Cedars Park archaeological evaluation

MOLA team
25.10.2010

This summer, Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) carried out an archaeological evaluation in Cedars Park, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, including the area of Theobald’s Palace Scheduled Ancient Monument. The archaeological evaluation was undertaken to provide information for a bid for lottery funding in order to regenerate the park and better conserve the monument. The Cedars Park Lottery bid has been funded by grants from the Parks for People programme, the Big Lottery Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. One of the key aims for regeneration of Cedars Park will be to raise public awareness of the park’s historic features and to enable visitors to get a better grasp of the parks historical development as they walk around the grounds. Archaeological evaluation was complemented by a targeted geophysical survey carried out by Birmingham Archaeology's Visual and Spatial Technology Centre (VISTA) in partnership with MOLA. The goal of the archaeological work was to confirm the location of surviving historic elements of the house and gardens.

Cedars Park is located on the edge of Cheshunt and Waltham Cross and is a popular local amenity with woodland walks, formal gardens, ponds, pets’ corner, an arboretum and a conservation area. Roughly half of the park is Scheduled Monument. The famous Tudor house and gardens that came to be known as Theobald’s Palace was built for Sir William Cecil and was visited several times by Queen Elizabeth I. It later became a favoured residence of James I. Seemingly piecemeal demolition of the palace began at the end of the Civil War and was more or less completed in the late 18th century when the land was redeveloped for new housing. Much of the palace’s surrounding land remained open, however, and 19th-century maps show a number of paths and ponds.

Over a four-week period in June and July, 24 evaluation trenches were excavated around the park. The trenches were sited in areas of interest identified during the preparation of the Cedars Park Conservation Management Plan (Nicholas Pearson Associates) and were typically placed to confirm the presence of features such as garden paths, filled-in ditches, and remains of demolished buildings. As a result of the evaluation, there is now an improved understanding of the depth of archaeological layers throughout the site generally. Archaeological features were identified in 14 of the trenches and the oldest finds are prehistoric pot fragments (probably of Iron Age date). Roman pot sherds were also recovered and together, these early finds attest to the long history of occupation and land use in and around the park.

Seven of the trenches revealed archaeological deposits or structural remains associated with the 18th-century development of Theobald’s Square and three trenches revealed 19th-century pathways. Perhaps most excitingly, one trench exposed a brick wall and cobbled surface that may be parts of the demolished 16th/17th-century palace. The wall and cobbled surface were sealed by 18th-century demolition deposits. Of course, 20th-century land-use was also in evidence and the archaeologists got to see how well plastic bags have survived in a buried layer of 1980s rubbish that had been used to fill an ornamental moat.

The VISTA geophysical survey also provided interesting results, suggesting the location of a garden path and possibly other landscaping features that are no longer visible above ground.

As well as the prehistoric and Roman pottery and a variety of post-medieval pottery fragments, there were several other finds collected during the evaluation. A complete pistol-grip handle and part of the iron blade from an 18th-century knife was found in an 18th-century demolition deposit and two joining fragments from a stick forming part of a fan were found in another 18th-century demolition layer. There was an unusual whetstone or hone made of graphite and used for sharpening knives. The date of this find is uncertain but it is probably a 19th-century artefact. Several fragments of 17th/18th-century wine bottles were also found during the evaluation. Building material recovered included 18th-century tin-glazed wall tiles and 15th- (or late 14th-) century floor tiles that were imported from the Low Countries and that may have been used in Theobald’s Palace.

During the course of the investigation, the MOLA archaeologists were assisted by volunteers from the local community and school groups were also able to take part. Two groups of schoolchildren each spent an afternoon on the site and there were four days when local youth volunteers participated in the excavations. One local volunteer worked steadily with the MOLA archaeologists for a week. The archaeological team also benefited greatly from regular visits by Michael Dewbrey of the Enfield Archaeological Society, who have conducted a number of archaeological investigations in Cedars Park.

MOLA would like to thank several people for making this evaluation a success and for sharing their expertise during the course of the fieldwork: Simon Bonvoisin of Nicholas Pearson Associates, Clare Watson (project manager) and Adrian Hall (parks manager) from Broxbourne Borough Council, Mike Dewbrey and Martin Dearne from the Enfield Archaeological Society, and Debbie Priddy (Inspector for Ancient Monuments, English Heritage). In addition, MOLA would like to thank the many volunteers and school groups and the groundskeepers of Cedars Park, who helped with many small kindnesses and were very generous with their personal knowledge of the park and its past.

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  • Community project
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  • Excavation
  • Placemaking