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TVAS News: Civil War defences at Milesdown Children's Home, Winchester

In 2009, excavations on a site on St Giles’ Hill in Winchester discovered what is likely to have been part of the city’s Civil War defences. Field evaluation had revealed a single human burial and post-medieval deposits of uncertain significance within an area of a new housing development which include a large basement. Subsequent open area excavation identified additional archaeological deposits including a Late Neolithic grooved ware pit, an early post-medieval wall foundation and several undated disturbed human burials.

Of most significance however, was the finding of a large ditch of early post-medieval date along with later post-medieval levelling layers. It is thought that the ditch is a part of a redoubt, that is, a detached outwork forming a part of Winchester’s Civil War defences. The ditch was aligned roughly east-west with a right-angled turn at the western end and a 45° turn towards the east. A total length of 38m was exposed. Excavation of the ditch showed it was up to 5.2m wide and 1.8m deep and was infilled with a sequence of layers. The lowest layer was likely to be the result of weathering of the natural chalk causing the sides to fall in. This, however, was followed by a rapid, intentional backfilling of the ditch producing layers which reflect the composition of the topsoil, subsoil and natural chalk. The practice of rapidly backfilling defensive ditches was known as slighting and served to both prevent their further use and possibly take the focus off the area as a strong point. The shape of the ditch in plan suggests that the redoubt was square with an angled projection as a cannon platform pointing eastwards. It is likely that an earth rampart was built along the south and west side using spoil from the ditch, possibly reinforced with turf. No evidence for the rampart was seen during the excavations but it is probable that the same material was used for the infilling of the ditch.

Whilst there are contemporary documentary records of the presence of the city’s Civil War defences, these have mostly not been located on the ground, nor are any contemporary maps depicting them known. This excavation therefore has allowed the location and the nature of some of these fortifications to be determined.

Click on the image thumbnails below for larger versions:

Excavating the burial found during the field evaluation. Excavating the Civil War defence ditch. The large scale of the feature can be clearly seen.

The excavated defence ditch. The tip lines showing the sequence of back-filling can be seen in the cross section. Plan of the excavation area with the defence ditch shown in blue. The shape of the redoubt can be clearly seen.