Excavations at the American School in England Thorpe

During the winter of 2008-2009 an excavation by Surrey County Archaeological Unit (SCAU) took place at The American School in England (TASIS) in Thorpe. The excavation took place as a part of the ongoing improvements being undertaken at the school, where in this case a new set of classrooms and administrative building were to be erected. The 10m by 20m site lies only 10m to the north of Coldharbour Lane, the main thoroughfare through Thorpe. The excavations revealed a series of pits, wells and linear features dating from the late Saxon/early medieval period through to the 18th century.

One of the key features exposed at TASIS was a well-preserved section of medieval road. This once formed a part of what was known as the King's Highway, that ran through Thorpe, linking it with Egham. The road was formed of gravel, possibly from St Ann's Hill to the south, which the road passes through, above a stratum of silty clay. This was built up on several occasions by new layers of a similar make-up. The date of origin of the King's Highway is uncertain, but it contained a mixture of late Saxon and early medieval finds from within the basal silt layer, and is believed to have been formed at some point during the early medieval period.

Three Late Saxon/early medieval pits were found that seemingly do not respect the boundary formed by the King's Highway, and therefore pre-date it. Once the King's Highway was constructed it formed the focus of activity, probably with a medieval property fronting the road and the backlands at a distance, to the rear. Unfortunately no structural features were found to clarify the position of this property. Activity became more intensive in the 12th and 13th centuries, with two wells or waterholes included in the feature assemblage. Evidence subsequently decreased during the 14th century, possibly in relation to the bubonic plague that swept through the country at this time. Despite a decrease in the number of features, a large pottery assemblage was recovered from one of the pits. In the late 15th and 16th centuries, an increase in the number of pits suggests an increase in the population, with a rich assemblage of Tudor pottery being recovered from one of the features. The first ditch was also excavated, presumably to separate the lands of adjacent properties.

Documentary evidence suggests that the pitting excavated on this site could have belonged to the house known as Carylls. Sources also show that the road was closed c1720, when the house was demolished and the land incorporated into the grounds of Thorpe House. This can be observed in the archaeology, with the construction of another boundary ditch, and the cessation of backlands features. The site constitutes a rare Surrey example of a medieval village and backlands plot.

Report by Tom Munnery, Archaeologist, Surrey County Archaeological Unit

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