Clarendon was one of only a handful of sites occupied by royalty from the Norman Conquest to the Tudor period. It was a royal possession as early as in Anglo-Saxon times - William the Conqueror mustered troops there in 1070. Successive kings and queens from Henry I to Henry VI, especially Henry III, Edward II and Edward III, invested in the buildings and the surrounding deer park, which was the largest in England. The palace fell into disrepair after 1485, but the magnificent park, with its 'twenty groves' or coppices, open 'launds' and woodpasture, remained a royal asset up to the Civil War. By 1574, when Elizabeth I visited, there were many deer in the park; 300 were culled as gifts for her guests, who enjoyed watching deer-coursing on a special 'paddock course', which ran across the undulating parkscape. In 1660 the estate passed out of royal hands to George Monck, Lord Albemarle, then the Hyde family, Earls of Clarendon, who sold it to the Bathursts in 1707.
History of investigations
By 1750 antiquarians had begun to visit the site, and extensive 'wall-chasing' work was carried out by Thomas Phillipps ca 1820. The first modern work at the site was carried out in the 1930s by Tancred Borenius, a Finnish art historian searching for remnants of wall paintings and sculpture.
The current Clarendon project, funded jointly by English Heritage and the Clarendon Park Estate, began with work on the overgrown and 'lost' ruins of the royal palace. In recent years, work has focussed on the parkscape surrounding the medieval palace and Clarendon Forest beyond. Some consolidation and display of the ruins themselves has taken place, such as part of the east wall of the Great Hall (photo top), with interiors of rooms gravelled and vegetation managed by volunteers and llamas (photo left).
Recent work has served to train undergraduates and MA students in fieldwork skills (drawing, fieldwalking, finds work, geophysics, recording of buildings and earthworks, shovel-pit testing etc). Postgraduate studies at both MA and PhD level have involved documentary research and field archaeology at Clarendon. In addition to these traditional approaches to prehistoric, Roman and later landscape archaeology, the most up-to-date scientific analyses have been carried out on aspects of the Clarendon material remains. Dendrochronology has shown that timber built into the roofs of standing buildings began life in 1218, soon after Magna Carta, and was incorporated into the roof of a house before 1350; luminescence brick dating has been pioneered at the palace site and elsewhere at Clarendon, and imported ceramics have been identified.
Current investigations focus on aspects of medieval and post-medieval Clarendon including on the geology of the stonework at the palace, the post-medieval 'paddock course' hunting, and in particular on the recently splendidly renovated mansion house of 1717 which incorporates remains of a brick building with stone banding, dated by luminescence to ca 1688.
Annually in October or November, the Friends of Clarendon (see below) and the Friends of the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum host a 'Clarendon Lecture' which highlights an aspect of the palace, forest, park, finds, etc. The 2012 lecture was given by Professor Christopher Gerrard, University of Durham; Dr Amanda Richardson of the University of Chichester presented the 2011 lecture, and Winchester's Emeritus Professor Tom Beaumont James spoke in 2010. The 2013 Clarendon Lecture was presented by James Ayres FSA, President of the Wiltshire Buildings Record. The subject was ’The Great House of Clarendon', the Georgian mansion in Clarendon Park. Find out more about the 2013 Clarendon Lecture.
A recent broadly based buildings and landscape guide, Clarendon. Landscape, Palace and Mansion (2010) is available, which, among many other things, reproduces the interpretation boards at the palace site. There are also regular site visits for the public. (Photo: Professor Tom James by one of the interpretation boards).
The Friends of Clarendon
Since 1994, a dedicated team of volunteers has carried out regular archaeological and conservation work at Clarendon. Their invaluable contributions were recognised in 2004 by a celebratory dinner on the site. Volunteers have continued to work at the site each year since.
The volunteers who have been active for many years have recently been formalised int he Friends of Clarendon. The group has a constitution and holds an AGM on the day of the Clarendon Lecture. Friends include both academic researchers with interests in archaeology and the environment and local volunteers who work with the Clarendon Park Estate and national bodies such as English Heritage, Natural England, Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum and Wiltshire County Council. The latter recently awarded the group a grant to provide educational materials and to raise awareness in local communities.
Links are also being established with interest groups abroad such as the Sarum Seminar (Stanford, California), who have expressed interest in joining the group and keeping in touch through a proposed newsletter and a website.
As well as the annual Clarendon lecture, the group provides local lectures and is organising a study day on 19/20 September 2014 to mark the 850th anniversary of the Constitutions of Clarendon (1164). This conference will be addressed by leading academics from universities in the UK and Ireland.
Contact the Friends of Clarendon
Forthcoming: publication of fieldwork and 'spoilheap' archaeology carried out by students and volunteers between 1995 and 2005.
James, T.B. (2010) Clarendon. Landscape, Palace and Mansion. Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, Salisbury.
James, T.B. and Gerrard, C.M. (2007) Clarendon: landscape of kings. Windgather Press, Macclesfield.
Richardson, A. (2005) The medieval forest, park and palace of Clarendon, Wiltshire c. 1200 - c. 1650: reconstructing an actual, conceptual and documented Wiltshire landscape. British Archaeological Reports British Series 387, Archaeopress, Oxford.
James, T.B. and Robinson, A.M. (1988) Clarendon Palace: the history and archaeology of a medieval palace and hunting lodge near Salisbury, Wiltshire. Society of Antiquaries of London, London.