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Excavations at Oxford Castle 1999-2009, Thames Valley Landscapes Monograph 44, Oxford, supplementary specialist reports

Pollard, AM and Ditchfield, P and Munby, Julian and Norton, Andrew and Poore, Daniel and Dodd, Anne and Macphail, Richard and Crowther, John and Haggart, Andrew and Miles, DWH and Worthington, MJ Excavations at Oxford Castle 1999-2009, Thames Valley Landscapes Monograph 44, Oxford, supplementary specialist reports. In: Excavations at Oxford Castle 1999-2009, Thames Valley Landscapes Monograph 44,. Oxford Archaeology.

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Abstract

Oxford Castle was built in 1071 at the west end of the thriving late Saxon town; although it was never a castle of the first rank as a royal or seigneurial stronghold, it was an active county castle throughout the medieval period. Largely abandoned by the late 16th century, it continued to serve as the county gaol; new gaol buildings reflecting contemporary ideas on prison reform were constructed in the 18th century, and again in the 19th century when Oxford Prison adopted the ‘separate system’. The closure of the prison in 1996, and the subsequent redevelopment of the site, provided the opportunity for archaeological investigation between 1999 and 2009. Small-scale excavations in Paradise Street from 2002-2006 provided additional information about the castle’s bailey ditch and the development of occupation on its southern edge. The investigations revealed the rampart of the late Saxon town and its facing wall running along the south side of the castle, surviving where it had been incorporated into the Norman bailey defences. The discovery of late Saxon burials and parts of two large late Saxon timber buildings nearby suggests that there may have been a high status residence here in the late Saxon period, and that St George’s Tower may have been part of an associated church at the West Gate of the town. A number of late Saxon cellar pits were found towards the north of the castle site. A range of evidence adds to our knowledge of the form of the Norman motte and the tower that once stood on top of it, the massive bailey rampart, and the ditches that surrounded both the motte and the bailey. Conversely, only limited evidence was recovered for the castle’s later defensive wall, towers and gates, and for buildings within the bailey. The castle was briefly refortified in 1650-51 during the Parliamentary occupation of Oxford and some evidence was recovered for the creation of a short-lived gun platform on top of the motte, and a sally port within the western defences. Between the late medieval period and the middle of the 18th century the buildings of the former castle chapel were used to house the prisoners at the county gaol, and a number of prisoner burials were found in the motte ditch. Several skeletons, probably of executed felons, had been dissected (or ‘anatomised’) prior to burial. Improved accommodation was provided for prisoners in the late 18th century, and several of the innovative buildings associated with this campaign are described in detail, along with the dominant mid-Victorian ‘separate system’ A Wing, built for male prisoners and recently redeveloped for the Malmaison hotel. Much of the fabric of the medieval castle was destroyed in the late 18th and 19th centuries for road building and the reconstruction of the prison, and its original extent and formidable appearance are no longer apparent in the urban landscape. Early maps and topographical views of the castle, considered in detail in the volume, have provided invaluable information about its earlier form. The pottery from the excavations notably included sherds of very early Stamford ware datable to the foundation and earliest years of the burh at Oxford. Other notable finds include facetted chalk objects that may have been used in parchment making, and important collections of late 11th- and early 12th-century shoes from the motte ditch and shoes of the 1520s-1540s from the bailey ditch in Paradise Street. Bird bone from the late 11th-century fills of the motte ditch included crane, partridge, white stork, quail and swan, one of the few groups to reflect the high status of the castle’s occupants.

Item Type:Book Section
Subjects:Geographical Areas > English Counties > Oxfordshire
ID Code:4679
Deposited By: Scott
Deposited On:05 Mar 2019 12:12
Last Modified:05 Mar 2019 13:20

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