A few years back I was getting more involved in community archaeology in Leicestershire, but then I was catapulted for 20 months to Sweden and lost somewhat from my sight the matters local. While I was away, the local parties in Beaumont Leys got the Castle Hill Archaeology Project (CHAP) going and dug their first test pit in 2014. This summer the project had a long weekend of activities near Castle Hill as part of the Festival of Archaeology that finishes this very weekend.
This being a school holiday season, I went to see the open visits on the Sunday with my son. The project had very considerately sent invitations to the local schools to be included in children’s book bags, so we were welcomed very generously. Not that there had been many visitors – the test pits locating in a plantation outside the actual Castle Hill, away from the occasional walkers’ eyes – but after we arrived there was a nice little group coming from the village of Anstey.
Castle Hill has had many uses and Beaumont Leys is famous mainly of its Iron Age sites, partly excavated as part of development work. It has earthworks, a squarish wall around an area on the top of the hill, similar to some other Knights Templar sites, and some other humps and bumps, sadly related mainly to the 19th century sewage works. The older structures have a connection to the Knights Hospitallers from the 14th to the 15th century, although much more exciting is its connection to the Knights Templar – however short in the 13th century AD. There are also Roman and Iron Age finds from both the earlier checks and found by CHAP.
The main idea this summer was to cut a trench through the ancient boundary ditch between Beaumont Leys/Leicester and Anstey. There were also displays of the site and old maps of the area and the park ranger Stefan, a long-term activist, had a folder full of recent material, such as the Lidar images from the University of Leicester (the Lidar data from the Environmental Agency will become open soon, so all with a suitable viewer will share the view of this site and others in the future). Sadly, the clay soil is hard and the trench was only started with the people digging it having to go away on Sunday.
Nevertheless, two test pits had been dug and there were bones and grey ware iron Age pottery for my son to marvel. The test pits were dug in places chosen subjectively, with one aiming to see to the Anstey side of the boundary ditch and the other lying in the wider area of the fish ponds drainage. The test pit in the latter area hit some kind of ditch covered with slates a gentleman was preparing to draw when we arrived. My son got his first real feeling of archaeology when cleaning the pit floor – not that his concentration stayed there long. He truly enjoyed the experience, though.
The future for CHAP may be interesting. They have approached tentatively English Heritage/Historic England on the possibility to do something within the Castle itself, a scheduled monument managed by the organisation. With their connections to Peter Liddle and a couple of us professional archaeologists in Anstey, I am sure they will have no problems to develop the project further.
My other chap of the week was Richard III. I finally managed to visit the Cathedral on another day than Sunday, when they tend to keep it closed from tourists for services and such like. The tomb was simple but monumental. The week brought the news that the Visitor’s Centre nearby had missed its visitor target of 100,000. I just hope that the future expansion and revamp of the Jewry Wall Museum, with the old Vaughan College property purchased by the City developed, will lure the tourists. At least the site will improve, when the nice museum is not shadowed by the sad, abandoned college building.