North Hall Manor Summer Excavation 2015

The site of North Hall is believed to be that of the original medieval town manor for Widecombe which was one of seven medieval manors that made up the parish. Unlike the other local manors, no manor house survives at North Hall. The house fell out of use and was abandoned after the medieval period due to changes in land ownership and the local economy. Over time the exact location of the manor house became hazy and became speculation amongst the local community.

Peter Rennels of the Widecombe History Group has been investigating the site of North Hall for over 10 years now. Through the study of old documents, aerial photographs, old maps and by bringing in the expertise of professional archaeologists such as Robert Waterhouse, Peter identified two possible locations for the manor house.

The most probable of these is the field immediately north of the village green. Within the field is a distinct mound and the area is surrounded by water channels. The field was studied in detail by Robert Waterhouse following Peter’s request and the following features were identified.

Interpretative site plan based on Roger Waterhouse survey (2007)

Key: 1-Flat toped mound. 2- Stone building C18-C19 date
3- Allee d’honneur” approach lane. 4&5 – outer enclosure (green)
6- stone-revetted moat (blue). 7- embanked remains of moat
8 –stone wall constructed after site was abandoned
9- Great North Hall Moor. 10- Village Green C13-C16 origin.
11 – St. Pancras Church. 12 – Church house. FP? – fish ponds

On top of the mound a building was identified and the water channels were interpreted as a moat. Also a lane linking the site to the parish church was identified, which suggests an important dwelling was located here. Could this be the location of the manor house?

The second site was located in the field to the north known as “Great North Hall Moor”. An interesting aerial image from 1947 clearly shows a large sub-oval enclosure with a series of overlapping rectangular structures within. From the image the enclosure looks prehistoric in from and the rectangular features suggest the remains of buildings and or ditches. IS this a much earlier settlement site or the Manor House?

New owners took over the site in 2010 and being local Widecombe residents had a keen interest in the history of the site. Through a new agri-environmental agreement with Natural England the owners commissioned Ross Dean, a professional archaeologist to conduct a geophysical survey of the two sites to shed further light on the features and identify new ones. The results picked up the building on top of the mound and features in the vicinity of the enclosure in the Great North Field.

Geophysical survey showing rectangular building (Dean 2011)

With funding secured from the owners and the Dartmoor Sustainable Development Fund it was decided to hold a small scale excavation to investigate the building on the mound and the possible earlier settlement site.

Two professional archaeologists from Oakford Archaeology led a team of very enthusiastic volunteers drawn from the local community and the Widecombe History Group. The terrible summer weather meant that the trench located in Great North Moor field was waterlogged and had to be abandoned so work concentrated on the building site.
The excavation revealed that soon after the site was abandoned it was extensively robbed for building stone. Evidence for this came from the spreads of stone rubble, layers of mortar and broken roofing slates discovered. The foundation courses of a substantial wall 1.5m wide and made of clay-bonded granite blocks indicate that a large building was once present on site. It is impossible to say at present if this wall was part of the Manor House or an ancillary building such as a barn or stable.

It is highly likely that the site was picked clean of useful building stone was in the 1640’s in order to re-build Widecombe Church Tower. The available stone was also “recycled” into other building project in the village.

Other interesting discoveries include an earlier boundary that surrounded the site. Underneath the existing moat bank an earlier sequence of ditch, bank and possible palisade was identified. A small piece of high status 15th century pottery from Islamic Spain was also found, suggesting the site was once home to wealthy and well connected people.

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