Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Mercian Archaeologists further knowledge of Palace in ​Sherwood Forest​

From a Heritage Daily Magazine Article: by Andy Gaunt of Mercian Archaeological Services CIC

David Budge, Sean B Crossley, and Andy Gaunt (all of Mercian Archaeological Services CIC, with James Wright – in the Medieval Boundary ditch of King John’s Palace, Kings Clipstone, Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire.

Archaeologists have helped to prove the size and thus the importance of a Palace that formed the royal heart of Sherwood Forest in the medieval period, by discovering and excavating the previously unknown boundary ditch of the site.
The ruins of King John’s Palace in Kings Clipstone are a local landmark famous for their association with ‘Bad King John’, the enemy of Robin Hood.

In fact during the medieval period the site was known as the King’s Houses and was an extensive royal palace with an adjacent deer park, located at the heart of Sherwood Forest. The palace was favoured by the crown and visited by all eight monarchs from Henry II to Richard II from the second half of the 12th century until the end of the 14th century.

These included Richard the Lion Heart and his brother King John, both intrinsically linked to the Robin Hood legends. Clipstone is the neighbouring village to Edwinstowe, legendary home of Robin Hood as well as the marriage site of Robin Hood and Maid Marion. The site is a stone’s throw from the Major Oak, a 1000 year old veteran oak tree and legendary hideaway of the world famous outlaw. The Major Oak now forms the centre piece of the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve. If Edwinstowe and the forest lay claim to the legend of Robin Hood, then Clipstone and king John’s Palace have an equal claim to being the royal centre of Sherwood Forest in the medieval period.

King John’s Palace was the site at the centre of this world famous landscape and was used as a royal retreat by the crown for entertaining foreign royalty, and even for housing Parliament in 1290.

Sherwood Forest in medieval times was an area of land subject to Forest Law, a set of laws introduced by the Normans to England in in the latter stages of the 11th century. Forest Law protected the Beasts of the Chase (primarily deer known in the records as ‘Venison’) for the exclusive use of the King and also protected the trees and woodland of their habitat known as the ‘Vert’. It was therefore illegal to hunt ‘Venison’ or chop down the ‘Vert’ within a royal Forest without the permission of the King.

Sherwood Forest for most of the high medieval period covered a large area roughly 20 miles north to south by 10 miles east to west. Sherwood Forest was not one continuous stretch of woodland and in fact contained many villages and even the town of Nottingham.

The Forest provided financial benefits to the crown from the sale of timber and game, but was in essence a giant hunting reserve. Red Deer and Roe Deer were hunted by the Crown across the open heathland and acres of woodland that dominated the landscape. Alongside the native red and roe deer the Norman Kings had a great fondness for Fallow deer, which they imported to England following the Conquest. As a non-native and vulnerable species it was necessary to raise fallow deer within parks constructed for the purpose. These were large extents of land enclosed by a high fence to keep the deer inside and poachers and other animals out.

In Sherwood Forest Henry II began work on a royal hunting retreat at Clipstone in 1164 and the adjacent deer park in the 1180s. This royal complex would develop over time into a major palace with a vast array of residential quarters, chapels, stables for 200 horses, an artificially flooded lake, rabbit warrens and gardens, surrounded by a designed landscape of deer launds and woodland.

Recent archaeological research led by Andy Gaunt of Mercian Archaeological Services CIC and archaeologist James Wright, has helped to reveal the true scale of the palace site. It has shown that the King’s Houses were a substantial Royal Palace which formed the heart of Sherwood Forest in the medieval Period.

A geophysical survey in 2010 by Andy Gaunt detected a large anomaly that was interpreted through historic mapping as being the western boundary of the palace. A subsequent excavation in the summer of 2012 led by James Wright (independent consultant) and Andy Gaunt, along with Sean Crossley and David Budge (the latter three now of Mercian Archaeological Services CIC) investigated the anomaly and proved it was the medieval boundary ditch of the complex.

The ditch contained 13th to 14th century pottery. Excavation also found the remains of an internal bank associated with the ditch. This had been truncated but would originally have been surmounted by a palisade as recorded in the written records. The bank contained pottery sherds from the 13th to 14th century which dated the construction of the bank and ditch.

The site was at its most popular and extensive during the reigns of Henry III, Edward I, II and III. Henry III started a period of building in the mid-13th century which continued into the Edwardian period into the 14th century. The site was very popular with Edward I who held a parliament there in 1290. An ancient Oak still stands on the former north-western boundary of the Deer Park which is named Parliament Oak after this prestigious event. The Parliament Oak as it known is now protected under the stewardship of The Sherwood Forest Trust.

In 1315 during the period of the Great Famine, Edward II stayed for a number of months at Christmas feasting and entertaining. The royal retinue devoured all the fish stocks in the pond and must have equally impacted on the stocks of deer in the park as they were forced to send retainers out into the surrounding counties to search for more food from the already starving populace.

In 1316 Edward II built a fortified ‘Peel’ enclosure as a refuge during difficult times (the War with Scotland) and as a grain and livestock store, in the southern part of Clipstone deer park. He clearly did not intend to run out of food again on his next stay.

Edward III subsequently dismantled the Peel and had the buildings re-erected within the Palace site at Clipstone. Thanks to the recent excavations, the palace site is now recognised as covering over seven acres; making it equal to and larger than many of the contemporary royal palaces of medieval England. Over the course of the 20th century academic writing had reduced the status of the site to that of a mere hunting lodge, despite listing all the accommodation and vast expenditure by the crown on the site throughout the medieval period.

The recent excavations and investigations have once again reclaimed the title of ‘Palace’ for this very special site at the centre of a landscape which is the backdrop to many of the world’s most famous legends.

Mercian Archaeological Services are continuing their investigations at the Palace, the Peel and across Sherwood Forest as a whole with volunteers and the community. The work at Clipstone forms part of their ‘Sherwood Forest Archaeology Project’, which promotes the heritage of Sherwood Forest. The project combines community archaeology research and outreach work in Sherwood Forest.

Please see the project websites at and

Mercian Archaeological Services CIC are a community archaeology company undertaking work with community groups and volunteers across the East Midlands area of the United Kingdom. As a Community Interest Company they re-invest profits in project development and community outreach.

To volunteer on community archaeology projects or to find out more information please their website:, or follow their news and research at

Friday, 11 October 2013

Mercian Archaeological Services CIC Newsletter

Welcome to 'East Midlands Community Archaeology News'

The first edition of Mercian Archaeological Services CIC's Newsletter.

In this edition we showcase some of our ongoing projects and work.

The newsletter forms part of our community archaeology outreach through which we aim to disseminate our work to the widest possible audience.

Learn about: Archaeology and History of Medieval Sherwood Forest, including the excavations at King John's Palace and the community archaeology projects at Kings Clipstone in Sherwood Forest; The Heath End Excavation with Targ Archaeology; Surveying withCodnor Castle Heritage Trust; Burton Road excavations in Ticknall; The Hilton village Project with Dove Valley Community Archaeology and much much more...

and a special spotlight on the work done by The Friends of Thynghowe...

Monday, 2 September 2013

Community Archaeology at King John's Palace, Sherwood Forest with Mercian Archaeological Services CIC

Mercian Archaeological Services CIC recently returned to Kings Clipstone to continue the King John's Palace Project. The project is researching and investigating the Archaeology of the site of the Royal Hunting Lodge and Palace that formed the Heart of Medieval Sherwood Forest.

This Community Archaeology Project saw volunteers digging test pits and undertaking a topographic survey of Castle Field.

The King John's Palace Community Archaeology Project 2013.
Test pits were located to further understand the layout of the Palace and surrounding landscape- the pits examined the area to the west of the Medieval ditch and bank excavated in the summer of 2012.

The medieval ditch and bank represent the boundary of the site in the 13th-14th century as proven by the 201 excavation.

The test pits excavated in the project are located in the demense part of the Waterfield, and the evidence uncovered further supports the boundary ditch as the furthest extent of the site. 

Picture: the ruins of King John's Palace in the heart of Sherwood Forest by Andy Gaunt, Mercian Archaeological Services CIC
The royal palace now known as King John's Palace was the centre for crown activities in Sherwood Forest until the end of the 14th century, with all the Plantagenet Kings from Henry II to Richard II staying there. It was built to accommodate the crown during visits to the forest, where hunting would take place in the royal park adjacent.

The report for the boundary ditch excavation will be available to download via Mercian's document stores very soon.

Medieval Boundary Ditch Excavation 2012
The topographic survey of the site undertaken in August 2013 has helped to show a number of discrete features such as banks and terraces which will further aid in the understanding of the site- 3D results will be available through this site shortly.

Alongside the King John's Palace Project, Mercian Archaeological Services CIC also undertook the recent Kings Clipstone Village Community Archaeology Project which looked at the development of the village in relation to the palace in Medieval times.

A building survey of 2 cottages in the village and discovered medieval walls which formed part of the great gateway to the palace in Medieval times.

It is hoped that a number of publications will follow in the coming year which bring together all of the corpus of work undertaken in the village and at the palace to date, including extensive work looking at the landscape of the lordship and forest.

There will be more Community Archaeology in Nottinghamshire coming very soon, with plenty of opportunities to get involved- watch this space for more information...

For more info follow and and for Mercian's Community Archaeology photographs follow the page,

The King John's Palace Project, the Archaeology and History of Medieval Sherwood Forest Website, Archaeology and History of Medieval Sherwood Forest page and the Kings Clipstone Village Community Archaeology Project are all part of Mercian Archaeological Services CIC 'Sherwood Forest Archaeology Project'- more details soon.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Rufford Abbey and the White Monks of Sherwood Forest

Rufford Abbey was founded by Gilbert de Gant in 1146.

Picture: Mercian Archaeological Services CIC, Groin-vaulted Rufford Abbey Undercroft
The charter confirming the foundation was granted by King Stephen on Christmas day of that year.

Rufford was a Cisterican Monastery, a daughter house of Riveaulx Abbey in Yorkshire.

The abbey was situated just to the West of the King's Highway to York which passed from Nottingham northwards through Sherwood Forest, and the Abbey was an attractive stop-over for weary travellers on the long road through the forest.

The Abbey sat towards the northern edge of a vast tract of heathland, meadow, woodland and farmland consolidated from the possessions of the villages of Rufford, Crately, and Inkersall, granted to the Abbey. Rufford village had 8 families when the monks arrived, but was abandoned by the end of the Thirteenth Century. Crately was slower to become deserted, but villagers eventually moved to settle in nearby Edwinstowe and the village of Wellow (see Rufford Charters entry for information about the grants of lands and the Charters recording them).

The Church of the Abbey was dedicated to St Mary, and was built in the remote wastes and woods of Sherwood by the Cistercians, who favoured the isolation and separation from the world provided by the forest.

The Abbey complex included the Church, Cellar, Lay Brothers Frater, Cloister, Kitchens, Monks Frater, Warming House, Undercroft and Dormitory above, Inner Parlour, Chapter House, and Sacristy.

The surrounding landscape included areas of Woodland: 'ye abote wode', 'Abott Ymmslow', and 'burne abotote wode'. There were also large areas of heather lyngges, or wastes known as 'the Forest'. The valley of the Rainworth Water to the south of the Abbey was managed as Meadows to provide winter fodder for large numbers of sheep. The Cistercians were prolific sheep farmers.

The Abbey organised much of these land-holdings into 'Granges'- most of them within a days walk of the Abbey- the best know being Inkersall Grange which sat on Rainworth Water on the southern-most extent of the home estates.

As well as the demense farming which provided income for the Abbey, the Monks also possessed large parts of the town of Rotherham in Yorkshire which provided a vast amount of taxable income for the Abbey.

The Abbey was a popular over night resting place on the great road through the Forest and would have provided welcome accommodation as night fell over the desolate heaths and remote woodland of the High Forest (see A Journey through Sherwood Forest: Rufford Abbey to Nottingham post). 

Accommodation was provided for free by the monks- so it was essential that the monastery could provide for itself and visitors. The large amounts of farmland kept by the Abbey was therefore of great importance to ensure they could provide for all these travelers.

These could include Royalty, and in 1290 Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife of King Edward I stayed here while Edward held Parliament at his nearby Royal Palace and Hunting lodge at Clipstone (see Parliament Oak: Icon of Sherwood Forest entry for more details ). In fact the Abbey was among her final resting places as she was ill during her stay there, and died during an attempt to move to Lincoln for Spiritual and Medical help.

Rufford was a part of the fabric of life in Sherwood Forest for 400 hundred years.

It would sadly come to an end in the 1530 under King Henry VIII along with all other monasteries in the Kingdom.

At the Dissolution of the Monastery the Abbot was accused of being incontinent with two married women and 4 single women- six of the monks were said to be desirous of exemption from their duties- and the monastery was dissolved in 1536 (it is quite likely that these charges were trumped up as they were very convenient for the crown- however Priests were often badly behaved at times in Medieval Sherwood Forest).

Despite this inglorious ending, Rufford Abbey passed into the hands of rich landowners and eventually emerged to become a Country Park in the present Day with parts of the Medieval Abbey surviving within the later house. These  include the Lay Brothers Frater and the Undercroft which can still be visited to this day.

Photograph: Mercian Archaeological Services CIC, Rufford Abbey Country Park

Thursday, 4 July 2013

3,000 Facebook Likes for Sherwood Forest Heritage

The Archaeology and History of Medieval Sherwood Forest Facebook page now has over 3,000 followers!
Mercian Archaeological Services CIC would like to thank everyone for the amazing support they have shown to their Archaeology and History of Medieval Sherwood Forest project. ,

Reaching 3,000 Facebook likes is a fabulous landmark that just goes to show how interested people are in the heritage of this wonderful area, and how close the subject is to so many peoples hearts.

This project is ran by Mercian Archaeological Services as part of their Community Archaeology outreach and is all about promoting Sherwood Forest and its fantastic heritage to as wide an audience as possible around the world. 

This support helps to give a platform for the work undertaken by ourselves and many others in Sherwood Forest, and helps to promote the forest as a whole- reflecting its changing medieval boundaries, which stretch far beyond those in the modern landsape.

The community in Sherwood Forest is a strong and vibrant one, and there is a healthy  network of groups, landowners, charities, volunteers and companies who give blood sweat and tears everyday to promote this forest 

This collective work hopefully goes someway to helping to protect Sherwood Forest for future generations to know and love too.

The work goes on...

Please spread the word and help promote this marvelous story as far as we can. - please like the page.  - please like the page.

Thank you,

St Nicholas' Church, Nottingham. Medieval Church and Sniper's Hideout...

St Nicholas' Church is one of Nottingham's three medieval religious foundations that survive to this day. 

The building which stands today however was built in the 17th century.

Picture: St Nicholas Church Nottingham by Mercian Archaeological Services CIC
The Church of St Nicholas' is first mentioned in the foundation charter of Lenton Priory from 1103-8 where an annual pension was confirmed to the prior and convent of 15 shillings annually.

It is therefore believed to have been founded before the Norman conquest, probably in the eleventh century.

The medieval church contained a Chantry dedicated to St Mary- possibly situated in the Lady chapel which is also mentioned in the records.

There was also a Guild or fraternity of St Mary associated with the church.

With the Norman conquest the church found itself in the French quarter of Nottingham outside the walls of the castle- this location would eventually lead to its downfall.

Speeds 1610 map suggests the medieval church had a nave and possibly one or two isles, along with a west tower complete with a spire. Stapleton in his 1903 book 'churches and monasteries of Old Nottingham' suggest the tower and spire were of Decorated Gothic architecture.

This medieval building has sadly been destroyed, but the story of its downfall is fantastic in itself.

It is well documented that Colonel Hutchinson Governor of Nottingham Castle ordered its destruction in 1643 during the English Civil Wars.

The church was garrisoned by Royalists who used it to fire on the Parliamentarians in the castle. 

The diary of Colonel Hutchinson's wife, Lucy states ' There was an old church called St Nicholas' Church, whose steeple so commanded the platform that the men could not play the ordnance without woolsacks before them. From this church the bullets played so thick into the outward Castle Yard that they could not pass from one gate to another, nor relieve the guards, but with great hazard' (Stapleton 1903).

Picutre: Lucy Hutchinson courtesy of

After the town was cleared of Royalists the Colonel had the church taken down so theat it could not be used against them again.

A fabulous tale rich in the history of Olde Nottingham Towne...

In 1678 a new church was erected in brick which exists to this day, and is the subject of the photograph above by Mercian Archaeological Services CIC.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Mercian Archaeolgical Services CIC and the Sherwood Forest Archaeology Project

Mercian Archaeological Services CIC are please to announce that they have now officially running the Sherwood Forest Archaeology Project as of June 2013.

The Sherwood Forest Archaeology Project aims to research and promote Sherwood Forest - the most famous forest in history.

As the home to the legendary outlaw and hero Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest is known throughout the world.

The ethos of this project is to promote the Archaeology, History and Heritage of Sherwood Forest, its landscape and people.

It aims to support and promote the work of individuals and groups (often voluntary) who undertake work in the Forest.

And to raise the profile of this heritage and work to the widest possible audience. 

The project website has had close to 100,000 page views in under two years and the Facebook page has close to 3,000 followers so far!

Mercian Archaeological Services CIC are a Community Interest Company who undertake Community Archaeology with and for the community- please like the Facebook page 

Mercian Archaeological Services CIC are currently running and planning many projects in Sherwood Forest- and we will keep everyone updated as they progress...

Friday, 7 June 2013

Mercian Archaeological Services CIC - the Kings Clipstone Village Project

In February 2013 Mercian Archaeological Services CIC ( and, a Community Interest Company undertaking Community Archaeology Projects in the East Midlands, ran an archaeological project to excavate test pits in the village of Kings Clipstone in the heart of Sherwood Forest.

The project was aimed at examining among other things the development of the settlement in Medieval times.

Picture: the ruins of King John's Palace in the heart of Sherwood Forest by Andy Gaunt, Mercian Archaeological Services CIC
The village north of the Mansfield Road consisted of long and narrow tofts and crofts which extended backwards from the road to the River Maun to the north.

Evidence from the excavation suggests that this part of the village was formed in the 13th century, as an expansion of the settlement around the royal palace that occupied the ground to the south of the road.

The interim report for this project will be available to download shortly.

The royal palace now known as King John's Palace was the centre for crown activities in Sherwood Forest until the end of the 14th century, with all the Plantagenet Kings from Henry II to Richard II staying there. It was built to accommodate the crown during visits to the forest, where hunting would take place in the royal park adjacent.

In the summer of July 2012, James Wright of and Andy Gaunt, David Budge and Sean Crossley (now Mercian Archaeological Services CIC) excavated trenches across the boundary ditch of the palace complex.

This report is being brought to completion over the next few weeks too and will be available to download via Mercian's document stores....

It is hoped that a number of publications will follow in the coming year which bring together all of the corpus of work undertaken in the village and at the palace to date, including extensive work looking at the landscape of the lordship and forest.

There will be more community archaeology work coming in the village very soon, with plenty of opportunities to get involved- watch this space for more information...

For more info follow and

Friday, 15 March 2013

Clipstone Peel and Spa Ponds in Sherwood Forest

The Spa Ponds- Medieval fish ponds in Clipstone Park (near Forest Town).

On the western edge of the former royal deer park of Clipstone, in the heart of Sherwood Forest- are a series of large ponds fed by a spring and a tributary of the River Maun. They are overlooked by steep slopes of ground to the east which once housed a fortification built by Edward II in the early 14th century. 

The Spa Ponds- Medieval fish ponds in Clipstone Park (near Forest Town).
For more photographs of the Spa Ponds please see the Facebook album

This fortification was Clipstone Peel- built as a refuge during 'a time of political turmoil. The peel was constructed in timber except for a stone gatehouse. When the peel was dismantled during the reign of Edward III, the gatehouse was left standing, and the small ruin known as Beeston Lodge is now all that remains' (Wright, 2008). 

The remains of the gatehouse to Clipstone Peel

Overlooked by this fortification the ponds were kept for provision of fish for the king- and represent a massive undertaking by the crown. They are a hugely important part of local medieval heritage, and are an important part of a national story relating to the time of Edward II. 

The area is now the ‘Spa Ponds Nature Reserve’ under lease to the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. The site now lies within Forest Town- and the Community wishes to purchase the site and to 'improve and enhance it for nature conservation, community access, and as part of the heritage work taking place throughout Nottinghamshire'. The community is looking to raise funds for this purchase and an appeal has been launched following a pledge by Forest Town- based Charity CIICI (Community Involvement in Green Infrastructure). To learn about their aims and maybe to pledge support to their campaign please visit

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

King John's Palace Excavation - Nottingham Post article

Archaeologist Andy Gaunt and site owner Mickie Bradley at King John's Palace.

Taken from Nottingham Post Friday 20th July 2012: 'ARCHAEOLOGISTS now believe they have found the "medieval centre" of Sherwood Forest in a dig at a 12th-century site.

Specialists have uncovered more vital information about King's John's Palace, in King's Clipstone.

The dig over the weekend was the latest in a series which have aimed to uncover the historical secrets of the ruin.

Excavations proved that the exterior defences encircled a much bigger area than first thought and seem to finally prove that it was once a huge royal residence.

Notts archaeologist Andy Gaunt, who worked on the dig, said: "I think the site is the medieval centre of Sherwood Forest. For a couple of hundred years this is where all of England's kings were going.

"We've proved what the medieval boundary of the site was."

The series of trenches uncovered a 180m long defensive ditch – proving for certain the site stretched far beyond the three remaining walls of the small ruin and was once a vast complex...'

Monday, 28 January 2013

St. Mary's Church, Nottingham- and Robin Hood and the Monk

St Mary's Church in Nottingham is the earliest church in the town and is mentioned in Domesday Book. It was at the heart of the original Saxon town. 

The earliest of the surviving ballads of Robin Hood- Robin and the Monk (talkyng of the Munke and Robyne Hode)- written down around 1450- mentions St. Mary's Church in Nottingham. Robin is said to have visited the church (he was devoted to the Virgin Mary) when he was spotted by a Grey Monk whose alarm forced him to be captured. The tale tells of his subsequent rescue from the Sheriff by Little John and Much the Miller's Son. 

The church was almost entirely rebuilt in the Perpendicular Gothic style in the 15th century, and is a fantastic example of this style of architecture- with its south and north transept windows utilising the innovations in architecture to create almost entire walls of glass.

The church was under the control of the nearby Lenton Abbey in the medieval period, and was a the heart of religious life in the town.

See the facebook gallery for more images

Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Friends of Thynghowe

The summit of Thynghowe, photograph from Friends of Thynghowe Group.
 © Steve Horne and The Friends of Thynghowe
In the heart of medieval Sherwood Forest on the edge of the ancient crown woodland of Birklands is a hill and mound marking the boundary of 3 parishes.

This hill is now called Hanger Hill, but its ancient name was Thynghowe.

The name of the site indicates its former use as a meeting site either for the parishes upon which it bounds, or for a wider regional scale.

The derivation of Thynghowe is þing haugr, meaning ‘hill of assembly or meeting place’. (EPNS 1940). “þ” is the Saxon letter thorn pronounced “th”. 

The site could have very ancient origins indeed. The name is of Viking origin, and the site may have occupied an older mound still. 

Thynghowe sits in a remote location that could have been an important meeting point way back into pre-history.

The site was rediscovered by Lynda Mallett, Stuart Reddish and John Wood using a perambulation document from 1816.

Work by the Friends of Thynghowe Group in Sherwood Forest is currently being undertaken. Please check out their work and follow their work on

They arealways looking for interested people and volunteers to join in with their archaeoloigcal fieldwork and historical research.

Please see their website for more information: Friends of Thynghowe group.