Thursday, May 16, 2013

Through the Keyhole: A Norman House in the Paddock Trench.

You've asked for more information on the possible stone built Norman house, and here it is! As we've mentioned in a previous blog post we have made the exciting discovery of a building constructed of stone towards the west end of the Paddock trench.

Although we cannot know for sure the dimensions of the building, dating to the twelfth century, Dr Stuart Prior predicts that it measures at least 6m north to south and 12 - 15m from east to west. The end gable fronts onto High Street which we will not be able to excavate as a wall is currently enclosing the area. Also, the wall on the southern edge of the building has now been shown to have been robbed due to the presence of a robber trench running along next to it. If this is the case the area of the building may be larger than first thought.

A similar stone built house, or hall, was uncovered in Tower Lane, Bristol. This also dates to the twelfth century and measured 18 by 9m with walls that were over a metre thick. The building contained a sizable paved area just within what would have been the doorway or entrance. It was most likely used by Robert Fitzharding, the Reeve of Bristol and highlights the wealth of the town.

Reconstruction of the twelfth century building found in Tower Lane.

Robert Fitzharding (c 1095 - 1170 AD) was a wealthy Merchant and financier of Henry Plantagenet (later Henry II) during The Anarchy 1135 - 53 AD, a power struggle for the English Crown. In 1140 AD Fitzharding founded St Augustine's Abbey in Bristol which later became Bristol Cathedral.

The Feudal Barony of Berkeley and the Castle was awarded to Robert Fitzharding by Henry II as thanks for his support. A Royal Charter was received from the King in 1153 AD, giving permission to rebuild the castle which had originally been built after the Norman Conquest of 1066 in the motte-and-bailey style.

Doorway area of the twelfth century building in the Paddock Trench.

Both buildings share a similar style of doorway, with a paved section of flooring in their interiors. The likeness between these two features and the large size of the buildings, in addition to relative dating and historical documents, leads us to infer that Fitzharding or someone of similar stature was involved in the commission or foundation of both of these buildings. Furthermore this broadens our image of the history of the Berkeley family and the town of Berkeley.

The similarities in the layout of the building in Tower Lane and the one uncovered in the Paddock trench highlights the possible connection between Robert Fitzharding with both Berkeley and Bristol. This is particularly interesting to the Berkeley castle project because of the connections between the Berkeley family, Fitzharding and the two Norman houses. As the project is interested in the change of landscape associated with the Norman Conquest the twelfth century Norman house in conjunction with the aforementioned links could be indicative of the political, as well as physical, landscape.

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