St Anne’s – First Test Pits (latest information)

Friday morning and the DigAppleby project sees spades in action for the first time.

Martin R has used the geophysics results to select five test-pit locations in the St Anne’s kitchen garden. The pics below show the first pit going in, just behind the chapel.  At this point we were just 30cm down but were already retrieving pottery and pipe-stems. Thought – so were the widows pipe-smokers in the past?


The news from the excavation team by Sunday evening is that :

  • Test Pit 1 reached the medieval ground surface beneath the garden soil with medieval pottery sherds and other finds recovered.


  • Test Pit 2 revealed a demolished post-medieval building, confirming the results of our geophysical survey.


As a bonus we can also report that Tony Robinson (he of Time Team) was  seen in Appleby this weekend, just as we concluded our first Dig Appleby investigation. Our fame is obviously spreading!

St Anne’s Almhouses – A bit of Background

Since we’ll be at the almshouses for a few days it might be useful to have some background information.

As you’ll surely know, the almshouses were founded by Lady Anne Clifford when she was living at Appleby Castle back in the 17th century. The buildings were erected around 1651 and were presumable named “St Anne’s” as a slightly clumsy piece of image-management.

An arched doorway from Boroughgate gives access to a cobbled courtyard with a central fountain (currently non-functional, alas). There is a small chapel in one corner and the living units each consist of a single bedroom, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. They all have a bright red door front door and a small flower border under their courtyard window. The effect is delightful and the almshouse courtyard is a perfect oasis of peace, colour and sunshine.


The “orders” for the establishment are laid out on a board in the chapel. They are rather strict! The almshouses were to provide for the accommodation of 12 widows under the care of a “mother”:

The grassed area to the rear of the almshouses where we will be working was originally intended to provide each inhabitant with a small vegetable garden, though the attraction of this arrangement seems to have died out quite some time ago. The surviving apple trees (one for each widow) indicate how the plots may have been laid out.

A weekly service is still held in the chapel which features a portrait that is believed to be Lady Anne herself (having apparently been incorrectly labelled as her mother, Margaret, at some point during the 19th Century)


Lady Anne arranged for the almshouses to be funded by income from Holme Farm on the outskirts of Appleby. Widows originally lived rent free but by 2011, income from the farm was in decline and a weekly rent of £10 was introduced. Tenants also have to pay their own Council Tax and are responsible for their own furnishing and decorating.

Tenants have not always been easy to find and it appears that some consideration may one day be given to the accommodation of men. It was thought, however, that this “would not be popular in all quarters” (CW Herald, 10th June 2011)

Photos courtesy of Paul Steele on

St Anne’s Geophysics – Initial Results

Saturday’s survey has identified some areas of possible built-up ground (high resistance areas), dug-out areas (low resistance) and a ditch-like feature (white area running left to right), as well as garden features. Open this post by clicking on the blue heading above to view a preliminary 3D wire frame image of the survey

Res Survey 3D Wire frame


Geophysics at St Anne’s

Tucked away behind the Almshouses and accessed via an inconspicuous passageway from the main courtyard lies an unexpectedly large grassy area. Its surface is intriguingly lumpy and today, in bright sunshine moderated by a refreshing breeze, there couldn’t have been a better place in the whole of Appleby to begin an archaeological excavation.

This initial foray was all about geophysics – non-destructive archaeology using earth-resistivity and gradiometer equipment to probe the area for buried features. A total station theodolite was also used so that we could tie the results into an accurate survey.

Tonight Martin R will be downloading the data from the data loggers into his laptop so we can see what (if anything) we’ve found.  Watch this space for details …..



Survey team with gradiometer

St Anne’s Hospital Investigations

This month we will be investigating the land behind St Anne’s Hospital on Boroughgate, Appleby-in-Westmorland, using a combination of geophysical survey and test pit excavation, in the hope of identifying possible medieval remains. The almshouse was founded in 1652-3 by Lady Anne Clifford and the land to the rear has potentially remained relatively undisturbed ever since (apart from being utilised as garden plots).

Geophysics Drop-in: This Saturday (16th July) there will be a geophysical survey taking place on the land through the courtyard at the back of the almshouse. I will be there between 11.00am and 3.00pm conducting earth resistance and magnetic surveys. Anyone interested can drop in to the garden between these times to see how this equipment works and have a go. You do not need to bring anything or book for this, just pop in if you wish to find out more about geophysical techniques. We hope to identify some hot spots for the test pit investigation later in the month.

Test-pit Excavations: We will then be opening some test pits from 29th to 31st July based on the results of the geophysical survey. For this we will be booking places (details to follow) so please put the dates in your diary if you wish to take part. Full training will be provided by professional archaeologists in how to excavate and record an archaeological test pit. We will then be putting this into practice at other locations around the town later in the summer.

If you need further information please contact the Dig Appleby email address:


Martin Railton

Dig Appleby Launch Meeting 8th July

Successful launch meeting last night for the Dig Appleby project: Breaking the Ground. Over 30 volunteers signed up!

We will be undertaking documentary research, geophysical survey and test pit excavations this summer around the town. Look out for the Dig Appleby signs as the project progresses.

Dig Appleby