Seven test pits were excavated in Maidenhall in 2011, all in an area of community allotment gardens as part of a programme of community excavations supervised by ACA and funded by the Arts Council as part of the ‘Artists Taking the Lead’ element of the Cultural Olympiad accompanying the London 2012 Olympic Games. The location was chosen by the arts company responsible for devising and delivering ‘On Landguard Point’, the ‘Artists Taking the Lead’ project for the eastern region of England.
The excavation of such a small number of pits in an area with little evidence for historic settlement might have been expected to produce little of interest, but this was not in fact the outcome, and a number of observations can be made of the retrieved data. Other than a single sherd of Iron Age pottery (found in IPS/11/06), the earliest ceramic material was Thetford Ware, dating to the mid-9th to late 11th century, four sherds of which were recovered from the lowest excavated spits of IPS/11/02. Thetford ware was made in Ipswich from c. 850 AD, so it might be expected to turn up in larger numbers than might be expected on sites further from its site of manufacture, but nonetheless the discovery of this number of sherds from an apparently undisturbed deposit does hint at the presence of settlement, or at least some fairly intensive activity, in the vicinity at this time.
Even more notable was the discovery of pottery of 12th – 14th century date, which was found in all of the excavated Maidenhall test pits, with a significant number derived from layers with no evidence of recent disturbance. None of the pits produced very large amounts of pottery of this date, but IPS/11/03 and IPS/11/06 produced slightly more than others (seven and four sherds respectively), possibly hinting at an increase in intensity towards the west of the excavated area. Overall, it is difficult to dismiss this volume of pottery as likely to derive simply from medieval manuring, and so it is deemed likely to indicate some more intensive activity, possibly settlement, at this date in the vicinity. It is possible this relates to the area around an antecedent of the now destroyed Maiden Hall which lay less than 500m to the north-west of the excavated area. No evidence has to date been found to link this to the site of the lost medieval church of St Augustine.
As in the case with many of the sites where test pitting has been carried out in the eastern region, the Maidenhall pits display a sharp decline in the volume of post-14th century pottery recovered – sharper indeed, than most: just one sherd of this date was recovered from the allotment pits, from IPS/11/04, on the eastern side of the allotments. Whatever activity was causing pottery to be discarded on this site in the 12th – 14th centuries seems to cease, probably entirely, in the later period. Although the sherd count picks up a little in the late 16th – 18th centuries, it remains low, with very little glazed redwares and just a few sherds of finewares suggesting the area is not in intensive use at this time. Only in the 19th century does the picture begin to change, with larger numbers of sherds recovered. These are doubtless a consequence of the rapid expansion of the area once the nearby railway depot was established.