Rare Remains of 800-Year-Old Bridge Found Near Eye Castle in Suffolk

Experts believe the oak remains were part of the defences of Eye Castle, dating back as far as 1200 AD.

The wood was in such good condition that score marks made by the 13th century carpenter were still clearly visible. It is very unusual for timber to be preserved for so long, but these remains were largely intact as the waterlogged conditions had stopped the decaying process.

Suffolk County Council’s Archaeology Service oversaw the excavation, which was carried out by Britannia Archaeology Ltd, ahead of development by Roundwood Restorations Ltd at the site near Eye Castle.

Martin Brook of Britannia Archaeology Ltd, said;

“Our team revealed an 8-metre-wide segment of a ditch, which is believed to be part of the outer bailey defensive ditch for Eye Castle. We also recovered other finds from the ditch, including pottery which dates from the 11th to 14th centuries.

“By far the most significant find was a large oak timber, which was within the lower fills of the ditch. It is likely to be a baseplate of a trestle for a timber bridge, which would have spanned the ditch. The bridge is likely to date between c.AD 1200 and c.1265, when the castle was sacked and abandoned.

“This is not something that any of us were expecting and it’s incredibly satisfying and exciting to work on, both adding to our understanding of the castle in its historic setting and helping to further our understanding of medieval life in Eye.”

The castle at Eye is one of the earliest in Suffolk and was a motte and bailey castle. They served as fortified residences for their lords and administrative centres for feudal estates. This style of castle was introduced into Britain by the Normans in the 11th century, with a large earthen mound (or motte) that served as a base for timber and stone towers. Banked enclosures (or baileys) then contained additional buildings. 

Due to the significance of the find, Historic England were invited to advise on the remains. Zoe Outram, who is a Science Advisor for Historic England, said:

“Waterlogged archaeological deposits are uncommon in England, and as a result, organic materials like wood or remains of plants are relatively rare when it comes to the physical evidence that exists in the archaeological record. Investigations of the timber and other materials from this site in Eye will provide interesting and valuable insights into everyday life at the time such as the activities that people carried out, the technologies that were utilised and the landscape around the castle.”

Harry Edwards of Roundwood Restorations Ltd, said:

“We at Roundwood are always keen to support and engage with the archaeological contractors across all of our sites, even more so when something significant such as this is found. We feel it’s important to contribute where we can to the investigating and recording of historical finds to help further understand our past. Having been born in Eye it was especially exciting to be a part of this discovery.”

Councillor Richard Rout, Suffolk County Council Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Environment, said:

“It is important that we oversee and record this work so that we can understand the development of such significant sites. All remains have now been fully excavated ahead of the development. The finds will now undergo specialist analysis, details of the site will be documented, and the archive will be deposited with Suffolk County Council’s Archaeology Service. 

“This was a real team effort, and I’d like to thank Roundwood Restorations Ltd, the expertise of Britannia Archaeology Ltd and our Archaeology Service officers who ensured that the remains were recorded and excavated to the highest standards.”

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