Discovering Historic Malmesbury
We all know and love the historic town of Malmesbury and plenty is known and has been written about the place. However, there was a flurry of excitement in the Archaeology team, Wiltshire Buildings Record and in the local media in September last year.
We were asked to come and look at a void that had unexpectedly been discovered by workmen during the course of ground works at 7 King’s Wall. This unlisted house dating to 1823, is located close to where the line of the town defenses is known to have been in medieval times. Following an initial visit there was just enough time before the building work was completed for a very brief investigation by Dorothy Treasure from the Wiltshire Buildings Record.
In the void, below the 20th century concrete floor of what had been the kitchen, was a small square room three and a half metres deep and measuring around two and a half metres on each side. Rubble masonry, probably local cornbrash or ragstone set in an earth mortar comprised three sides and but the north side was cut from solid rock.
Further investigation revealed that the south side of the opening is formed by the edge of a vaulted stone ceiling made up of long stones roughly cut to shape. At the base of the south wall is a segmental arch with missing keystone. This arch is set close to the floor, and it is supposed that rubble and stone debris may have built up, perhaps when the walls were destroyed in 1646 during the Civil War. The arch is approximately half a metre deep, and returns to an opening in the centre approximately half a metre wide. This opening is now partly filled with rubble and earth that has entered through the opening on the other side.
The small room was possibly connected with the defences of Civil War period Malmesbury. It is located just south of the line of the medieval wall, and there was probably a significant Civil War defense work (bastion) above it. Its small size and subterranean nature indicates it may have been a postern gate at the base of a tower. The 1648 panoramic view of Malmesbury has three marked postern gates, though none of them in this exact location.
This is an exciting and unexpected find and goes to show that there could be much more to be discovered about historic Malmesbury and we should look for every opportunity to do further research.
The full report on the find at 7 Kings Wall can be accessed via the Wiltshire Buildings Record.
Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger, County Archaeologist
Photos by Dorothy Treasure and information from report by Wiltshire Building Record