Digging Castle Hill Park

The last two weeks in September saw the community excavations of the Knights Hospitaller's Preceptory at Beaumont Leys. The excavation was run by the University of Leicester on behalf of the Story of the Parks project and attracted amateur archaeologists from across the city.

Castle Park DigGazette reader and amateur local historian Robin Matthewman, from the Castle Hall Archaeology Project, said 'Our excavations have uncovered well preserved evidence of medieval buildings and yards.  Large quantities of pottery suggest occupations of the 13th century which fits with the Knights Hospitallers. The finds have been fantastic compared with what was originally expected'.

The site comprises a ditched and banked enclosure containing the remains of a Preceptory, a monastic complex formerly belonging to the Knights Hospitaller, and buildings designed to provide for the knight's domestic and religious needs, including  hospice accommodation for travellers and pilgrims. In later years, the site  probably functioned as a monastic grange or sheep farm; the receipts from which funded the Knights Hospitaller's campaigns in the Holy Lands.

The site was in use from around 1240 until 1482 and later went on to become a deer park for the Kings of England before being sold off. It eventually was used by Leicester Water Board Corporation as a sewage works from 1891 and 1965. At 250 acres, It is probably the largest park in Leicester.

The excavation has found remnants of possibly two buildings which have been dismantled in later years when all the timber support beams where removed. Both of these seem to be lesser buildings but there are loads of roofing slates - and the nails to hold them on- dumped throughout the excavation. The success of finding this has delighted archaeologists as many thought it had all been destroyed by the sewage works.

It is hoped that this community excavation can be repeated next year so it further extends learning of this historic park.

If you haven't been, the park can be found in Beaumont Leys off Astill Lodge Rd and info about it can be found on the City Council's website.