The Context One Volunteer Programme: Clarendon Palace

We are very excited to host a series of volunteer events at Clarendon Palace near Salisbury in Wiltshire between 2017 and 2018 and we would like to invite YOU to take part.

What is it that you are doing?

A large spoil heap left from the 1930s excavations, and believed to be from the excavation of the Great Hall, will be partially dug for the retrieval of artefacts and ecofacts. Previous excavations of the smaller spoil heaps on the site showed that much of the material that we would routinely collect as part of modern excavation was discarded or ignored by the excavators of the time. Our task is to dig this spoil heap (the largest and last remaining on the site) and sieve the soil for evidence that we hope will greatly add to a growing picture of royal life at the palace across the medieval period. 

Nothing goes to waste either! The sieved soil will be placed alongside the walls due for reburial as part of the present Conservation Management Plan and any suitable flint will be set aside for for consolidation works. 

When can I help?
We have already carried out a week of excavation in August 2017 with volunteer help and we plan to carry out a similar event next Summer. In the meantime, we are hoping to hold several weekend events.  If you are interested in helping for a day, a weekend, or longer, then please sign up to our mailing list below, and we will let you know when an event is coming up.

Do you offer accommodation or food?
I’m afraid we don’t have the facilities to offer accommodation or food but we will have a toilet on site and we can offer a passable cup of tea!


A bit of background…
Clarendon was one of just a few sites occupied by royalty from the Norman Conquest to the Tudor period. A succession of kings and queens from Henry I to Henry VI invested in the buildings and the surrounding deer park which became the largest in England.

The palace fell into disrepair after 1485, but the magnificent deer park remained a royal asset up to the Civil War when the estate passed into private tenure. 

The ruins became a fascination with antiquarians from the early 18th century and the first excavations of the palace took place in the early 19th century although these were mainly ‘wall chasing’ investigations. Several seasons of excavations were carried out in the 1930s. Led by Tancred Borenius, the excavations largely focused on exposing the palace plan and recovering any sculptures although trenches were dug to investigate the cellar, great hall and king’s chamber. 

The excavations were halted abruptly in 1939 following the outbreak of WWII leaving the trenches open and an array of spoil heaps. A number of modest investigations took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s and culminated in the removal of the King’s Pavement, a circular pattern of tiles dating to the early 13th century and now housed in the British Museum.

In the late 1970s, Tom James (Professor Emeritus in Archaeology and History, University of Winchester) and Annie Robinson brought together the results of the previous excavations for the first time in 1980 and published Clarendon Palace : the history and archaeology of a medieval palace and hunting lodge near Salisbury, Wiltshire. By the early 1990s, a revived interest in the palace and the wider park setting spawned an exciting programme of research and fieldwork that is still ongoing. 

The palace site was cleared of trees in 1994 and the site was mapped and fieldwalked. Numerous spoil heaps left since the 1930s were excavated by archaeology students at King Alfred’s College (now University of Winchester) and sieved. Together, this produced tens of thousands of artefacts including pottery, roof tile, animal bone and metalwork. 










The exposure of the palace ruins revealed that the surviving masonry was in a poor state and English Heritage (now Historic England) placed the site on the Buildings at Risk Register. Funding for a Survey Grant  followed in 1996 and was designed to appraise the archaeology and ecology of the palace and wider park. A Management Plan, supported by English Heritage was produced in 1998. Both documents were prepared by the Archaeological Consultancy at King Alfred’s College under Tom James and Chris Gerrard (now Professor of Archaeology, Durham University). The culmination of this work, together with subsequent fieldwork and research (Richardson 2003, 2005), led to the publication of Clarendon. Landscape of Kings by Tom James and Chris Gerrard in 2007. 



Essential conservation work on the extant palace masonry funded by English Heritage took place around this time and a further round of consolidation and repairs are due to be carried out in the autumn of 2017 as part of the new Clarendon Palace and Inner Park Pale: Conservation Management Plan funded by Historic England. This work will also include the reburial of some walls. For over a decade, the general maintenance of the palace site has been underpinned by the efforts of the Friends of Clarendon, a dedicated group of volunteers who also organise an annual lecture and occasional conference.