In a week’s time we will begin the excavation of Fingle Mill. The site has been a key feature of the landscape for many centuries. Documentary evidence dates the mill to 1640 but it is likely to date back further to the Tudor period.
The purpose of the excavation is twofold. Firstly, to provide the local community with an opportunity to participate in an excavation. Working on an archaeological site first-hand provides a direct connection with the past. The thrill of knowing that you are the first person to see or handle an object since it was discarded hundreds of years before. The challenge of trying to imagine what the artefacts and buildings might have been like when they were intact – a little scrap of decorated plaster or the gilded rim of a once treasured plate all bring us closer to the past.
The second aim of the project is to better understand the activities taking place in Fingle Mill and what life would have been like for the residents. How was the living space divided up? Which rooms did milling take place in? How many machines were fitted in the mill and what type? What happened after the mill burned down? What did the floors look like? Were they stone or soil? Documentary evidence provides names of people, the general purpose of some buildings and a few personal stories but to answer all these questions we need to look beneath the soil.
We are planning to dig in four main areas:
Trench 1 and 1B:
These trenches will focus on the working parts of the mill, identified by the reinforced outer wall with its gaps for the wheel shafts. The purpose is to find the footings and any remaining machine parts, such as the wheel hubs and rims, which remained on site until recently. For conservation these are now stored at Castle Drogo but the hubs will be returned to the site for the duration of the dig and possibly beyond. Part of the purpose of this trench is to identify inconsistencies in the build of the walls and floors to establish a relative chronology for alterations. Extension 1B will focus on the wheel pits and channels in the leat.
Trench 2 is an optional, time dependant, trench which will investigate the room adjoining to the east of the main working area. Part of the purpose is to examine the way in which the two rooms intersect. The second purpose is to try and identify the room’s functions, although this room appears on the oldest tithe maps, there is no information recorded on its purpose.
Trench 3 addresses one of the sites true mysteries. In this location a substantial thatched building, which is speculated to be another mill, once stood. But by the 19th century not a trace of the building remained. Stranger still is that two piles of rubble, with fairly sizeable concentrations of slag iron are heaped where the building should be. There is however, no documentary evidence of iron working on the site. Trench three will take in the north-most pile to examine its composition and to see if any traces of building foundations sit beneath it.
Trench 4 covers an area slightly north-west of trench 3, an area with an ephemeral gully stretching from the current leat to the river. This area is littered with slag iron, ceramics and small finds and seems to be a flat platform; there is no documentary evidence of activity here so there are lots of questions to answer.
We are still looking for volunteers to assist with all aspects of the excavation. From working alongside the Archaeologists as Excavation Volunteers to recording and processing the finds. If you are interested in volunteering, more information can be found at https://myvolunteering.nationaltrust.org.uk/opportunity-search. There will also be a public open day on Saturday the 28th of July where you can go on a tour of the site, find out what we’ve found and have a go yourself. Do join us anytime between 11am and 3.30pm to see what we’ve unearthed.