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Farnham Town Defences

In the civil parish of Farnham.
In the historic county of Surrey.
Modern Authority of Surrey.
1974 county of Surrey.
Medieval County of Surrey.

OS Map Grid Reference: SU84024698
Latitude 51.21585° Longitude -0.79841°

Farnham Town Defences has been described as a probable Urban Defence.

There are no visible remains.


Medieval town ditch and tile kiln identified during excavations between Bear Lane and Castle Street in 1988. The ditch was over 9m in width and 3m in depth and had been backfilled during the early-mid C13. Material recovered from the ditch included tile wasters and kiln furniture suggesting the presence of a kiln within the immediate locality. Moulds for casting pewter tokens were also recovered indicating nearby metal working. There was also evidence for leather working. (PastScape)

The direct archaeological and documentary evidence relating to the date of the town ditch does no more than prove its existence from the early 13th century, and cannot rule out an earlier origin. Although archaeological evidence shows that the ditch had been largely infilled by soon after the middle of the 13th century, references are made to the town bridge and ditch in the 16th century which probably reflects its later function as a water channel despite the fact that most of its original depth had been lost (Poulton & Riall 1998, 147). There is no ground surface evidence for the ditch in the present day. Archaeological excavation revealed that the original dimensions of the ditch may have been c9m wide by 3m deep (Poulton & Riall 1998, 147). The ditch seems likely to have been dug to a standard size along its whole length and was probably accompanied by a bank, although virtually no evidence has been recovered to prove this (Poulton & Riall 1998, 147). The location of the ditch has been fixed at three points (at Borelli Yard, between Castle Street/Bear Lane and during observations of a sewer trench in The Borough), from which the full circuit can be reconstructed. Other information used to determine its circuit is documentary evidence and an assumption that the extent of the borough is identical to the area enclosed by the ditch. Conclusive documentary evidence for the existence of the town ditch is given by the Winchester Pipe Roll for 1215-16. The Borelli Yard excavations undertaken in 1985, where the town ditch was first identified, confirm that the ditch was in existence by the early 13th century as the primary fill contained only late 12th/early 13th century pottery. However, it is not known at what date the ditch was first cut. At Borelli Yard the southern side of the ditch was observed to run east-west with a width of c10m and depth of 2.75m from the surface of the natural gravels (Riall 1998, 125). The sections cut into the ditch revealed that it had been re-cut at least once. The latest deposits in the ditch were of late 13th or early 14th century date. In 1985 a trench was dug for a sewer along The Borough; a dark soil was observed infilling a feature 5-6m wide and c1m deep. In view of its location and other evidence, the feature was interpreted as a section of the town ditch. The third location where evidence for the ditch was revealed was in excavations between Castle Street and Bear Lane in 1988. The ditch was observed to be over 9m wide and thought to be greater than 3m deep. The earliest pottery recovered from the fill was of mid to late 13th century date; this suggests that it was a recut, removing the original fill (if the ditch was created at the same date as the Borelli Yard section) (Poulton & Riall 1998, 147). Once again, the original date when it was dug is uncertain (Poulton 1998, 142). The original function of the ditch is not certain and it appears to be a very large feature for a small town. Its function may be explained in a way similar to that now widely accepted for the moated sites common from the 13th century onwards: it provides a symbol of status, emphasizes the exclusive character of the area, controls access in normal times and offers a measure of protection in times of disorder. If it was also linked to the castle defences, however temporarily, then it would also have had a genuine military significance; evidence for the northern extent of the ditch is needed in order to have a better understanding of this. All this relates to the original purpose for which the ditch was dug. The fact that by the mid- 13th century it had largely been infilled suggests a change in the way it was perceived. Possibly its defensive function had become irrelevant by that date. Alternatively, once all the plots of the borough had been occupied maybe it was no longer needed to define the area. The land taken up by the ditch and bank would have been desirable additions to burgage plots. It my be that, only after the borough was handed over to the burgesses in 1247-8 (and therefore no longer controlled by the Bishop), was it possible to take over such areas and incorporate them into the plots (Poulton & Riall 1998, 149, 151). (Extensive Urban Survey)
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This record last updated 15/08/2017 15:56:52

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