Archaeology Live at Clumber Park

Birdseye view of Clumber House

In an attempt to find out more about the magnificent but lost 'Clumber House', we held an exciting public archaeology dig on the mansion site in July 2018, here, we evaluate our finds.

Despite Clumber House being one of the most impressive buildings in the country during its heyday (the late 18th and 19th centuries), the National Trust held very little in the way of material culture from the building as it is believed that that the house and gardens was stripped of all its masonry and fittings prior to its demolition.  

The mansion site was the subject of an archaelogical dig in the 1970s and in 2016, but so many questions still remain. We answered some of these questions this summer in our publicly assessible digs. Here's a bit of background information.

How did we know where to dig?


The documentary evidence for the mansion is pretty good, and we knew from looking at historic photographs and maps exactly where the house previously stood.

Following 1970s archaeological excavations, the outline of the house was also picked out in stones.

The plan shown below shows the layout of the rooms on the ground floor of the house after the fire of 1879, which destroyed the central core of the house.

Plans for Clumber Mansion in c.1879
Plans for Clumber Mansion in c.1879
Plans for Clumber Mansion in c.1879

These lost rooms were replaced by an enormous entrance hall, which featured balustrade galleries, tessellated pavements and various niches for statuary. 

We were also hugely helped out by the very hot weather we had in late June and early July. This led to 'parch marks' appearing on the Mansion Site, as National Trust Archaeologist, Rachael Hall, explains.

" Parch marks are most commonly caused by buried stone or brick structures such as walls or paved areas. The stone inhibits the crop or grass roots in the overlying topsoil and the result is an area of weak growth that can show as a ‘parched mark’ reflecting the shape of the archaeological structure underneath. "
- Rachael Hall
Parch marks reveal lost treasures at Clumber Park
Parch marks reveal lost treasures at Clumber Park
Parch marks reveal lost treasures at Clumber Park

The marks caught the imagination nationally and even internationally, featuring on BBC News, Sky News, CNN and many more. The One Show on BBC One filmed a live outside broadcast from right on the Mansion Site!

The One Show visit Clumber Park
The One Show visit Clumber Park
The One Show visit Clumber Park

 

What did we expect to find?

Rather excitingly, this was an unknown quantity. However, we were hopeful that we would find pottery, walls and artifacts.

The 2016 dig revealed floors, walls and cellars.
The 2016 dig revealed floors, walls and cellars.
The 2016 dig revealed floors, walls and cellars.

Perhaps even more excitingly, cellars were discovered during an archaelogical dig in 2016 - finding out the condition of them were one of our goals, and ascertaining whether or not they were still accessible.

What did we find?

The dig exceeded almost all expectations, with a large amount of artifacts found.

Lasting for four days, two trenches were eventually excavated. One trench has been backfilled, whilst the other will remain open for public viewing throughout the summer. Here's a summary of the remarkable findings within each trench.

- Trench 1: The Grand Hall and Yellow Drawing Room.

The excavations revealed a large brick foundation which would have supported one of the exquisite large column bases in the Grand Hall, which was two stories high and was decorated very lavishly.

The team and volunteers work the trenches on the Mansion Site
The team and volunteers work the trenches on the Mansion Site
The team and volunteers work the trenches on the Mansion Site

In the corner of the Yellow Drawing Room, brick wall foundations were revealed. Beneath the remains of the wall foundations were the vaulted tops of three cellars. Whilst we have not excavated the cellars, the find was remarkable as the cellars themselves look very much intact, leaving the possibility of a further dig here a very exciting and realistic prospect.

The trench itself was filled with brick, mortar, stone and plaster rubble from the demolition of the site in 1938. Amongst the rubble were several fragments of mosaic flooring and decorative plasterwork that would have adorned the walls, pillars and ceilings of the Grand Hall. 

Plaster found during the archaeological dig
Plaster found during the archaeological dig
Plaster found during the archaeological dig

- Trench 2: The Kitchen and the Butler's Pantry.

The investigations revealed a section of foundation wall for the kitchen. The wall was extremely robust - wide in dimension and built of stone, presumably to help reduce fire risk.

Cellars found during the archaeological dig on the Mansion Site
Cellars found during archaeological dig
Cellars found during the archaeological dig on the Mansion Site

The brick foundations of the Butler’s Pantry were also revealed along with cellars, although the star find from the trench was a late ninetieth/early twentieth century ceramic light switch.

A ceramic and wooden lightswitch found during excavations
A ceramic and wooden lightswitch found during excavations
A ceramic and wooden lightswitch found during excavations

Collating the finds

With rain arriving on the final day of the dig, it gave the team a perfect opportunity to clean, polish and collate their finds. Some of these finds are now on display in our Mansion Site exhibition in the Discovery Centre.

The team collate the finds from the individual trenches
The team collate the finds from the individual trenches
The team collate the finds from the individual trenches

A history of the Mansion and previous archaeological excavations: Key facts

  • 1768-1778 The house was created for the 2nd Duke of Newcastle by architect Stephen Wright. Wright extended a hunting lodge which was already on the site, and added square wings at each corner, which contained spacious new apartments. The south front which faced the lake was ornamented by an Ionic colonnade and surmounted by the family arms.
Clumber House as it looked in the late 1800s
Clumber House as it looked in the late 1800s
Clumber House as it looked in the late 1800s
  • 1814: The house was altered by Benjamin Dean Wyatt.

  • c.1829: a library was added by Sir Robert Smirke.

  • 1879: Following a fire, the central area was rebuilt by Charles Barry the younger for the 7th Duke.
  • 1912: Another fire broke out destroying the upper storey of the north wing but this was subsequently rebuilt.
  • 1938: After another devastating fire, Clumber House was demolished. The only remaining parts of the house are the Billiard Room (now the Laundry Yard shop), and the Duke's Study (listed grade II) which is now part of the restaurant. Prior to demolition it was believed that the house (and gardens) was stripped of all its masonry and fittings.  
  • 1948: The National Trust acquire Clumber Park with the help of donations.
  • 1978-79: Excavation of the mansion site by Stephen Pierpoint (Manpower Services Commission scheme)
  • 2010: Geophysical survey of former mansion site and gardens by Allen Archaeology - An earth resistance survey on the site of the mansion proved successful, identifying individual walls of the house, along with possible earlier phases of structure or associated drainage. Some evidence for possible cellaring was also noted in the data.

  • 2016: Watching Brief during groundworks by Archaeological Research Services Ltd - inspection chamber contained metal, glass, pottery & fragments of mosaic (18th/19th century) associated with the 1938 demolition of mansion. The survey revealed floors, walls, cellar, steps & a bay window of the former mansion immediately southeast of the Duke’s Study.

 

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