Pottering About Beaumont Leys

Castle Hill Big Dig returns this September for the second year of archaeological excavations - and this time it's even bigger.

Throughout September from Saturdays to Wednesdays, the local community will be excavating the Knights Hospitallers' perceptory at Castle Hill Country Park in Beaumont leys. The dig will be run by the University of Leicester on behalf of the Story of the Parks project and attracts many amateur archaeologists.

Pottery ShardsGazette reader and amateur local historian Robin Matthewman, from the Castle Hall Archaeology Project, said: 'Our excavations last year 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. (Pic) This year we hope to not only expand the number of trenches we are uncovering, but also to look more deeply at the features that we find.'

The site comprises a ditched and banked enclosure containing the remains of a preceptory, a monastic complex formerly belonging to the Knights Hospitallers' and buildings designed to provide for the knights' 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 Hospitallers' 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.

The excavation last year found remnants of possibly two timber buildings which have been dismantled in later years when all the timber support beams where removed. And on the last afternoon the corner of a stone building was found. During follow up work in the lab there was found to be large amount of hammerscale which is small bits of metal, that fly off from the hot metal when hammered) from smithy workings. So lots of metalwork seems to have been happening there, but only nails were found. The success of finding this has delighted archaeologists as many thought it had all been destroyed by the sewage works.

There are plans for an open day at the end of September but visitors are welcome over the weekends.

The park can be found in Beaumont Leys off Astill Lodge Rd and information about it can be found on the City Council's website.