Monument record DUN 013 - Pales Dyke

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Pales Dyke - Dunwich town ditch.


Grid reference Centred TM 4784 7047 (31m by 551m)
Map sheet TM47SE


Type and Period (1)

Full Description

Pales Dyke - Dunwich town ditch.
This ditch marks the western boundary of the medieval town. Only a short length survives as a visible earthwork at the extreme southern end of the town area, though it is believed to underlie the precinct wall of the Grey Friars. Beach Road may be aligned on the northern end of the ditch. The name is recorded as `Palles Dike' and `Palles Deike' in 1573 (S1). The name presumably refers to a palisade of pales.
1935: TM 4786 7020 A partial section of the ditch and a section of the rampart where it was overlain by Temple Hill (DUN 009) was excavated by H E P Spencer (S2).
1970: TM 4784 7022 A section was cut across the surviving earthwork by S E West. The ditch was found to be 40ft wide and 15ft deep. Little survived of the rampart beyond a spread of gravel covering an area of burnt clay. The clay followed the line of a shallow trench 4ft wide that appeared to be truncated by the ditch. This was thought to be the remains of a pre- rampart building. The pottery associated with this was C12-C13 in date, including sherds of Andenne ware (S3)(S4).

From NRHE record:
Pales Dyke once formed part of Dunwich town defences, extending from the sea at Minsmere to the Kings Flue or river to the north: little now remains (see map diagram).

In May 1970, Ipswich Museum excavated a 15 foot section of the remains of Pales Dyke (TM 47857024). The ditch was found to be 40 feet wide and 15 feet deep, but little remained of the rampart. Beneath the stump of the rampart were late 12th century potsherds including Andenne ware and probable early 13th century sherds with traces of a wattle and daub structure. Three Romano British sherds were found in the ditch fill.

The only identifiable remains of Pales Dyke is a length of ditch at TM 47837020 extending from Grey Friars Monastery precinct wall to the eroding cliff edge. It is about 45.0m long, 18.0m wide and 1.5m deep, and overgrown with scrub. There is no trace of a rampart. Surveyed at 1:2500.

(TM 47847023) The surviving stretch of Pales Dyke was surveyed by the RCHME's Cambridge Office in October 1993, following a request from Suffolk County Council. The ditch is up to 14m wide and between 0.5 and 1m deep.

The name Pales Dyke is recorded as early as 1573, supposedly deriving from the former existence of a pale or timber palisade. In 1589 Radulp Agas described Pales Dyke as an 'auncient bancke', part of which had been overlain by the precinct wall of Greyfriars (TM 47 SE 3). Agas' map marks the course of the bank and the location of Middle Gate.

The date of the Pales Dyke is unknown, since the excavations of 1970 were unable to provide conclusive evidence (2). The defences must have existed in 1253, when the Calender of Close Rolls refers to a building near the South Gate of Dunwich, and probably in 1173 when the town survived a siege by the Earl of Leicester. The Dyke had become obsolete by 1290 when the Franciscans demolished part of the existing circuit. Either the useful life of the Pales Dyke was short or it may be earlier than has hitherto been suggested, little is known of Saxon Dunwich.

Sources/Archives (6)

  • <S1> (No record type): Scarfe N, `Note on the historical records of Dunwich's defences', PSIA, 32, 1970, (1), 34-37.
  • <M1> Unpublished document: Suffolk Archaeological Service. Parish file. Parish file: 1970 excavation report.
  • <S2> (No record type): Spencer H E P, `Notes on the excavation of Temple Hill, Dunwich, Dec 1935', PSIA, 22, 1935, (2), 198.
  • <S3> (No record type): West S E, `The excavation of Dunwich town defences, 1970', PSIA, 32, 1970, (1), 25-33.
  • <S4> Index: Ipswich Museum. IPSMG card. IPSMG, card Dunwich Med 1971.137.
  • <S5> Digital archive: Historic England. National Record Of the Historic Environment.

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Record last edited

Jun 15 2021 10:49AM

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