Archaeology work at Trerice

View of the barn at Trerice from the uncovered courtyard

It's been an exciting few years for archaeology at Trerice with the volunteer led archaeological research group finding a tunnel, 19th century courtyard and flagged floor in the garden.

The team

The Trerice archaeological research group (or TARG) is made up of Trerice volunteers and staff. The group was formed to further explore the site at Trerice through research and practical archaeology. Leading the group is volunteer co-ordinator Gary, who started the group with the intent to build upon previous archaeological surveying of Trerice.

What they’ve found

2017 was an exciting year for the TARG team as they conducted their first digs over a test pit weekend and the week long ‘Big Mill Dig’ in September. Two of the five test pits dug over the sunny July weekend were deemed particularly successful, finding a flagged floor and lintel in one and the corner of the 19th century courtyard in another. The team were happy with their work and looked forward to the longer dig in September.

In the September dig there were 3 main trenches dug below the barn where the team believed they might find a watermill. Evidence suggested that, on a property like Trerice, there should be one roughly in the area of the manor house and desmesne (an area set aside by the lord of the manor for their own use).

The team found and excavated part of the courtyard farm that begins to show on maps from the 1850s, it correlates with the Tremaine family’s time at Trerice and the team were able to better visualise Trerice during their tenure.

Lifting the lid on a hidden tunnel
Lifting slabs covering the tunnel at Trerice
Lifting the lid on a hidden tunnel

Further south-west of the barn was a trench in which the team found a poured concrete building with a packed earth floor and rubble deposit. The team found a crack in slabs of stone nearby and, looking through it, saw water reflected back up. The slabs were lifted by the garden team to reveal a hole filled with standing water and a tunnel heading towards the barn.

After finding the tunnel, naturally, the team were keen to dig again and in September 2018 they dug another 4 trenches: one at the point where the tunnel was found, one in the knot garden, another by the wall of the undercroft and a fourth in the rear court – hoping to learn more about the original structure of the manor house.

The team weren’t successful in finding traces of the historic north wing of the house but did, in their words, successfully find where it isn’t! They also found, alongside the barn, another ‘tunnel’ this time much shorter and suspected to be a leat.

The tunnel

The tunnel is 43 metres long and 6 foot tall, it begins as masonry but soon changes to cut rock. It wouldn’t have been a quick or easy job to carve and, early attempts to date the tunnel suggest it is hand cut. After 43 metres the tunnel meets a ‘man-made’ blockage, it’s been blocked with intent and a Tudor brick as well as medieval mullion were included in the debris that fills the tunnel.

While the barn end of the tunnel had been filled with Tudor brick and historic masonry the other was filled with more recent rubble: a watering can, bottles of a 1950s soft drink and assorted scrap metal were used to fill the opening of the tunnel where metal fixings in the stone suggest a grate used to be.

Inside the tunnel
A view of inside the tunnel
Inside the tunnel

What’s next?

Following all the finds and success, next comes the paperwork and in 2019 the team will be taking a break from practical work to finishing recording their work. As well as recording they'll be writing reports, establishing a finds store to help their long term work, evaluating and deciding where to look next.

Finding the tunnel was a great reminder of how little we know about Trerice and, quite literally, how many stones there are unturned in our history. With the help and support of our raffle selling team in 2018 we were able to fund extensive investigation and surveying of the tunnel, produce a video and install it in the undercoft last summer as well as fund archaeological equipment like finds boxes and bags and more interpretation to come in 2019.