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Colchester Archaeological Trust

CAT Report 555: summary

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Report on archaeological investigations in the Braxted folly at Braxted Park Estate, Great Braxted, Essex: January 2011
by Adam Wightman
(with contributions from Philip Crummy)

Date report completed: January 2011
Location: Braxted Park Estate, Great Braxted, Essex
Map reference(s): TL 85080 15639
File size: 4,542 kb
Project type: Archaeological investigations
Significance of the results: **
Keywords: folly, cave, basalt, Fingal's

Summary. Archaeological investigations were carried out in April and May 2010 in advance of structural repair work to a 19th-century domed structure located on the bank of a lake within Braxted Park Estate, Great Braxted, Essex. The excavation of four test-pits within the structure produced details on how it was constructed and the nature of the floor levels within both the outer walkway and the central chamber. The structure has been built into a bank (the dam of the lake), resulting in differing levels within the structure and the construction of an internal retaining wall. The internal floor surface was compacted clay, returned to the inside of the structure post-construction. This floor surface exists under a layer of loose debris and modern material. The central chamber was relatively flat and probably originally slightly lower in level than the outer walkway. Layers containing frequent fragments of building material and mortar overlie the redeposited clay in the central chamber and these are interpreted as residue from the demolition of a monument structure or decorative feature that once existed in the central chamber. The demolition may signal the end of use of the structure or perhaps a change in use, perhaps in association with the addition of the lakeside terrace or the Yorkstone platform above. The northern entrance tunnel was probably the original entranceway into the structure before the lakeside terrace and southern access tunnel were constructed. The low roof of the access tunnel appears have been intentional and may have served to add a little mystery and wonder to the process of entering the structure. The Braxted structure was probably built between 1804 and 1808 when the grounds of Braxted House were re-landscaped by John Johnson for Peter Du Cane II. Its true nature has been in question. The building has been variously described as an ice house, a bath-house, a hermitage or a summer-house. However, a review of the physical and cartographic evidence indicates that it is a folly in the form of an artificial cave. Moreover, the discovery inside the building of blocks of basalt suggests that it was intended to be a modest evocation of Fingal's Cave in Scotland and the poems of Ossian which were popular and fashionable at around the time the folly was built.