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Holyrood House
Holyrood House one of the sites in the Big Royal Dig. Photo by Ozzzie.

Don’t know if I’ll write a proper entry on this so here are my notes. There are bits I missed or misunderstood, particularly on the Buckingham Palace dig, so it’s not going to be a 100% accurate account of the programme.


Stock footage of Royal pomp to remind us what royalty is. Doesn’t she ever get tired of hearing that tune?


Fortunately the programme resurfaces from what could have been wearingly hagiographic. They’re explaining how George IV decided he needed a fancier house, hence Buckingham Palace. George’s lack fo restraint apparently extended to thousands of mistresses, alogn with his open finances and massive ego. Buckingham Palace is part of a rivalry with Napoleon. He wanted to surpass Napoleon’s imperial palaces by importing French furniture en masse. “George IV was the most theatrical monarch.” The bill came to 3/4 million pounds. The modern equivalent is £1.7 billion.


They start Picking apart the phases of Buckingham Palace. Surprisingly little known before Goring House. Geophysics, usually a magic wand for the programme fails. They go into more detail into the building of Buckingham House to explain more about what they might find. Brief history of Buckingham House. It owned by the Duke of Buckingham, a man who after making “a brisk attempt on the King’s Daughter” was banned from palace and posted to Tangiers. Married illegitimate daughter of the last Stuart King.


They’ve not found the canal, but they reckon they have found the course of the River Tyburn by coring. The reason they don’t think it’s a canal is that the sediments are coarse grains. Canals it seems carry fine grains because their flow is more genteel. They decide to open a trench so they bring in the digger. They’re running the digger along boards across the lawn!

Digger at Buckingham Palace


They’ve found a brick. It must be something about the name Phil. The trench does not look fun. The base is all clayey and stodgy. Five seconds later… I win the slow on the uptake award for the day. What else would you line a canal with? The bricks are also part of the lining. The canal is ornamental, a garden feature. From this we know the upper-classes used to like nice gardens. The canal may have obliterated the earlier remains on site.


Hello to Neil Oliver, an engagingly intense narrator. Give me an early 16th century palace or give me death. Or a 12th century abbey. Describes the Kings who moved into the abbey as “Royal squatters”. Plenty of maps, showing the variation in perspective and the uncertainty in the exact layout of the site.


Why have an abbey here? While out hunting a white stag unseats King David. The stag prepares to gore him, but its antlers transform into a cross which Dave grabs. The stag runs off so he takes this as a sign to found an abbey here. Holy means holy and rood means cross. Geofizz are to search for the abbey. They’re looking for the refrectory which became the Great Hall of James IV. Out comes the mechanical digger. They’ve hit the abbey. Neil finds out they were more relaxed monks but not quite “slacker monks”. They may have found the wall of the east range of the cloister.


Now at Windsor, the oldest and largest palace in the world. Tim Tatton-Brown is looking for what came before the chapel in the Lower Ward. Thought to be a huge hall. Julian Munby is looking for a big round building, but he’s not too sure on what it is. Windsor built on a cliff overlooking the Thames by William. Showing what a motte and bailey castle is. Henry II and III change the castle to a palace. Looking at the interior architecture. The achingly yellow walls are turning the presenters yellow.

They’re drawing huge significance on what they can see, but I can’t connect it to what they’re looking for. If we can see something must it be automatically important?


The trenches are planned to find this great hall. First audible aircraft, which seeing as they’re under the Heathrow flight path is not bad. Possibly found the floor of the Great Hall. They know where the hall is – they have 19th century records. I’m not sure why they need to dig it. Ah – he thinks it’s not the Great Hall because the hall has a 1st floor, which you don’t get in a hall – the hall is further uphill? Looking for the upper end and the service end. Where is the hearth? It’s taken almost an hour for someone to say “high status”, which for Time Team sets a record for restraint. The archaeologists obviously have a plan in mind, but what they’re saying is let’s find stuff. They’re interested in the trenches for a specific research question but I’m not sure what.

Windsor Plans


In 1501 James IV incorporates the monastery into the palace. The building may be overlaid by ephermeral garden features. This overlies the refrectory. Going back to the maps to look for details. Segment on how a Camera Obscura could be used to map. Looking for the site of the CO from the perspective of the map. Not easy as they find the map must have had several different vantage points.


Overtalk. They’re looking at the seal matrix they found yesterday. Could be a trade seal from the 17th century. The presenter is struggling for questions – can’t say I’d blame her. Still light in Edinburgh. More “High-status” – twice in five seconds. No human remains despite the proximity to an abbey. This was planned. This looks like a well planned project. Fixing the plan of the cloisters will help confirm the accuracy of the map. As I type they more or less say the same thing: “not a stunt”.

Holyrood House


It’s definitely night in the north, yet Windsor appears set to enjoy the midnight sun. Introducing the Round Table and the Knights of the Garter. Looking inside at the banners. Thatcher doesn’t have a helmet because she’s not expect to fight. That’s kind of the Queen. Eddie wanted 300 knights for his order. The Round Table was a building circular 200 ft in diameter. The expert says it could not be roofed in this period and I don’t know enought to disagree. They think it’s not in the lower ward, due to the records of strengthening bridges, which would not be necessary if it was in the Lower Ward. Where can you fit a 200′ wide circle. Second expert comes in to argue over if it was an arena or not. He thinks is was a feasting hall. Would this need a roof or did Ed eat alfresco?


Geofizz has found a 198′ circle. Maps show 200′ just fits inside. They’ve gone deep. They’ve found a robber trench – the ghost of a wall. One find pulled from it is a shred of Surrey white ware dating from the 14th cent. Records show the round table was built in 1344.


It’s a lot darker at Buck Palace.

They’re looking for the boundary wall. The rebuild seems to be clouding out the geofizz, so they’re going with maps. Nothing to report so they’re moving onto the civil war defences with Ronald Hutton. Discussions over where the defences might be. They’ve found a rivet. People in the past may have had shoes. Clay pipe shows they’re in Victorian layers so it’s evidence of shoes in Victorian times. They’ve gone to a cameo of soldiers marching in ECW gear, so they found nothing else . Hang on they’ve found a pot from 12/13 century pot. They conclude Nash removed the defences when he laid out the garden. Hutton explains the defences would have been earthworks to deflect cannon. Any guess about why they’re missing?

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The Holyrood House excavation looks like it could find some really useful stuff about the palace’s past. Windsor looks like it too could provide some new data, but I’m not sure how or even if the excavations there form a coherent plan. As for Buckingham Palace, I can’t tell what they’re trying to do. It’ll be interesting to see if they can do something with the site. Looks like it could be a good programme tomorrow.