Hall of Clestrain’s Foundation Terrace

1 December 2022

Fig.1 The map for reference

Fig.2 The scraped natural subsoil

Fig.3 Layers of packed gravel

Fig.4 Sue Dyke excavating the original cut

Whilst excavating to clear the huge drain for unblocking, I noticed a change in the subsoil. The orange glacial till stopped in the section of the original trench dug for the drain itself. This cut was certainly something we had expected and wanted to locate. Originally planned for last summer’s excavation, the work had been postponed until now.

We replaced and covered the drain’s capstones for safety and protection. We extended the trench southwards and parallel to the moat dyke. In previous articles we have stressed that this dyke is intrusive and was only built around 1850 and at that time the north courtyard was filled in by at least three feet. We believe that for the original build of The Hall of Clestrain, a huge terrace was dug into the slightly sloping ground. It was necessary to take the level down to solid glacial till so the weighty Hall could be built without risk of subsidence. This obviously worked as there is only slight settling of the walls after, we don’t actually know just how many centuries (reference: Fig.1).

Personally, I have always advocated this. A sloping berm some short distance from the Hall would let far more light into the ground floor. It would also show the Hall as a far more impressive building. The north aspect would have been extremely impressive, in fact more so than the southern.

As the Fig.2 shows, the scraped natural subsoil is an orange gritty glacial till deposited towards the end of the last Ice Age. Then see the darker infill where the glacial deposit has been dug away. This is the dumped deposit filled in behind the intrusive 1850s moat dyke.

This area, pictured in Fig.3, shows layers of packed gravel and a very smooth surfaces over the drain. This corresponds to a sequence of packed cobbles and gravel we discovered overlaying the infilling of the north courtyard between the pavilions. This series of layers was also present when we cleared down to the natural till in the south extension.

Here, Fig.4 shows Sue Dyke excavating the original cut, which lasted until the enclosing moat dyke was constructed and then backfilled with copious amounts of midden. Lumps of red brick were found in this deposit, but so far no other firm dating material. The brick pieces can most likely be dated; this will give us clues to the infilling and landscaping around John Rae’s home. When all this is resolved, we will be able to interpret John Rae’s surroundings as he saw them far more accurately.

– President of John Rae Society, Andrew Appleby