Ancient Moat Uncovered at Fulham Palace

Public tour of ancient site on Monday

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Archaeologists have begun excavating the ancient moat which once surrounded Fulham Palace.

Experts believe the moat dates back to medieval times, and that, at 1.4 kilometres, it was once the longest medieval moat in England. Some historians even claim that the moat is older still, perhaps having origins as part of an Iron Age earthwork.

The team of experts have been recording twenty-seven bore-holes and three trenches around the moat.

It is hoped that the investigation will reveal vital clues about how the moat was built, maintained and eventually filled in, and results of their work will be reported to a public consultation on the council's proposed restoration of Bishops Park and the grounds of Fulham Palace.

The first known reference to the moat dates back to 1392 but it was filled in during the 1920s by Fulham Council at the request of the Bishop of London, who lived in the Palace. That move led to public outcry and the issue was even raised in the Houses of Parliament.

Fulham moatWork at one of the trenches has uncovered a  fascinating sluice gate that  once controlled the flow of water between the moat and the Thames.

The  sluice gate is thought to date back to 1618 and to have been rebuilt following a flood in 1842. It seems to have been further remodelled in 1895 when the river embankment was constructed and Bishops Park laid out.

Though access to the trenches is currently restricted, keen-eyed members of the public can see the top of the sluice gate from Bishops Walk within Bishops Park.

Cllr Frances Stainton, cabinet member for parks, culture and heritage, says: "This historic moat is one of the most significant heritage assets in the borough and it is quite enthralling to see this work occur. 

" Fulham Palace's  infilled moat has been the topic of much discussion over the years so it is wonderful to be able to see certain parts of it at first hand. As part of the Heritage Lottery Fund bid, we are required us to return the moat under the entrance bridge, even if dry."

Dr Scott Cooper, Director of Fulham Palace, added: "It is absolutely fascinating to think that this moat used to encircle the Palace. We have been watching the archaeological work with huge interest and it is thrilling  to uncover one of the hidden treasures of the borough."

Phil Emery of archaeology consultants Gifford has been leading the digging. He said: "This investigation has provided some very important insights into the history and the buried profile of the moat. We are also pleased to discover that the sluice gate, which controlled water levels in the moat, is largely intact."

The line of the moat is marked by a trail.  A tour of the Moat - including the recent excavations - will be lead by the Director of Excavations of the Fulham Archaeological Rescue Group on Monday June 29, leaving the Palace's main entrance at 6.30pm. It is free of charge and no booking is required. 

June 25, 2009