2. The Site

2.1 Introduction

Carisbrooke Castle (50°41'13.7"N, 1°18'49.6"W), on the Isle of Wight (Figure 3), is one of England's best-preserved castles (English Heritage 1995), with a well-understood history (Stone 1891) and archaeology (Young 2000). Begun soon after the Norman Conquest of England in AD 1066 as a motte-and-bailey castle on a steep-sided chalk hill previously used as a Saxon burh, the castle commands the central part of the Isle, which also has access to the sea by the long, narrow estuary of the River Medina. The motte-and-bailey had been converted into a stone shell-keep before a siege in AD 1136; the medieval domestic arrangements seen today were largely constructed in the mid-13th century (under Countess Isabella de Fortibus, who late in life reluctantly sold the castle to the English Crown). In the face of the threat of Spanish invasion of Tudor England at the end of the 16th century, the interior was altered to accommodate the residence of the Island's Captain (later Governor), and the whole of the medieval castle was surrounded by an essentially rectangular bastioned trace artillery fort.

Figure 3
Figure 3: Location of the Isle of Wight, Carisbrooke Castle, and its Privy Garden.
(a): Britain and north-west France, showing location of Isle of Wight (b), England (E); Ireland (I); France (Fr); Scotland (S); Wales (W).
(b): Isle of Wight, showing location of Carisbrooke Castle (c.)
(c): Carisbrooke Castle with motte (m.) and Privy Gardens (p.g.)

The castle remained the defensive and administrative centre of the Isle until the mid-17th century, after its use at the end of the English Civil War as the prison for Charles I (Britain's last executed king). Practical government was transferred gradually to Newport, the Isle's principal town, at the head of the Medina estuary; the castle continued as the official residence of the Isle's Governor until the mid-20th century. The castle's below-ground archaeological remains are protected by law as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and most of its structures are similarly protected as Listed Buildings (English Heritage 1995). The castle was taken into the care of the nation under the Office of Works in 1856, and has been managed as an ancient monument open to the public since 1944, currently by the nation's cultural heritage agency, English Heritage.

2.2 The excavation

During 2006 and 2008-9, eight small trenches were excavated by English Heritage archaeologists within the castle's Privy Gardens, in the south-west quadrant of the medieval castle (Figure 3c) under the direction of one of the authors (MR), to assess the impact on the archaeological remains of the area's reinstatement as a formal garden, to inform the design of this garden, and to enhance the understanding of the castle's history and development. This excavation (English Heritage Project 4992) revealed a previously unknown but large, high-status, stone-built cellared chamber-block built in the 12th century, extended during the 13th-14th centuries, kept and altered when adjacent structures were demolished in the 15th century, and finally razed to the ground late in the 16th century. A full report for the project will appear in the Proceedings of the Hampshire Field Club and Archaeological Society.

This small excavation produced numerous marine shells (Campbell 2013), comparable with sizeable urban excavations (e.g. Campbell 2011), supplementing the considerable numbers of shell-fish recovered in previous excavations at the castle, which included a small proportion of whelks (Wyles and Winder 2000). One of several kitchen-middens (context 7325) had accumulated against one of the walls of the chamber-block prior to its 16th-century razing. It contained considerable roofing slate, ceramic building material, and edible marine molluscs such as oysters, whelks and cockles. It also contained 17th–early18th century AD pottery and a pipe bowl of c. AD 1730-1780 from its reworking as a garden soil, so it is safest to consider the whelks to have been discarded early in the modern period (the project's Phase 5).