Broadcast 27 February 2005
Wessex Archaeology was commissioned by Videotext Communications Ltd to carry out archaeological recording and post-excavation analysis on an archaeological evaluation by Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’ in the village of St Osyth, Essex. St Osyth is located in the Tendring district of north-east Essex, approximately five miles west of Clacton-on-Sea. The village, which developed around the site of the medieval Priory, lies on the crest of a low spur of land, centred at NGR 612500 215800, that rises approximately 19m aOD (above Ordnance Datum) from the St Osyth creek to the south.
The aim of the evaluation was to gain an understanding of the evolution and development of St Osyth with its relationships to the development of the Priory and examine the role of the creek in the economy of the town. To achieve this, a number of techniques were employed, including geophysical survey, fieldwalking, trial trenching and dendrochronology. The work was undertaken between the 11th and 14th May 2004. Spoil from all of the archaeologically significant trenches was metal detected by approved operators. Some 1.7 ha of land were subject to geophysical survey, wither in the form of gradiometry survey or resistance survey. In the area to the north of the creek, magnetic survey identified a number of anomalies towards the southern edge of the survey area bordering the creek, including one particularly strong response, though to be industrial in origin, and the line of a palaeochannel.
Small quantities of prehistoric, Roman and Saxon material were recovered, adding to our scant knowledge of these periods in St Osyths’ history. The Domesday Survey mentions St Osyth, which was clearly a thriving settlement before the founding of the first Abbey on the site in AD 1121.
The early medieval period saw a marked expansion in St Osyth’s prosperity and in population. Time Team’s work at St Osyth has demonstrated that medieval settlement, which is not likely to be much earlier than the early 14th century, extended along the spur of land west from the present centre of the town. This tract of land overlooked the St Osyth Creek to the south and was possibly constrained by St Osyth Little Park to the north. Surface collection identified a large spread of medieval pottery in this area.
Settlement was also located around the church and the Priory precinct. All test pits in the centre of the town were characterised by deep soil accumulations up to a metre deep, indicative of prolonged occupation. The project also investigated a structure, thought to be a wharf, on the north bank of the creek. This was radiocarbon dated to between AD 1480 and 1660 (at a 95% confidence level). This was probably built to serve the needs of people living west of the present quay.
The evaluation suggests that the prosperity of the town was inextricably linked to the fortunes of the Priory. Settlement in the area west of the town appears to have continued into the 16th century, but contracted and ceased in the 17th century, possibly related to the Dissolution of 1539. Dendrochronology work undertaken as part of this project has indicated that three of the town’s timber-framed buildings were built or modified in the 15th or early 16th century.
Nearer the waterfront however there is no evidence for settlement after the 17th century. A brick built kiln was excavated immediately north of the creek. It probably dates to the 17th or 18th century. Hammerscale found in the furnace debris indicates that smithing, probably related to continued shipbuilding and repair, continued along the creek. However the quantities of debris are insufficient to conclude that this structure was related to metal work and were probably derived from activity nearby.