Medieval building discovered by Burnham archaeological group

14th September 2021

A local archaeological group has discovered an early medieval building in Southminster.

The Burnham u3a archaeological group was formed in 2018 and chose the Southminster Hall site after an interesting crop mark was spotted on a Google Earth image.

Members began digging in July 2020 with the blessing of the owners, and had no idea what was to come. They started revealing the stone foundations of an early medieval building by August.

With the help of historian Kevin Bruce, who gave copies of maps and documents dating back to 1600, they discovered nothing mentioned or showed the stone building.

In October, historic buildings expert David Andrews was invited onsite for his opinion. He thought it might be a chamber block associated with an early manor house and advised members to seek funding to continue the excavation more professionally.

Deputy leader of the Burnham u3a Archaeological Group, Sue Spier, said: “We have been fortunate enough to receive over £11,000 in two grants from the Turncole Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund, which is managed by Essex Community Foundation.

“This has enabled us to pay Archaeology South East to supply our group with senior archaeologist Ellen Heppell who has taught us how to excavate and record properly, together with the equipment we need to do the job professionally.

“Our group returned to the site with Ellen, in late March 2021, working within the COVID-19 restrictions and with her help we have now opened up nine trenches, including one that had been dug as a test pit by Access Cambridge Archaeology a few years before as a schools project which we didn’t know about until after we started.”

The group have now excavated three sides of a building, all with substantial walls built of septaria, on the eastern side of the lawn.

This includes a central area with an east/west wall cut into by a 17th century drain, and two substantial parallel walls running north to south, up to 13 courses of stone deep at the western end of the site.

“Our excavation work is almost complete and we are hard at work recording sections, doing plan drawings and context sheets for all the trenches.”

Archaeology South East will complete the finds analysis and produce a post excavation report based on the group’s records, drawings and photographs.

The site will then be included in the Historic Environment Record and the entire excavation data will be available to all.

In 2022, there will be a year long display of the excavation in Burnham Museum.

The group’s finds have spanned from flint tempered prehistoric pottery, to Saxon, to medieval and later.

They also discovered Roman brick and tile, and large amounts of animal bones, amounting to over half a pig.

Sue added: “The motto of the u3a is ‘learning, friendship and fun’, and we have had fun and learned a tremendous amount, making new friends along the way, we’ve also grown in confidence and look forward to tackling new projects – although nothing will ever compare with this.

“We are very grateful to the Burnham u3a committee who put in a lot of work applying for grants on our behalf. The Heritage Open Days hopefully will go some way to repaying their effort.”

Reposted from the Maldon and Burnham Standard.