Department of Anthropology and Archaeology Family & Friends Visit Day 2023


Today family members and friends of department staff were invited on to site to see the progress we have made since last years excavation, and to give the students a chance to demonstrate what they have learnt in the past week. While the adults were given a 360 tour of the site, students helped to oversee the workshop that we have been building for the last couple of months.


Children’s Archaeology Workshop

Perhaps the most fun part of the day were the children’s activities, set up in a clearing to the north of the excavation trenches. We hosted a mini-dig, washing line of time, archaeological activity book (which included a wordsearch, places to draw the finds from the mini-dig, tailored archaeological recording questions and a ‘design the strongest’ castle activity), as well as a ‘postcards from the past’ table.

A Washing Line of Time in the trees allowed the children to match pictures with events and their dates, and then put them into chronological order. This activity, while more generally historical was great group activity and required some real thinking to match up the dates to the event! It also gave the children the opportunity to talk about where they thought the excavation site fit in to the timeline, and helped to contextualise the site for them.

Last but certainly not least was the mini excavation, where not only lithic tools were ready to be excavated but chocolate too – after all, digging is hard work no matter your age and a little reward is of course required! The children who attended were excited to find the lithics we had planted – but more surprisingly, some unexpected finds made themselves known! A few animal bones and a lump of quartz were found by the children. While these were fairly unusable in terms of our archaeological excavation (as they came from an unstratified spoil context) they were invaluable to the little hands that lifted them, and excitement took over! It was excellent to see the children getting more excited about their archaeological finds than the buried chocolate?! Unprecedented!


Feedback from the children (and parents) who joined us today was great, with many asking if they could come back another day. Here are a few of our favourite quotes from our little diggers today!

Jack (Age 7) – “This place is AMAZING! Can we come again?”

Ben (Age 5) – “My best thing is that I found an arrow, I love it and I drew it! We want to come more, not just one time.”

Sofus (Age 3) – “I made my castle so the asteroid can’t break it”

Emily (Age 12) – “The washing line was good because I got better at it the longer I did it and started to work out the right dates and events, and some stuff I haven’t learned about in school”





Commencing Hartygrove Dig 2023!

Theo’s Daily Diary: The Perspective of a First Year on the Dig

Day 1: Monday 22nd May

As many of you will know, the first day of any seasonal excavation usually involves a lot (a LOT) of weeding and cleaning back of a years worth of debris! And our first day at Hartygrove was no exception (check out out Instagram for some amazing ‘Green to Clean’ transformations!). All three trenches were weeded and cleaned up in preparation for the archaeology to come!

Day 2: Tuesday 23rd May

Today we worked the trenches, trekking through the grassy fields after a long bus ride, we reached the medieval site of Hartygrove. Working there all of yesterday we knew what was to be done; so we set to work with little prompt. By trowelling around in the soil we managed to pull the soil from between the rocks. We brushed away the remaining dirt leaving the wall leaving fit for a photo of archaeological standard. Though this sounds like a simple task there were many challenges we had to overcome. Many people digging through nests of red ants, coming across startlingly massive spiders, including the false widow, the deadliest spider in the uk!

Though this was only part of our grilling work. Away from the shade and underneath the blazing sun, the other excavators were digging. Digging up the mud they worked together in a dynamic fashion, they quickly managed to locate many interesting artefacts, including animal bone and pottery.

Day 3: Wednesday 24th May

We kicked off today where we had left off from yesterday. With only a few changes, two of us had started to use the rover, a GNSS tracking device to measure some of the dimensions of the walls. The pair working with the device thought that it was a lot quicker than measuring and mapping out the dimensions of the wall as this does it automatically as you walk around. There were also people who had begun section drawing. This was exciting because it means that they have finally finished parts of their work on the excavation and can appreciate the done version before moving on, by measuring out the dimensions with a ruler.

More finds have been found today following on from pieces of oyster shell and broken pottery most likely from the medieval age. Though one incredible find came while clearing the rubble they came across a high status piece of pottery most likely from a wine pot, it was distinguished from the other finds because of its patterns along with its pretty green colour. With so many finds happening before the actual digging has begun, from just the gardening and clearing of rubble , many of the students on site are optimistic for what will be found.

Though the prospect of new technologies has got the students talking. Just before lunch break a drone was spotted flying in the air. Many students said they they were hoping to flying it.

In focus, an aerial drone and in the background out of focus, a man in a hat who is flying the drone

However not all went off without a hitch, as students came back from their lunch break to a temporary water shortage! It was quickly resolved by two students trekking back up to the tap across two fields for a refill but lessons were learned – maybe the drinking water shouldn’t be used for cleaning finds. 

Carry on reading as over the next few days I will write about my latest research on site and I interview staff and second years about last year.

Day 4: Thursday 25th May

A day of an excavator. We have seen many of the skills involved with excavations over the first few days. Most of us started with de-weeding, wearing thick gloves we pulled the overgrown plants from the area. Though the walls had been excavated last year dirt fallen into the cracks between the stone walls and plants had grown from the dirt leaving long roots all the way to the bottom. From that we began removing the rubble. Making constant trips back to dump our buckets full of spoil and wheelbarrows of stones. The trowel is bread and butter for an archaeologist, and in some cases they’re best friend. You can tell how experienced an archaeologist is by how attached they are to their trowel. It’s a great tool for removing the dirt from the rocks, digging out trenches, making the stratigraphic layers of the ground clearly visible and of course keeping you company when the conversation with your fellow excavators ends. In hard ground though a mattock can be a better option. Though less friendly it can do a quicker job than the trowel, when covering a larger area and precision is not as needed. Another important piece of equipment is the camera. When a feature has been properly excavated it needs to be recorded. How many archaeologists does it take to take a photo, in our latest case 6. One person to take the photo and another 5 to hold up a sheet above the site in order to make sure no shadows were captured in the image. No archaeologist would deny that the most exciting part of an excavation is finding something, though this only represents a small part of the time spent on a site, it is definitely the most memorable. Most finds are hard to tell apart from small rocks and can leave you eagerly studying each one, wondering if it’s in fact a piece of mid century pottery or slag, or just a small rock. Though there’s no better feeling than identifying a new feature or placing a find into the daily finds tray.

Day 5: Friday 26th May

As we came to work on Friday, we realised we there was still a find we were still hoping to see the whole of. Yesterday what seemed like the remains of an entire pot was found while removing rubble. If we didn’t manage to uncover it today we would have to wait until the next three days to uncover it, due to the THIRD May Bank Holiday. Of course we keenly tried to clear all of the nearby rocks removing them to see what we had found, an exhilarating prospect, as usually we may find a small bone or piece of pottery but finding a whole of an object is very rare. So by working speedily but being careful not to harm the find, we finally uncovered it. Work slowed though not because it was the end of the week, and many of us had the weekend in our minds, thinking about the three day holiday that awaited us, after we finished today. Instead it was to crowd around the now fully exposed pot. Murmuring around it one person even described it as ‘giving birth’. We look forward to hearing about Isotope analysis from the soil context and potential lipid analysis! Next week our Archaeobotanist Charlotte will be using a method called flotation to see if she can extract any charred floral remains! Keep your eyes and ears peeled for next weeks diary, and for project updates.



3rd Year Success!

A Celebrity in our Midsts?

Today (Day 4) on our Student Training excavation we were joined by a member of the University of Bristol’s Media and PR team! Jack came to site today to see one of our 3rd year students – Charlotte Harman – in action.

This year Charlotte won the ‘Everyday Hero’ award in the Bristol Outstanding Plus awards. The Bristol Plus status is awarded to students who go above and beyond working, volunteering and contributing whilst studying for their degrees. Charlotte is a single mother who has excelled at the university, and who is also volunteering with us this year on the dig! She has curated and executed archaeology lessons and workshops in local schools, worked with Bristol Museum on community archaeological outreach and worked with Operation Nightingale to build a recreation of a Bronze Age roundhouse (to name a few things!).

Charlotte has just handed in her dissertation “Planting Anarchy: Examining Archaeobotanical remains from the Hartygrove 2022 Excavations” so keep your eyes peeled for Charlottes upcoming blog post on what she investigated and found!

Charlotte has said when asked why she has decided to volunteer again in her 3rd year:

“It’s exciting! The thought that at any time you might find something is very exciting, and pair that with being in the outdoors with likeminded enthusiastic people, and there you have it! It’s also excellent for experience in excavation and experience at this site in particular.”

Well done to Charlotte for all of her achievements and look out for our Weekly Excavation Roundup!

The History of Graffiti and Rebellion in Bristol by Nell Beckett

The History of Graffiti and Rebellion in Bristol

In 19th century Bristol, chalk was used to write on walls to portray messages and ideas; this practice, called ‘chalking’ was not always a political act. Chalking was rejected by the upper class who would cover these chalked walls with paper advertisements for their businesses. The use of chalk to write on walls could arguably be one of the origins of graffiti in Bristol. Chalking had similar repercussions as graffiti does today, with the rejection of temporary messages through the grey washing of street art and tags under Marvin Rees political campaign as Bristol Mayor, with reportedly around four thousand graffiti tags so far repainted with grey paint.

Source: People’s Republic of Stokes Croft
Source: People’s Republic of Stokes Croft


The grey washing of painted walls has received backlash from the Peoples Republic of Stoke Croft and other community organisations around Bristol, who regularly combat the council to provide legal space for artists to paint and practice their work. They argue that by allowing artists to use practice walls, where tags and messages can be painted over regularly by others to practice their art, this will reduce the amount of graffiti tags on illegal walls. This is due to the creation of legal space for artists to express themselves and share messages meaning there is less desire to do it on illegal walls. The practice wall on Ashley Road has seen reports from locals stating that random graffiti and tagging has declined hugely in the local area, suggesting that the creation of space for art is a better solution than grey washing it completely as this creates more conflict.

Ashley Road. Source: People’s Republic of Stokes Croft


The culture of Graffiti in Bristol is arguably a part of it’s identity, with Banksy being a big influence, as a Bristol born artist. The exhibition of his work in mainstream galleries, such as the ‘Crimes of Passion’ display at the RWA, has helped to add to the acceptance of street art in Bristol through the display of graffiti alongside classic art. Another breakthrough was the ‘See No Evil’ project in 2011, which saw the sides of tall concrete buildings in the city centre painted with huge murals. This project has become a huge tourist attraction and combined with Banksy’s work, completes many of the street art tours bringing people to all parts of the city. Bristol is also home to Europe’s largest Graffiti festival, Upfest, bringing in tourists from all over world. Upfest celebrated its 15th anniversary last year with around 50,000 people attending to watch over 400 artists paint live. Upfest shows how Bristol has become a global hub for street art with artists from over 50 countries coming to the city to paint.

See No Evil Street art festival in Bristol – Dolce Vita International

Undoubtedly, graffiti and street art are a huge part of Bristol’s culture. Graffiti will continue to be tangled with anarchy and social change in Bristol, through political murals and links to protest. It is unlikely grey washing will put a stop to Bristol’s rebellious identity and expression via graffiti. Graffiti comes hand in hand with rejection, whether it started with chalking being covered with advertisement or spray paints being grey washed. The messages shared and the council walls used all add to rebellion that graffiti is used to express. Banky’s ‘Well-Hung Lover’ on Park Street was painted on a council owned wall and came under fire by the council to get rid of it but due to immense public backing it is now one of the most famous spots in Bristol. Graffiti is a powerful visual tool to see social change and anarchy as it happens and the rejection it faces just adds more meaning to its message.

Source: BBC Bristol





Author: Nell Beckett, 2nd Year Anthropology BA Student, University of Bristol


What is the South West Anarchy Research Project (SWARP) all about?

The National Lottery Heritage Fund is in place to connect people and communities with local and national heritage, and in partnership with this fund we are embarking on an exciting project! The South West Anarchy Research Project will build a bridge between the community and a variety of archaeological sub-projects, relating to the concept of ‘1000 years of Anarchy’.



So firstly, what IS anarchy in archaeology?
Most of us will have heard the word anarchy at some point, and the word itself is often associated with unrest, chaos and a lack of government. But broadly, in anthropology and archaeology, the study of anarchy is interested in the ways that resistance within hierarchical societies exists. But how can we see these kinds of resistances? And what do they mean for archaeological study? In early medieval archaeology things like evidence of fortification can tell us about conflicts and alliances, and in modern archaeology, small resistances from communities can be seen in things such Bristol’s own rich tapestry of graffiti. What is clear is that anarchy is not an exclusively historical or an exclusively modern concept – it has been present wherever there is ordered hierarchy in a society. So let’s investigate!

The first anarchy period in England happens over 19 years, from around 1135AD to 1153AD. The catalyst of these years of civil unrest and chaos was a classic fight for the throne. In 1135, William the Conqueror’s son, King Henry I died, and a succession battle took place between his daughter, Empress Matilda and her cousin, Stephen of Blois. Both grandchildren of William the Conqueror, the country was plunged into civil war. What we as archaeologists see as the product of this battle for the crown are things like castles cropping up across the country, churches and other usually unprotected buildings being fortified and coins with both Matilda and Stephen on appearing as people tried to make their allegiances clear and known.

The South West of England played a key role in this period of anarchy, and SWARP has two very exciting sites that we are and will be working on over the next few years. Where study of the anarchy period has usually focused on castles and classic means of fortification, we are now also looking further afield at the bigger picture.

Hartygrove, South Gloucestershire
Every year, the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology run a student training excavation – three weeks of digging, discovery and experience for our wonderful students. After 15 years of digging at Berkely Castle, we are now excavating a site in South Gloucestershire! So far, the students, staff and the Thornbury Archaeology Group have uncovered what is currently thought to be a medieval hunting lodge with an associated kitchen building and extensions to the original lodge.

So what are medieval hunting lodges?
Nobility in England and indeed further afield have long had a thirst for hunting, but as this often required travelling to a prime hunting ground or destination, hunting lodges were built for the nobles to reside in during their trips. These are often uncovered with kitchen buildings, separate to the main lodge so that the nobles could be served and fed throughout their stay. This bears great similarity to what we have begun to uncover at Hartygrove.

Bristol Castle
While most of us who live, work and study in Bristol will have walked through Castle Park at some point or other, how many of us know that beneath our feet are the remains of a great castle, demolished in 1656 by order of Oliver Cromwell? Originally built for Bishop Geoffrey of Coutances, the half-brother of William the Conqueror, Bristol Castle quickly become one of the most important castles of Norman origin in England. Built in a very strategic location, Bristol Castle was surrounded by water, sitting on the river, meaning that it was incredibly well defended from attack and siege. Multiple phases of fortification were added to the castle throughout it’s existence, furthering this defensible status. When we look at this castle through the lens of anarchism, and relating to the anarchy period that SWARP is investigating (1135-1153AD), this really is a key site. Alongside Empress Matilda’s rebels rallying at the castle, and it becoming an impregnable stronghold, Stephen of Blois was captured and imprisoned inside the castle walls in ¬1141.

3D Reconstruction of Bristol Castle by David Martyn, based on archaeological and historical evidence


These two sites are of great interest to the South West Anarchy Research Project, and we will be bringing them to life so that we can all gain a better understanding of the history and heritage of our local areas.


The next key period of anarchy that SWARP encounters is the English Civil War (1642-1651). A period of civil unrest, rebellion and all out war, these 19 years were triggered by the unpopularity of Charles I’s regime. Three wars ensued between the supporters of Charles I, and those who were loyal to Parliament, where up to 200,000 people lost their lives.

Royal Fort Gardens and House

During these years of Civil War, what we see today as the historic environment changed drastically. Buildings all across the country were heavily fortified, be them castles or not, and many of the ruined castles that we see across the English landscape today were destroyed as a result of this catastrophic conflict.

As we edge closer to the spring and summer months, Bristol students and locals will start to fill the lush green lawns of Royal Fort Gardens, bathing in the sun or sitting in the shade of the magnificent house. But if we throw our minds back to the 17th century, what would we see?
While the house that stands today was built in the 18th century, it was preceded by five bastions designed by Dutch military engineer, Sir Bernard de Gomme. These bastions were one of the very few sites that were constructed solely for defensive purposes during this time. They acted as the western headquarters of the Royalist army and were said to have been the strongest defenses in Bristol. Evidence of this defensive site were excavated by the University of Bristol in 2001, 2009 and in 2021.

SWARP will continue to research and process everything that was found during these excavations, and begin to bring together these tales of anarchy throughout history in the South West!


The underground scene in Bristol and the South West in the last 40-50 years is one that is entwined with the art and music scene. Much of the original underground music scene in Bristol holds its roots in Caribbean influence; recent years have rightly reminded us of the origins of the city of Bristol, and the movement of black Caribbean peoples. This combined with the punk movement in Bristol gave way to an original music scene, in turn giving way to hip-hop culture in the 1980’s. With this, came a rise in graffiti art around the city, with renowned artists like Robert Del Naja (AKA 3D) and Banksy working in and on the city. The underground scene, by definition is removed from the mainstream, and music and art produced is often associated with political statement and rebellion. An important element of the SWARP project is going to investigate the heritage of Stokes Croft and it’s graffiti in particular – there is often a narrative of illegality surrounding graffiti, and the word ‘vandalism’ is thrown around frequently. SWARP is going to research and survey the buildings throughout Stokes Croft and the wider areas to document and hopefully contribute to the preservation of this important heritage feature in Bristol.

We look forward to keeping you up to date with the project and all the exciting things that come with it!



Who designed the Royal Fort?

Blog by Makenzie Snarey

As we continue with archival research and report writing for our excavations, we came across the question; Who designed the Royal Fort? Bernard de Gomme would be the person in question! His name may not be as famous as Charles I or Oliver Cromwell but his countless fortifications across England changed military engineering. Little is known about de Gomme before his military apprenticeship as an engineer with Fredrick Henry, Prince of Orange in 1641[1]. However we do know he was born in 1620 in the Netherlands and died in 1685. At 22 years old, de Gomme was appointed quartermaster-general before he accompanied Prince Rupert to the storming of Bristol in 1643 and was later knighted by Charles I in 1645 [2] . Under Prince Rupert, de Gomme constructed the Oxford fortifications as well as Liverpool, Newark, and of course, Royal Fort.[3] He followed Prince Rupert into exile in 1646 but returned to serve as Charles II’s Chief Engineer in 1661. During his second stay in England, de Gomme constructed countless fortifications including Dunkirk, Plymouth (pictured to the right), and Tilbury, and reconstructed the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.[4] Much of these plans are now kept in the British Library and readily available for viewing!

De Gomme’s battle maps and engineering plans are extensively detailed. Edmund Turnor’s 1803 landscape of Bristol was the assumed structural layout of the Civil War, but De Gomme’s map provided several fortifications that Turnor left out.[5] Not only were de Gomme’s maps and plans thorough, but so was his account of the 1643 siege. The link below is a transcription of the account by Lieut.-Colonel G.H. Leslie. While De Gomme’s account of the siege is meticulous in some regards, he is criticized for not providing further detail on the royalist line after it moved from Stoke’s Croft to Tower Harratz. [6] While in Bristol, De Gomme oversaw the fortification and improvement of abandoned parliamentarian defenses such as Windmill Fort which became Prince Rupert’s headquarters. [7] This included the Royal Fort which was described to be a “practical solution for the elevated terrain.” [8] Bernard De Gomme’s Royal Fort’s blueprints may be lost but excavation efforts have and continue to uncover Bristol’s strongest Civil War defense.

Lieut.-Colonel G.H. Leslie transcription:

British Library:,contains,bernard+de%20gomme&tab=website_tab

[1] Christopher Storrs, Review of Fortress Builder. Bernard de Gomme, Charles II’s Military Engineer, by Andrew Saunders, (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2004): 119.

[2] “Sir Bernard de Gomme,” Fortified Places, accessed 2021.

[3] “Sir Bernard de Gomme”.

[4] Storrs, 119.

[5] Patrick McGrath, Bristol and the Civil War (Bristol: Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, 1981), 49.

[6] McGrath, 49.

[7] Andrew King, “‘Not fullye so loftye’: excavations at the Royal Fort, St Michael’s Hill, Bristol,” Post-Medieval Archaeology 48, no. 1 (2014): 4.

[8] King, 38.

The famous ancestor: Oliver Cromwell

Blog by Lily Smith

Since we are all in a Civil War mood the last few weeks, we thought that we should talk more about Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell, was an English general and statesman who led Parliamentary armies against King Charles I’s Royalist forces during the English Civil War. During the war, Cromwell became well known for his ruthlessness in battle, and was quickly promoted from  commander of a single cavalry troop to being one of the principal leaders of the New Model Army, who played a key role in the defeat of the Royalist army. After the death of Charles I, Cromwell dominated the Commonwealth of England as a member of the Rump Parliament and was subsequently elected to command the English campaign in Ireland in 1649. His forces occupied the country and brought an end to the Irish Confederate Wars. Cromwell also led an attack against Scotland in 1650. In 1653, Cromwell dismissed the Rump Parliament, and set up a short-lived Barebone’s Parliament, and his fellow leaders invited him to rule as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England. Cromwell died of natural causes in 1658, and was succeeded by his son Richard, whose weakness led to the Royalist’s return to power and the re-establishment of King Charles II.

One of Cromwell’s greatest motivations was for Protestants to have the ability to worship God in the way they thought was correct. As a Puritan, he wanted England to become godlier, championing specific behaviours such as sobriety, piousness, and better manners. This attitude backfired, however, with many ordinary people disagreeing with his rules. Despite Cromwell’s dislike of the rules of the Church of England under the rule of Charles, he was extremely harsh on those who he perceived to be a threat to the Protestant Church, with his policy of religious tolerance not extending to those he considered to be heretics, such as Quakers, Socinians, and Ranters.

Similarly, Cromwell’s views and actions regarding Parliament were often contradictory. He was a firm believer in the importance of Parliament and working closely with MPs. Despite this, he dismissed Parliament twice by force during his rule, and often argued with said MPs. His power relied largely on the support of the army, so in order to work with Parliament to pass laws, he had to attempt to keep both the army and the MPs happy. This proved difficult, as the army and MPs often disagreed with each other; the MPs disliked the army and the high taxes required to finance it, and the leaders of the army (often political and religious radicals with extremist views) distrusted the MPs, many of whom would have re-instated Charles I after the first Civil War. Cromwell’s dismissals of his Protectorate Parliaments led to the country eventually being ruled by his major generals; essentially, a military dictatorship.

Cromwell’s biggest motivation for his campaign in Ireland was the threat of a Royalist invasion, due to the monarchy’s continued support in Ireland. However, Cromwell had a more personal vendetta against the Irish, due to the large Catholic population, as well as a hunger for revenge for a massacre of English Protestants in Ireland in 1641. Cromwell’s eagerness to crush the Irish forces was apparent throughout the course of his attacks, with his army slaughtering soldiers and civilians alike in a number of brutal battles.  In the siege of Drogheda in September 1649, Cromwell even joined in on the massacre, ordering his men to kill all priests, monks, and nuns. These actions have led to Cromwell’s measures being categorised as genocidal.

One of Cromwell’s most controversial and memorable actions was the cancellation of Christmas. During his reign as Lord Protector, shops and markets were ordered to stay open on Christmas Day, and soldiers were ordered to patrol the city and seize any food they found being prepared for Christmas. However, the contempt of Christmas did not begin with Cromwell. Rather, Puritan leaders had been voicing their dislike of religious celebrations they considered frivolous (i.e., Christmas) since the mid 1500s. These Puritans held the belief that said celebrations threatened Christian beliefs, encouraged immoral activities, and dishonoured God. Legislation protesting these festivals had been enacted before Cromwell’s reign, and in 1645, Parliament produced a Directory for Public Worship that advised that these days of celebration should be spent in respectful contemplation rather than celebrated. From then until 1660, Christmas was officially illegal. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Cromwell played a prominent role in formulating and advancing the legislation restricting Christmas celebrations. Regardless, our knowledge of his beliefs and faith can allow us to assume that he was sympathetic towards the cause, due to his support of the enforcement of the measures. Although Cromwell himself did not initiate the abolition of Christmas, his rise to power definitely catalysed it.

Actions like these have solidified Cromwell as one of the most controversial figures in British history. Many have claimed him to be a villain, a dictator, and a fascist. During the Civil War, Cromwell was a brutal military leader, who did not stop fighting until the opposition had been destroyed. Whilst it can be argued that war is always bloody and brutal, his conquest of Ireland showcased his bigotry and violence due to his contempt for Catholicism. Although some historians claim Cromwell didn’t directly give the order to murder civilians, as commander-in-chief of the army, the responsibility for the army’s actions lies with him. Furthermore, although Cromwell disagreed with the monarchy, his hunger for power turned him into somewhat of a hypocrite. Despite his Puritan beliefs, he behaved like a monarch when acting as Lord Protector, going so far as to have people address him as ‘Highness’.

However, some people see Cromwell as a hero, due to his blunt and no-nonsense attitudes. Utilising the example of the conquest of Ireland, it can be argued that Cromwell did the only thing a leader could do in that situation in order to defend his nation. Much of the evidence painting Cromwell in a negative light is contradictory, with some modern historians claiming that Cromwell actually avoided the killing of civilians during his campaign in Ireland. As Lord Protector, his actions were motivated by sincere religious beliefs, and when he was offered the crown in 1657, he stayed true to his republican beliefs and denied it due to the philosophical and moral implications. However, due to the contradictory historical evidence and highly biased accounts of the English Civil War, it is difficult to ascertain whether Cromwell was indeed a hero or a villain. However, here in Bristol we are all proud that our very own Dr Stuart Prior is a descendant of the famous man!

The Royal Fort House – in the place of the old fort

blog by Megan Vandewalle

Our excavation this summer are take place at the gardens surrounding the famous Royal Fort House. The site of the Royal Fort House and the surrounding garden has had a long and interesting history. The house itself is described as Bristol’s finest Georgian villa. It is a three-storey square plan built in Bath stone and its three elevations are attributed to three different architects, each one commissioned by Thomas Tyndall as an ode to classicism.

The house was built in the 18th century on the site of bastions which were fought over during the English Civil War. During the autumn of 1642, as the hostility of the rival forces of the Crown and Parliament deepened and the threat of civil war increased, Bristol began work on the expensive task of surrounding the city with defensive earthworks. The pass into Bristol between Windmill Hill and Brandon Hill was defended by forts built atop the two hills. On the west of the city the fortifications ran from Brandon Hill fort and continued up to the hill-top then known as Windmill Fort. These forts were used by Prince Rupert during his siege of the city, and in July 1643, the Prince successfully captured Bristol from the Parliamentarians. Rupert became Governor of Bristol and subsequently rebuilt the fort on Windmill Hill, which then became known as the Royal Fort. The “Royal” in the name was in honour of Prince Rupert when he was made Governor of Bristol.

In 1655, Oliver Cromwell ordered the demolition of the Royal Fort. Colonel Thomas Tyndall, a wealthy merchant from the long-established, locally influential Tyndall family from south Gloucestershire, leased the land from Bristol Corporation in 1737. He intended to build a fashionable mansion and garden on the grounds. In 1758, the Common Council of Bristol renewed his lease of a house in the Royal Fort for a fine of £60 and an annual rent of £6. In 1762, he bought the freehold from the Council for £670. He soon acquired the freehold of the Royal Fort from the Corporation and most of the surrounding property, and demolished houses, cottages and buildings to create an elegant parkland. Tyndall demolished many of the stone walls which had divided the area into paddocks, planted trees and erected a grand entrance to his park from Park Row, with a gateway flanked by two lodges.


Tyndall commissioned three different architects to design an elegant Georgian mansion to overlook his newly constructed park. The Baroque, Palladian and Rococo styles of architecture are attributed to several architects. James Bridges designed the house to join an existing building on the north side, and engaged the Bristol sculptor, Thomas Paty, to provide the ornate carving, while the fine plasterwork of the interior was created by Thomas Stocking. By the 1760s, the Royal Fort House, with its beautiful interiors of plasterwork and carved wood, was finished. The Tyndalls’ lived at Royal Fort House until 1916 when it was sold to the University of Bristol. The house is now the home of the University’s Institute for Advanced Studies.

The architectural quality of the house is exceptional, and it remains one of the most interesting and important C18 houses surviving in Bristol. Its design provides an important link between Bristol and classical architecture. Royal Fort House is Grade I Listed and the gardens are included in the gazetteer of historic parks and gardens in Avon, which makes them of national, regional and local significance.

Working out Royal Fort’s dimensions

Previous excavations of Royal Fort, Bristol appear to have underestimated its size, for example the BaRAS excavations of 2014 ( included the following illustration, which shows the southern end of the fort reaching only as far as the bay window of Royal Fort house. Our excavations, however, seem to be revealing a much larger footprint for the fort itself.

BaRAS unfortunately missed a key resource for understanding the earlier landscape in the area. Namely, Humphrey Repton’s ‘Red Book’ entitled ‘The Fort nr. Bristol, a seat of Thomas Tyndall esq’ in which it shows the shape of the fortification (unfortunately without a scale to gauge its dimensions) as well as other useful information. BaRAS can be forgiven however as the book was located in Yale university library, Connecticut and may not have been digitised at the time.

Repton used a plan of the fort taken from one of 56 etchings of the antiquities of Bristol made by Joseph Skelton who in turn utilised artwork by Hugh O’Neill as inspiration. Hugh O’Neill was an English architectural and antiquarian draughtsman, and his drawings are part of the Braikenridge collection held by Bristol City Museum.

Repton’s Red Book also contains a cross-section pen and ink drawing showing, to the left, The House at the Fort (Royal Fort House), then The Pleasure Ground (with accompanying large hole = the remains of a section of Prince Rupert’s Royal Fort), beyond which is The Park.


What is important in this illustration however are the three tiny lines written beneath: the dotted line shows the original shape of the ground; the zigzag line shows the chasms dug from 15 to 20 feet deep; the shaded line shows the present shape of the ground, as altered and planted. Importantly, each one of these lines represents a phase in the landscape’s history. The first line represents the original shape of the landscape, pre-Civil War. The next line essentially represents the construction of Prince Rupert’s Royal Fort by Bernard de Gommebetween 1643-4  with its vast ditches (which Repton was tasked to fill-in), and the final line represents Humphrey Repton’s relandscaping of the locale into a picturesque pleasure ground.


The image below (Duffy, 1985, 2) shows a cross-section througha typical Civil War fort and this is essentially what we appear to be seeing with our geophysical surveys and excavation on site where we appear to be targeting the most southerly baston of Royal Fort.

Also, from Repton’s Red Book is the image below, showing a substantial surviving piece of masonry/walling. This wall appears to survive to the present day (despite Repton’s landscaping) and is showing up immediately to the north of our present Trench 3. There is even local folklore suggesting that this is a remaining fragment of the Royal Fort.



Bristol and the English Civil War

Since our excavation shed a new light into the Civil War history in Bristol, let’s have a look at the role that the city played in the war. The English Civil War was a series of battles between Royalists, who supported King Charles I, and Parliamentarians, who fought against him. The conflict surrounded the governance of England and religious freedom. King Charles and his supporters wanted absolute monarchy due to his strong belief in the divine right of kings, whereas the Parliamentarians wanted constitutional monarchy. The conflict ended with a Parliamentarian victory, marked by the execution of Charles I, the exile of his son, Charles II, and the abolition of the English monarchy. The English monarchy was then replaced by the Commonwealth of England, with Oliver Cromwell ruling over the British Isles.

The event that first triggered conflict was the dissolution of Parliament by Charles I in 1629, which marked the beginning of 11 years of Personal Rule- namely, a period of government without parliaments. In a bid to secure religious conformity across Britain, Charles introduced a new prayer book in Scotland, which resulted in protest from the Scots. Charles attempted to secure order by preparing to send troops to Scotland. However, this required money which Charles did not have, causing him to summon a new parliament. This parliament was resentful of the monarch’s domestic policies, refusing to grant him money, causing Charles to re-dissolve parliament a month later. Scotland’s forces overpowered the English, forcing Charles into a truce due to their occupation of Northern England. Once again, Charles re-established parliament to provide him with financial assistance- a decision which backfired, with many members of parliament using their position to voice their complaints against Charles’s policies. In an attempt to demonstrate political control, Charles attempted to arrest five leading members of parliament. However, they evaded the monarch’s capture, and in 1642 the civil war began.

Charles set up his royal standard in Nottingham, summoning his subjects to join him in the fight against parliament. Almost all of southern England fell under Parliamentarian control, with the exception of Cornwall, who became some of the king’s strongest fighters. On the 23rd of October 1642, Charles’s army advanced on London, resulting in a battle at Edgehill in Warwickshire which proved to be indecisive. The following September, after a series of reverses, Charles called for a ceasefire with the Catholic insurgents in Ireland in order for the English Protestant soldiers to return home and serve in the Royalist army. This caused even more outrage from the Parliamentarians, who then formed an alliance with Scotland, who agreed to fight in return for church reform in England. On the 2nd of July 1644, Prince Rupert’s army was destroyed in a battle with the Parliamentarians and the Scots, resulting in the loss of the north to the king. Following a defeat in the Battle of Lostwithiel in Cornwall, parliament passed the Self-denying Ordinance, requiring all members of parliament to lay down their commands. This restructured fighting force, which was made law on the 15th of February 1645, was named the New Model Army, of which Oliver Cromwell was second in command. This army went on to crush the Royalist’s main field army in Naseby, Northamptonshire, effectively crushing any chance of Charles winning the civil war.

On the 5th of May 1646, Charles surrendered to the Scots, who handed him over to the Parliamentarians. Two years later, in 1648, a second civil war broke out, with Royalist rebellions breaking out throughout the country. The Royalist force rode south, but were destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s army, marking the end of the Royalist resurgence. On the 30th of January 1649, Charles was executed, after being found guilty of treason. In an effort to recover his father’s throne, Charles I’s eldest son made a bargain with the Scots. On the agreement that he take the Covenant himself, the Scots crowned him King Charles II of Scotland in early 1651. After his coronation, Charles II utilised his Scottish army to invade England. Despite the support of many English royalists, Charles II’s army was defeated in battle at Worcester by Oliver Cromwell’s forces. This was the last major battle of the English Civil War, and Charles was exiled abroad.

Following the execution of Charles I, there were a number of internal disagreements within parliamentary factions. To resolve this, Oliver Cromwell dissolved this rump parliament and summoned a new one, which also failed to manage the complex issues England was now facing. Cromwell also named himself ‘Lord Protector’, essentially giving him the powers of a monarch. His regime was supported by his continuing popularity with the military. In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died, and his son Richard took his position as Lord Commander. The Commonwealth fell into financial chaos and parliament was once again dissolved. Richard Cromwell was overthrown, and a leading officer of the army realised that the only end to the political chaos would be the restoration of Charles II. On the 29th of May 1660, Charles II was officially restored to the English throne, an event marked by massive celebrations.

Bristol should have played a key part in the English Civil War due to the importance of the port to both the Royalists and Parliamentarians. However, it did not meet its expectations as a strategical key due to the population’s reluctance to participate in the war. Bristol’s governing body initially wanted to keep the city neutral, with a request being made in 1642 for Parliamentarian Thomas Essex to not occupy the city. Despite this, Essex’s forces managed to enter Bristol with little resistance due to its weak defences. For the duration of the war, the Royalists utilised Bristol as a receiving point for reinforcements from Ireland. Bristol Castle, as well as the Frome and Avon rivers, meant the town was well defended against attack, but the population of Bristol were largely unenthusiastic in fulfilling the expectations of such a large and rich port town. The Royal Fort House, designed by Dutch military engineer Sir Bernard de Gomme, acted as one of Bristol’s strongest defences, as it was one of the only purpose-built defensive works of the era. The fort was made to be the western headquarters of the Royalist army, but it was demolished in 1655.

The key event that occurred in Bristol during the war was the Storming of Bristol by the Royalists in 1643, in which Prince Rupert’s army seized the town from its Parliamentarian garrison. Bristol went on to become a major supply base for the Royalists, as well as a centre for communication, administration, and manufacture. Bristol was important to the Royalists due to their dependence on foreign aid and imported weaponry. In order for them to receive this cargo, however, the ships had to evade Parliamentarian patrols. In September 1645, the second Siege of Bristol occurred, and the city surrendered to the Parliamentarian army. In disgrace, Prince Rupert fled England, and English Royalists were left with only the port of Chester to connect them to Ireland.