Medieval moat and bridge discovered at Cowfield Farm in Tewkesbury, England

March 15, 2024

Excavations led by Cotswold Archaeology in Tewkesbury, a historic riverside town in Gloucestershire, England, have unearthed a significant medieval moat and bridge. The site, known as Cowfield Farm, has revealed traces of medieval habitation dating back to the 12th or 13th centuries.

Medieval moat and bridge discovered at Cowfield Farm in Tewkesbury, England

Timbers and stone piers from a 15th-century bridge across the moat were discovered. Credit: Cotswold Archaeology

The discovery, described as of “high significance” by Cotswold Archaeology, challenges the common perception that such features were exclusive to castles. Instead, it suggests that even peasant farmers utilized moats for security and symbolic purposes.

Archaeologists have pieced together a narrative of life at Cowfield Farm, where inhabitants were tenants of Tewkesbury Abbey, situated two miles away. It functioned as a center for cattle rearing, evidenced by the discovery of a vaccary or cowshed, supplying dairy and meat products to the nearby Tewkesbury Abbey and urban areas.

Medieval moat and bridge discovered at Cowfield Farm in Tewkesbury, England

Archaeologists stripping back top layers of modern deposits known as “overburden” to reveal the Medieval site beneath. Credit: Cotswold Archaeology

According to Jon Hart, senior publications officer of the archaeological educational charity, “Moats were used way down the social scale to the wealthier peasants, the movers and shakers of village life. A moat was partly for security, as there was no police force; so there was a practical aspect.”

Medieval moat and bridge discovered at Cowfield Farm in Tewkesbury, England

The stone foundation of the farmhouse is visible, with a contemporary bridge in the foreground. Credit: Cotswold Archaeology

Furthermore, the moat, filled with water, carried Christian symbolism, signifying purity and serving as a protective barrier for the lady of the house. Hart noted, “The lady of the house, whose fidelity had to be protected, [was] surrounded by a symbolic virtuous belt of water.”

 

The excavation revealed remnants of a wooden bridge, dated to the mid-15th century through dendrochronology. Additionally, a diverse array of artifacts, including a pilgrim badge depicting the archangel Michael defeating a dragon, a copper-alloy clasp possibly from a monk’s book, and a bucket-shaped pottery vessel, offered glimpses into the daily lives and spiritual practices of medieval inhabitants.

Medieval moat and bridge discovered at Cowfield Farm in Tewkesbury, England

The copper-alloy book clasp was recovered at the site. Credit: Cotswold Archaeology

Despite modern transformations, with Tewkesbury now characterized by industrial parks and urban development, Cowfield Farm serves as a link to the region’s medieval past.

Artifacts, such as this medieval shoe, were extracted by the team. Credit: Cotswold Archaeology

Hart expressed enthusiasm for the findings, highlighting the rarity of researching medieval rural sites and the opportunity to uncover untold stories beneath the surface. As he aptly summarized, “There are stories to be unpicked” beneath the seemingly ordinary landscapes of our modern world.