Excavation - Renovation - Celebration!
I would like to say thank you to our Friends of Wolfhall for joining us on this incredible journey. Who knows what we are going to find next! I feel so honoured to be part of all this.

Because of building and other works we regret that it is not possible to accommodate any visits to Wolfhall this year.

Chair, Wolfhall Advisory Group
Hi Friends,

I hope everyone is well and enjoying the sunny spring weather we’ve been experiencing recently. 

I’m very much looking forward to having Robin, Graham and the archaeologist for a new year of excavations and investigations.  They are scheduled to start very soon and I know they can't wait to get back in the mud, now conditions are much more pleasant.

This season of archaeology at Wolfhall Manor is set to be the biggest so far and certainly for me, at least, the most interesting and exciting. There will be a larger team digging for extended time periods and in several new unexcavated areas. Considering what has been found already, we are all very excited to see what further digs may uncover. 

One of the thick stone walls heading north from a trench in the secret garden may lead to more turrets and even an entrance, possibly a larger main entrance or gate house! This wall, when further excavated, will give us some more indication of the size of the original building and in what direction it may have faced. Around Wolfhall Manor there are still many areas that have never been excavated and given that this area is fairly large, the archaeological work is expected to continue for many years to come. Hopefully  we will eventually be able to know at least just what was here. How many buildings; what types and their layout.

One of the most frequently asked questions we get, is what or how much, if any, is left of the original Wolfhall from the time of Jane Seymour?  As much as I wish I could give a detailed list of such things, I am unable to but I feel I should touch on this since it is still often comes up.

Since the loss of the 'Great Barn' in the 1930s, It is believed that every building standing, visible and above ground at Wolfhall now, will have been constructed later than the 1570s and so after the time of Sir John, Jane, Edward and Thomas. Sadly, the answer could be that there is nothing left - above ground anyway.

It was still reasonable to assume that Wolfhall Manor could lay on top of a much older building and contain foundations and walls from the 1530s building(s) Even incorporating such features as oak beams, still in situ. Wolfhall Manor certainly contains some very old beams and woodwork.  Much of it reused and not in its original position. We have had some conflicting views/findings on whether some of the wooden framework of the interior could have been part of the existing structure of the 1530s.. We hope to further examine this woodwork for markings and other signs and features that could give us more information. If it is possible and deemed necessary, then I believe we may use radio carbon dating or enhanced dendrochronology to help give us some more understanding of of the interior of Manor at Wolfhall. There is also an area of brickwork on the Manor that predates all other parts, which may have stood in place since the original Tudor Wolfhall. 

Interesting to point out again, is the sheer depth of what has been found so far.  Most of it being 1.5 - 2 metres beneath present ground level. It is so deep, that actually we plan to revisit some of the first trenches that yielded nothing and dig deeper to see  if there may have been something there after all. This could suggest that quite some time could have elapsed between the decay of the Tudor Wolfhall and the start of the construction of the current Manor house.

We could say the jury is still out on this one, given that there is still much work to do but the great thing is that we are now fully on our way to finding the answers to these questions and more, about what is here now and what was here then. We have steadily been piecing things together as we get it and are always happy and honoured to share all the great and interesting material that we find.  

Given that the archaeological work has come to an end in the secret/memorial  garden, we want to give this area special priority and commence work to restore and beautify it once again, very shortly. Some great work has gone into researching the original gardens at Wolfhall, the people and their work here. We don't know exactly what the gardens were like but it is still our goal to recreate them into something as fitting and matching as possible, using as many of the original plants we’ve found linked with Wolfhall and its previous occupants.

I have spoken about some of our ideas and projects but I would prefer not to set a date for such things to be completed in case we are unable to meet our deadlines. We will update our website and other social media platforms with lots of new exclusive material and info this year. We aim to start uploading content on a much more frequent basis, with regular news updates to the digs, the garden restoration and any media or events we are working on, so please stay tuned, we have lots more coming soon.   

I look forward to welcoming you all at our open days with the archaeologists (one is expected quite soon), so hope to see all of you there if you can make it. 
Many thanks for all the kind words and support, I feel this is going to be a really big year at Wolfhall

Wishing everyone all the best,

Dominic Bruce-Binney

One of the tiles from Wolfhall, now also found at North Moreton Oxfordshire

Among the many interesting finds at Wolfhall are the floor tiles.  These can help in dating, and may also suggest how rooms were used. Four different designs and sizes of tile have been found, one plain and the others patterned.  Two of the patterned tiles are ‘encaustic’.  This means that the designs are not created by using glazes, but by incorporating different coloured clays, often involving variants of red/brown and yellow. Such tiles can depict figurative designs including animals such as lions, boars and birds, human figures such as knights and crusaders, and heraldic badges, or they may just consist of intricate patterns and shapes.  The Wolfhall tiles are of this type. 

Neighbouring tiles can have linked patterns, so that several may be required to be laid in a particular arrangement to make a single design.  Encaustic tiles were made especially from medieval times until about the time of Wolfhall, and then became popular again in Victorian times.   

How the Wolfhall tiles fit together to make larger patterns

One of the tiles from Wolfhall consists of circles and shapes in red and yellow. Four neighbouring tiles make the whole pattern.  Recently a replica of this tile has been found in North Moreton church, formerly in Berkshire, but now in Oxfordshire.  This must have come from the same manufacturer, and may provide further clues concerning their dating and origin.  More work to do!

Seymour Wings at Wolfhall

Anyone who has visited Wolfhall will be familiar with two carved wings adorning the front door. These derive from an image on the coat of arms of the Seymours. 

Seymour Wings coat of arms

This symbol was used by the Wolfhall occupants, including Queen Jane Seymour and her brother Edward, who became the first Duke of Somerset.  Over 480 years later, the wings still feature on the arms of His Grace, John, the 19th Duke of Somerset. 

The Seymour wings shown in a coat of arms, with the Order of the Garter

A coat of arms showing these wings (gold on a red background) was held by William St Maur (or Seymour) in 1245, so they were already extremely old when adopted by the Wolfhall Seymours. There have been various claims that they are ‘angel wings’ or ‘swan wings’, although the likely origin is different.  The coat of arms is described in Burke’s Peerage as: ‘Gule, Two wings conjoined in Lure, Tips downward, Or’.  This broadly translates as, ‘On a red background, two wings in gold, joined as a lure’.  Hence the wings show a falconer’s lure, wings tied together with meat and whizzed around on a cord, used in training young falcons for hunting. 

Falconry was certainly important to the Wolfhall Seymours.  The falcons were apparently given a leg of cow to eat between them each week, suggesting that there must have been a large number, although it is likely that the head falconer took a share of this too!  Falcons also featured on the tapestries of Edward Seymour when he went on to build Somerset House in London.

Falconer's lure for training birds
One of the most interesting archaeological finds of the last year was discovered by accident, and could easily have been overlooked.  The feasting at Tudor Wolfhall, when literally dozens of farm animals could be slaughtered and cooked on a single day, has provided huge piles of remains for the archaeological team to deal with.  Many thousands of bones and oyster shells have been unearthed.  Our archaeological leader, Robin Holley, took some of the bones home to clean, identify and sort.  He engaged the help of his grandson, Josh, who began washing loose soil from around the finds.  He soon discovered a small metal disc amongst earth from inside the leg of a small cowbone.  This turned out to be a silver coin, yet to be positively identified, but probably from the Iron Age. 

Dark bone with holes found at Wolfhall

Cut end of bone showing radiating lines

 Iron age coin found inside bone

It transpired that the bone from which it came was also interesting.  Unlike other bones found from the dig, which tend to be grey and often rather brittle, this bone was much harder and darker, as if it had been stained.  Near the end there were bevelled holes drilled each side, through which a cord could have been threaded, enabling the bone to be carried from the waist or round the neck, or possibly hung from a rod.  One side of the bone seems smooth and polished, as if held against the body of the person carrying it.  The end of the bone, where it had been cut and flattened, has a number of single and double marks on it, radiating out a bit like the points of a compass.  But the origins of these marks has not been explained.

As far as we know, only one other bone with coins inside has been found before in Britain.  So what was it for?  One possibility is that the bone was a purse.  In many ways it resembles a coin-holder you can buy today on eBay.  A bone would have presented a convenient way of storing money, albeit that occasional coins might get stuck for thousands of years!  Another suggestion put forward is that this was a talisman, worn like a lucky rabbit’s foot, or perhaps it could have been a votive offering to be buried, sending coins from our world into a netherworld, a bit like tossing a coin into a wishing well today.  

Other questions that arise are, why was the bone in question so dark?  Was it deliberately stained and treated, or is this just a consequence of where it was buried?  Is the bone the same age as the coin – in which case it is likely to be Iron Age?  Why was this bone found among Tudor bones from two thousand years later?  We also have no real explanation for the radiating lines on the top of the bone.  Was this done deliberately?  In which case, why?  Could it be some form of tally counter? 

If anyone has any suggestion here, please let the archaeologists know.  Do not be shy about offering further suggestions, as this discovery has few certainties associated with it.
The garden at Wolfhall, like the house, has been much altered since the building of the Tudor mansion in the 1530s. A survey of around 1540 in the Seymour papers at Longleat records that the Wolfhall estate at that time covered more than 1250 acres and included 8 gardens and 8 orchards. The present house stands in 7 acres.
The 1540 survey describes the existence of gardens and orchard of more than 2 acres close to the house. The gardens included the Great Paled garden, My Old Lady’s garden and My Young Lady’s garden. Other records at Longleat reveal the existence of a primrose garden, a very early example of a box garden and an arbour. No plan of the gardens has been discovered.
Following the recent clearance of the garden and with the aid of expert advice, it has been possible to identify the location of a Tudor orchard and nuttery, My Old Lady’s garden (named after Elizabeth Seymour, mother of Jane’s father) and My Young Lady’s garden (named after Margery Seymour, Jane’s mother). Archaeology has identified the location of the box garden.
Jane Seymour’s brother Edward was a keen gardener, an interest he shared with Henry VIII. It is recorded that he paid the gardeners at Hampton Court for seeds which he sent to Wolfhall. On the dissolution of the monasteries Edward acquired Syon Abbey (now Syon House) and in 1547/8 he had the gardens at Syon redesigned with advice from his chaplain and physician William Turner, who was also a botanist. Turner, who is considered to be the father of English botany, later published his Herball in three volumes - the first of which was dedicated to Edward Seymour. Turner’s Herball was the first major book on plants to be originally written in English. The first volume was published in 1551, the second in 1562 and the third in 1568, the year of his death.
John Skelton, the poet laurate, visited the Duke of Norfolk at Sheriff Hutton (before 1485) and wrote the poem The Garland of Laurel which commemorated the Countess of Surrey, Elizabeth Howard the Duke’s daughter-in-law, and her ladies including the Countess’ niece Margery Wentworth. The three verses concerning Margery name three flowers – marjoram, primrose and columbine. Margery’s mother Anne was Elizabeth Howard’s half-sister. Margery married Sir John Seymour and was Jane and Edward’s mother. Elizabeth Howard was married to Thomas Howard then Earl of Surrey and later Duke of Norfolk and they were the grandparents of both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.
A modern reprint of the Syon Abbey Herbal of 1513, recording the plants in the abbey garden at that time, has as an appendix the list of plants prepared by William Turner in 1548 for Edward Seymour in connection with the redesign of the Syon gardens. Although the Syon gardens that survive today are mainly those created by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, Brown did not remove all of the 16th century garden and certain mulberry trees at Syon are thought to have been planted by Turner.
The first popular gardening manual to appear in English was Thomas Hill’s The Gardener’s Labyrinth published in 1577. The book, which is a more extensive version of Hill’s two prior books on gardening published in 1563 and 1568, contains meticulous instructions for every garden activity. It has been a source of reference for those recreating Turner’s Old Deanery Garden at Wells as well as for English Heritage in recreating the Earl of Leicester’s Elizabethan Garden at Kenilworth Castle.
It has been possible to obtain copies of the modern reprints of volumes one and two of Turner’s Herball, the Syon Abbey Herbal and The Gardener’s Labyrinth as well as English Heritage’s The Elizabethan Garden at Kenilworth Castle that presents the extensive research and the process by which that garden was created and opened in 2009. The Friends of the Old Deanery Garden in Wells have produced a plant list of the William Turner plants they have used in recreating that garden and provided a copy to Wolfhall.
At Wolfhall the Tudor orchard near the house has now been replanted with fruit trees that were available to Tudor gardeners. A master plan has been drawn up to recreate the box garden, My Old Lady’s garden and My Young Lady’s garden using plants that were available in the 16th century and to link these gardens and the orchard with planting of Tudor wildflowers as depicted in the Seymour Pedigree Roll. The Roll, now in the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, Chippenham, was prepared for Edward Seymour Earl of Hertford, who was Jane’s nephew, about 1590 and its border has wildflowers among the 15 or more Tudor plants it depicts.

The weekend of Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th February was a glorious weekend, not only with the weather, but what was achieved. We as the group had decided that this weekend we would hire three skips and have a jolly good sort out, and did we!!

A well earned break!
There is something quite therapeutic in throwing away something that is no longer needed. Everybody worked so hard over the two days, backs ached, legs ached, arms ached, all you wanted was a relaxing hot bath and a good nights sleep.

Dominic, Orlando, Genevieve and Theo got stuck in and really got the team going.  Jackie Llewelyn-Bowen kindly brought over a feast for us to enjoy, so much so, it was then difficult to get back up and continue on working! 
Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen arranged the furniture and paintings to make the most of their potential. You can appreciate why Laurence is so well respected in his field.

Whilst the huge bonfire was blazing, myself and Graham decided we would brush up on our fencing !! Yes, the less said about that, the better!
...trying to improve our fencing skills!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you that helped that weekend. All of you made that weekend, and I appreciate it was hard work, but well worth it.  
Chair, Wolfhall Advisory Group.

The Tudor Travel Guide


For every lover of Tudor history there is a deep desire to connect with our Tudor heroes and heroines. We don’t just want to read about the lives of our sixteenth century ancestors, we want to touch them, feel what it was like to walk in their shoes, and see things through their eyes. While the people are long gone, the places they visited and called home act like portals in time. Sometimes, when you visit a place it is as if you might literally pull back the veil that hides this world from the other; the walls whisper their secrets, if you listen hard enough, and the buildings and personal artefacts can exude an energy which has the power to move us deeply.

Click here to read The Tudor Travel Guide's: Wolfhall: The Seymour Mansion Uncovered

Excavation - Renovation - Celebration!
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