No, Time Team haven't turned to gambling quite yet. We were at the grand old town of Newmarket to investigate the origins of the sport of Kings. Our targets were the royal stables themselves and some investigation at the palace to see if long lost areas of the complex had survived. The first racing stables in the world? How could it possibly go wrong...
Jackie Mckinley, our site director, wasted no time in getting Jimmy started with a radar survey. We hoped that the geophysics would match the historic mapping showing the stables themselves. The radar results were good, but didn't match the maps so Jackie decided to put in a trench where mapping showed the stable entrance. Of course it is never quite that simple. Plenty of services, pipes and rebuilds began to confuse the picture.
The history of Newmarket was crucial to our work. James I had originally favoured Newmarket as a royal site but wasn't a big fan of racing. When Charles II came to the throne his interest in horsemanship encouraged the growth of Newmarket as a centre for the sport - still developing from its origins as a simple betting game between rich courtiers. The town had ideal conditions for racing - a good, flat area perfect for horses.
Back in our first trench we began to uncover brickwork from the time of Charles II - a good sign but not confirmation of the survival of the stables. It is hard to underestimate how grand the stables would have been. Charles II spared no expense to house his precious racehorses. The documents all pointed us to the dig area, but of course we had another target - the 17th century palace. Over time the palace had been remodelled and parts of it demolished. Our aim was to uncover lost parts of the building complex.
Geophysical survey is a vital tool on Time Team and John's team have often delivered us fantastic results from open fields, but urban archaeology is a different matter. The mass of services, pipework and demolition were going to cause us big problems in the palace area - if lost parts of the palace had survived at all. If that wasn't enough the digger immediately hit solid concrete. A big challenge for the team.
Over at the stables the trench was getting complicated, but in a good way. Phil's work had revealed a clear plan for the royal stables that matched the historic plans we'd been staring at since the dig began. It's one thing looking at plans but to actually see the structures meant the team could got a clear idea of how the buildings were constructed. The discovery of a staircase even suggested a grand upper floor. The archaeologists were encouraged and decided to extend the trench in the hope that we could get some idea of how the complex was used. The geophysics was giving us tantalising hints that we might even have a phase of construction from an earlier date...
Over at the palace Raksha was struggling. Although she had managed to get through the concrete, the remains below appeared to be, well, rubble. No dating evidence and nothing that indicated palace buildings. A bad trench can't keep a good team down, so Jackie and John decided to have a look in the palace gardens for evidence from the period of Charles II. This was important as over the three days we had found a single piece of pottery and a single button dating from the period of Charles II.
After two days hard work Raksha was very pleased. Under all the concrete and rubble over at the palace trench a piece of the palace buildings appeared. We had confirmed the survival of palace remains and the layout shown on the historic plans. And our geophysical 'anomaly'? It appeared to be a foundation wall for the Charles II building, not anything earlier as we'd hoped.
The dig had still been a great success. We'd shown the survival of the stables and palace and even shown that notoriously unreliable historic plans, were actually very accurate. Time Teams days at the races contributed to knowledge of the site in advance of development in Newmarket that will see the history of the site presented to visitors in new state of the art facilities. Surely that's worth a punt!(Sorry).