Napoleonic-era field kitchens found on Guernsey

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Archaeological work on L’Ancresse Common, Guernsey, has revealed that a number of earthworks which have long been believed to be Bronze Age burial mounds may, in fact, be the rare remains of Napoleonic-era military camp kitchens.

A reconstruction drawing showing how the camp kitchen may have looked when it was in use
A reconstruction of how the camp kitchen may have looked [Image: Ellie McQueen]

The discovery was made when members of the Clifton Antiquarian Club were invited to the site by the Vale Commons Council to discover more about the nature of these earthworks. They expected to uncover prehistoric archaeology, but once excavations began the finds unearthed, and the presence of wind-blown sand dating to events between the 12th and 15th centuries, demonstrated that the site was much more modern than had been anticipated.

The construction of the features was found to be very similar to camp designs described by military manuals from the late 1700s, consisting of a mound of earth with 11 or 12 hearths in niches around the outside, surrounded by a circular ditch.

Radiocarbon dating of burnt material associated with the creation of one of the mounds suggests that it was established in roughly (there is some uncertainty to radiocarbon dates from this period) 1806. This is supported by the discovery of a decorated button cover dating to the early 19th century, and a piece of clay pipe on which the initials ‘TF’ can be identified. The initials can be traced back to a manufacturer in Southampton, where this type of pipe was made between 1803 and 1815. Records indicate that around 3,000 troops of multiple nationalities were camping on the island during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in preparation for an invasion from Napoleon’s forces. The combination of these factors makes it likely that the camp was established in the first decade of the 1800s.

British military field kitchens from this period are very rare, and this is believed to be only the fourth such site ever found (see CA 345), making it an important discovery. The site also contained other finds, including evidence of German occupation on the Common during WWII such as gun cartridges. The finds from the excavation are being processed and will be stored by Guernsey Museums.

This news article appears in issue 359 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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