneath the embankment of modern concreted stones and soil there may well be a substantial part of the original exterior castle wall remaining. Also there are other features that point to the base of a possible tower in the Northwest corner of the site, but further excavation is required to confirm this.
Overall this was a very revealing excavation. Clearly much more remains of the castle structure than anyone expected to have survived. However the excavation did leave a number of questions unanswered; how deep is the floor level? Could this reveal evidence of how the castle was used? What was the overall layout of the walls? Could there be the remains of a tower in the Northwest corner? It is hoped that further excavations in 2016 will help to answer some of these questions.
Rob Speak 14/01/16