Archaeology South-East


ASE's discoveries at Scotney Castle during the Festival of Archaeology

3 August 2023

ASE archaeologists recently helped lead an enthusiastic group of volunteers in excavating part of Scotney Castle - a 14th century medieval moated ruin in Kent. This project was part of the Council for British Archaeology’s 2023 Festival of Archaeology.

Three people are looking at an archaeological piece of survey equipment. One is pointing at the screen, teaching the others about it. Around the three people are archaeological tools and trenches, and behind them are the remains of a historic castle.

With the guidance of ASE Senior Archaeologist Simon Stevens and National Trust Archaeologist Nat Cohen, the group excavated the inner courtyard as part of a project to establish a new sub-tropical garden (with a proposed planting date of spring 2024).

In addition to the digging, volunteers were able to help with the digital survey of the site with Callum McKinnon, one of ASE’s archaeological surveyors. Volunteers were also able to learn about metal detecting under the expert guidance of detectorist James Ward. Daily talks were given to volunteers and visitors to keep them up to date with the excavation’s progressions.

Volunteers hard at work. Photo credit: NT

Now the dig is over, we caught up with Simon to find out all about the discoveries on site.

This was the first recorded archaeological work in this part of the castle complex, and Simon said that we weren’t quite sure what to expect! “What we did get was a large assemblage of brick, tile and other masonry nails, pottery, glass, animal bones, clay tobacco pipes and my favourite, a lead toy soldier. The finds will be analysed and a full report will be produced in due course.”

Some of the finds discovered during the excavation. Photo credit: Archaeology South-East

Most of the National Trust volunteers had never been involved in an archaeological ‘dig’ before, and Simon described how it was great to see their skills (and enthusiasm) building over the week. He said, “It looks like some of the volunteers definitely caught the archaeology bug, and will look to go on to other archaeological projects in the future.”

Photo credit: Archaeology South-East

Simon also believes that the array of biscuits available is just as important as the archaeology itself! He said, “There were always plenty of biscuits on site, and although I was roundly criticised for my relative dislike of custard creams, luckily I have a forgiving nature, and there was a constant supply of shortbread, a far nicer biscuit in my humble opinion.

One day had over 800 visitors to the site – we were thrilled to talk to so many people about their local (and even non-local!) history. Many thanks to everyone that visited, to Scotney Castle for having us, and to the National Trust for facilitating the excavation! We were delighted to be involved.

On a final note, Simon said, “I’ve been lucky enough to have worked as a field archaeologist since about 1830 (joking, I’m not quite that old...), but it is always a privilege to work somewhere as beautiful as Scotney; meeting new people, enjoying the camaraderie of a ‘dig’, and ultimately facilitating the creation of a beautiful new garden”.

Nat Cohen, National Trust Archaeologist for London and South East, said, “The chance to excavate within a castle certainly doesn’t happen every day! We’re delighted to have this opportunity to explore a little of Scotney’s past as part of the project to create a new garden in the mansion ruins, to work with a wonderful team of volunteers, experts and specialists, and to be able to share our discoveries with visitors as they happened.

For more information on the history of Scotney Castle, see the National Trust’s Scotney Castle Website.

Photo credit: Archaeology South-East