The Clare Cross

The Clare Cross

Archaeological finds from the 19th century were reported while the Castle belonged to the Rev. S. Jenner. In 1849 fragments of ‘decorative pavement tiles’, painted glass, medieval and ‘Anglo-Roman’ pottery, and coins were found, as well as part of a ‘doorway’, thought possibly to relate to the church of the 11th-century secular canons.

The extremely rare and valuable 15th-century Clare Cross turned up during the enlargement of the entrance to the inner bailey for the Railway in the 1860s; The Clare Cross, as it is known, was shown to the landowner, who reported it to the archaeological world, where it proved very exciting. A small crucifix made of gold with four grey pearls on a gold chain, and with a cavity for relics, the Cross was eventually claimed by Queen Victoria. It now resides in the British Museum, a very rare 15th-century artefact costly enough to indicate that its original owner must have belonged to the highest nobility.

Twentieth-century archaeology that preceded the installation of a railway weighbridge in 1951 unearthed skeletons within the inner bailey, but the 1955 work that preceded a sewer trench across the outer bailey found only some fragments of shoe leather and some possible hearths. Yet another human skull came to light in 1999 during the installation of a millennium beacon.

Remains of a Saxon/Norman Burial 2013

Remains of a Saxon/Norman Burial 2013

In 2013 the HLF-funded Managing a Masterpiece programme included a proper exploratory set of four trenches by Access Cambridge Archaeology, located near the sites of previous discoveries, and including a trench to follow up documentary reference that Elizabeth de Burgh had a 14th-century ornamental garden. Near the beacon site, and below the bed of the railway line were found two skeletons. Further opportunity to follow this up in September 2013, found another three skeletons, one with a stone pillow. The possible remains of a wall at the same level may be that of a church, as the positions of the skeletons suggest a formal burial site. Thetfordware pottery fragments suggest the dating to between 850AD and 1100AD, the right period for the canons, and also for Godfrey de Clare, the son of Richard FitzGilbert said to have been buried in the secular canons’ cemetery. The canons, established between 1044 and 1065, were moved to Stoke by Clare in 1124.

Dr Carenza Lewis of Access Cambridge Archaeology describing the recent excavations said ‘It’s been hugely successful because we’ve got three skeletons, all laid out east to west and they are eight to ten metres from the skeletons we’ve previously found’. She is as eager to return for further excavations as the excited residents of Clare are.

Find out more on Access Cambridge Archaeology website