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2,500 years of history uncovered in Melksham

Wiltshire Council's preparation for the construction at Melksham Community Campus site early last year revealed archaeological evidence from as early as the Iron Age (700BC to AD43), found by Cotswold Archaeology.

Published 28 January 2022

As part of the planning process, all major planning applications received by Wiltshire Council are submitted to the Wiltshire Council Archaeology Service (WCAS) to advise on whether an archaeological response is required, a well-established planning process designed to protect the heritage and archaeological information on development and re-development sites across the county. Following their review, WCAS recommended excavation of the Melksham site using a series of trial trenches, with Cotswold Archaeology hired to carry out the excavations, the results of which identified two areas for further investigation.

Further excavations by Cotswold Archaeology uncovered a multi-period site on the land where the construction for the new campus is now well underway. The investigations found most archaeology dating to the later prehistoric, Roman (AD43 to AD410) and medieval (AD1066 to AD1539) periods, highlighting some of the historical origins of Melksham.

Field boundary ditches and a phase of settlement were found marked out by large rubbish pits and postholes, dating to the Iron Age and Romano-British periods (700BC to AD410).

Finds Manager at Cotswold Archaeology, Ed McSloy, reported that locally made early Iron Age pottery fragments were unearthed, dating from the 7th to 4th centuries BC. These show probable evidence of communal feasting, including a range of storage vessels and finer tableware. The pottery fragments are similar to those found at Budbury Hillfort, approximately 7km to the west.

Romano-British 'tegula' fired clay roof tiles were recovered to the south of the site. Originally overlapped to provide a waterproof and durable roof covering, their presence suggests that a high-status Roman farmstead or villa was located nearby.

Excavations took place in an area formerly used for tennis courts in the manorial land of Melksham's well-known Capital Manor. The manor, part of a large and valuable estate, was founded in the 11th century and passed through many families until modern times.

Field ditches and a wooden structure appear to follow the alignment of St Michael's Church and its existing boundaries, and are possibly associated with the church's history from its origins in the 12th century, alterations in the 14th and 15th centuries and restoration work during the 19th century. 

Four ox shoes, probably dating to the medieval period, were found with nails still in place, suggesting they were lost while in use. Ed McSloy comments that ox shoes are less common than horseshoes and were 'used for certain agricultural tasks including ploughing, where shoes may have improved traction and reduced injury'.

Medieval and post-medieval (AD1540 to AD1800) waste pits contained artefacts including iron knives, pottery, animal bone and burnt daub with wattle impressions (from a wattle and daub structure).

Iron slag lumps or 'hearth bottoms' also indicate that metalworking took place at the site.  A hearth stokehole was recorded nearby and more details should become clear after further analysis, to show how metal was produced and processed in the past.

Cllr Richard Clewer, Wiltshire Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Heritage, said: I thank Cotswold Archaeology for the thorough and detailed work they carried out on our site. It's been fascinating to hear more on their findings and the rich history of the land, and these impressive discoveries are a great contribution to the history of Melksham.

Melksham Community Campus is set to open later this year.

Latest updates on the campus, including a regular newsletter, can be found at .

People can also get updates on the campus's social media feeds, which can be found at X: Melksham Community Campus (opens new window) and Facebook: Melksham Community Campus (opens new window).

More information on Cotswold Archaeology can be found at: Cotswold Archaeology (opens new window).

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