Unearthing the story of Downley, a Tudor hunting lodge – excavation site visit and study with Mark Roberts

Creative and professional development Creative writing and publishing

Ref: S2D12109

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About this course

The course will link up with the ongoing UCL excavations and research at Downley, near Singleton, and provide an insight into the archaeological and historical research agendas addressed, along with the techniques employed to elucidate them. It offers a rare opportunity to experience an ongoing archaeological excavation and study its finds.

It will be relevant to anyone with an interest in archaeology and history, and those in the creative sectors, artists and writers, looking to gain an understanding of the history hidden in the Sussex landscape and local to West Dean.

Course Description

The course will begin on Tuesday evening with dinner and a talk about the history and results of the Downley Project to date.  Through the lecture, we shall explore the landscape and its Prehistoric, Roman and Medieval past and how this has given rise to the countryside we see around us today.  The talk will explore the area’s connection with the vast Honor of Arundel and its associated Forest, the role of Downley during the dramatic events of the Reformation and the eventual break up of the estate and its relationship to the Manor of West Dean.

On Wednesday morning you will be driven to Downley for a tour of the deer park and to participate in the ongoing excavations there.  You will be given features to excavate that are either related to the Tudor Lodge or that are part of the Iron Age and Roman activity on the hill top.  You will also get the chance to see how a site is recorded and help with that process, in the form of context sheets, drawings and photographs.

On Thursday you will walk to the excavation HQ at West Dean and assist the UCL students in the washing and sorting of finds and the sieving of soil samples.  There will also be the opportunity to see some of the processed finds from earlier years.  After lunch, we shall look at some of the documentary records held at West Dean and explore the church; examining some of the local families such as the Arundells, Norfolks, Lumleys and Lewknors.  The day will finish with a short concluding talk, and question and answer session, in the college.

The course aims to give participants an understanding of the processes involved in planning and executing an archaeological and historical project.  The importance of understanding both natural and constructed landscapes, along with their associated environmental and ecological regimes is a major aim and building block of the course.  You will come away with a knowledge of the geology and topography upon which past events, human and natural took place.  We shall also examine how the people in the area lived and interacted during the Tudor Period on social, economic and political levels and how they were connected to the world outside Sussex.

Mark Roberts is well known for his excavations and research at the half a million year old site at Boxgrove.  He is the Tutor for Fieldwork at the UCL Institute of Archaeology and Honorary Fellow of West Dean College.  Mark has an extensive knowledge of the archaeology and history of Sussex and in particular the area around West Dean.

It is essential that those joining the course are able to walk comfortably in the Sussex downland setting to take part in this course, which will include hill walking and kneeling.  You need to arrive fully prepared for spending each day outdoors, in all weathers and with limited comfort facilities. (e.g. a portaloo at the excavation site and HQ).

Outline of course and timetable
Tuesday evening, 6.45pm. Meet for supper, followed by a short talk of 45 minutes on the work at Downley and links to West Dean.

Meet at 9.00am West Dean College for a full day excursion to Downley (dropped off and collected by College minibus)
Wednesday am.  Participants go up to Downley for a tour of the site and to participate in the excavation of the site alongside the UCL students.
Lunch: At the site (packed lunch provided)
Wednesday pm.  Continue excavation and look at how an excavation is recorded.

Visit to site HQ.  Meet at 9.00am at West Dean College
Thursday am. Participants will spend the morning at the site HQ by the old railway station at West Dean and spend the morning washing and sorting finds from the excavation, and looking at finds from previous years.
Lunch: Return to West Dean College.
Thursday pm. Look around West Dean church and at some of the relevant old manuscripts held by the West Dean College Archive, pertaining to local families.  Concluding with a short talk and questions.
4pm Course ends


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops until 9pm, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials

What students need to bring

A sturdy notebook and pens/pencils, camera/phone to record aspects of interest
Suitable clothing for outdoors, including walking boots, layered clothing, waterproofs, overtrousers, and sun hats and suncream – as Downley is an exposed hillside site.  There will be a plentiful supply of drinking water at both venues.


Mark Roberts

Mark Roberts, archaeologist and lecturer at UCL, is best known for his excavations and research at the half a million year old site at Boxgrove. He is the Tutor for Fieldwork at the UCL Institute of Archaeology and Honorary Fellow of West Dean College. Mark enjoyed sharing his extensive knowledge and passion for the archaeology, which includes the history of the West Dean area, through recent excavations and studies of various sites around West Dean conducted with his UCL students. Mark aims to inspire discussion around the subjects he introduces through his teaching.


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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