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Knights Templar Preceptory, Copmanthorpe

The South Ainsty Archaeological Society carried out a trial excavation at the supposed site of the Knights Templar Preceptory at Copmanthorpe over the weekend of 15–18 Sept 2006. The work, funded by the lottery through the Awards for All scheme, and with support from local firms Portakabin and Colliers Plant Hire, was designed to confirm whether a site identified by crop and soil marks near the suggested site of the preceptory, is the site described in documentary sources and recorded on early maps.

Two trenches were opened, located to cut features marked on a plot of the aerial photos produced by English Heritage. The first, 40m x 2m, should have cut several ditch/boundary features and a larger ‘splodge’ at the west end. Only two of the ditch features were present, and the ‘splodge’, which appears to be an accumulation of clayey silt in a hollow. The ditches were badly truncated and no dating material was recovered.

Trench 2 (L-shaped, 30m x 4m, with 6m x 4m extension) was positioned to cut through both the boundary and interior of a roughly square enclosure, and to provide a section across the pond which was backfilled c 30 years ago. The whole of the area of T2 was covered by a dump layer c 0.4m thick which contained medieval tile, charcoal etc. This appeared to be a ‘natural’ dump, probably the result of flooding. The enclosure ditch was cut into this layer, and is thus a relatively late feature (?post-med). The ditch can be identified with an enclosure around the pond marked on early OS edns, but absent from those of the 1890s.

The pond was clearly visible, and after initial attempts to cut a section by hand, a JCB was brought in. The infill layer was clearly visible, with a black/grey silt below; the whole feature was c 2m deep. Unfortunately, the unstable nature of the backfill meant it was not possible to undertake detailed recording, but a sample of the lowest fill has been sent for assessment.

Clearly, the site has been badly damaged by ploughing in recent years: the size of the features noted on the various APs would have suggested much more substantial features than those actually encountered. The topsoil proved to be only 0.2 – 0.3m thick and there was clear evidence of the plough hitting the subsoil.
The most notable feature of the work was the huge quantity of medieval tile recovered both from the excavation trenches and the surrounding ploughsoil. Tile had been noted on the field in the past, but this has now been confirmed as medieval. Finds also included medieval pottery and, importantly, glazed medieval floor tiles. These, plus the blocks of dressed limestone that appear periodically, suggest that there were substantial stone buildings on the site in the medieval period.

Despite the disappointing results from the trenches, it now seems certain that this field is the site of the preceptory, and future work will focus on trying to locate the building(s) accurately.

As an exercise in community archaeology, the project was a great success, with approx 25 volunteers on site at any one time. Everyone seems to have enjoyed it, and hopefully they learnt a little about the mysteries of archaeology!

A full report will be available later in the year.

Many thanks to all who helped in any way.

Catrina Appleby
South Ainsty Archaeological Society

26 September 2006

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