In April 2015, Tadcaster Historical Society carried out a dig on the riverside, aided by West Yorkshire Archaeological Services, at the site of the Norman motte. The dig was funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.
The motte had been built soon after 1066 on the riverbank. It was built over the site of the Roman town and Roman road, Ermine Street. At the time of the motte’s construction, the Roman road had been out of use for more than 500 years. It is believed that the Roman bridge fell into disrepair and an alternative river crossing point had been found downstream, the site of the present road bridge.
At some time, maybe in the 1500s, half of the motte had been cut away, probably to fill the moat that surrounded it and to provide a means of crossing the ditch around the town to get better upstream access along the river.
At a later date, the earliest Grammar School was built on part of the moat in 1557. There are references to the part of the motte being dug away to provide a playground for the school. Cottages were later built on the excavated area of the motte. Some of the cottages (those nearest the church) were demolished around 1930 and the rest disappeared in the mid 1960s.
The dig quickly found the remains of the cottages, but also almost 100 broken Roman pottery fragments, indicating that the Roman town was situated here. A dig at the site of the swimming baths had also found quantities of Roman pottery showing that the town stretched along the Roman road. Excavations elsewhere in town have found much medieval pottery but very little Roman pottery, confirming that after the Roman departure, the town moved south along the new road alignment.
Finds included the extent of the motte towards the river, the existence of a moat around the motte, 99 Roman pottery fragments, 51 pieces of medieval pottery, coins, clay pipes, glass fragments (some being very old), animal bones, and even a seal dating from the 1730s of a bottle that contained mineral water from Germany – transporting bottled water around Europe is not new.
The full report of the dig can be found in the document archive .