Excavation, courtesy of English Heritage in 2007, has shown that the site now known as Fineshade Abbey (NGR SP973 976), probably started life as a late Bronze Age or early Iron Age ringwork, or, given the defensive nature of the site, a small hill fort.
The shallow nature of the Roman and medieval features would suggest that survival is remarkable on the southern half of the site. The complex nature of the geophysical survey shows that the whole area is covered in anomalies and remnant buildings of Roman and medieval date and it is therefore likely that Iron Age features may also have survived.
A small promontory of land in East Northamptonshire has been shown to have dominated the surrounding landscape and its occupants for at least two and a half thousand years. Following a survey of the landscape of the Priory of Fineshade and the adjacent Castle Hymel, resistivity surveys were undertaken in 2004. As a result of these surveys three evaluation trenches were excavated to the north in the area of the priory inner court and three within the castle bailey to the south.
Within the inner court the geophysical and excavation results reinforced previous findings of work carried out by Northamptonshire Archaeology in response to a planning application in 1992. These concluded that this area of the site had been extensively disturbed by the former presence of the 18th-century mansion and its gardens, together with the levelling of the site after its demolition in 1956. However, excavations in 2007 have shown that the considerable build-up of soil on the down-slope side of the site may have afforded greater protection of any remains of the priory.
The castle ringwork and bailey has seen much degradation over the centuries, perhaps in the period of the priory and certainly in the post-Dissolution period by the removal of part of the ringwork to create a vista for the later house and also the levelling of part of the interior for the construction of the stable block of 1884. A trench across a remaining section of the bank to investigate its construction exposed the remains of a lime kiln of Roman type. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal from the front of the kiln produced a date of AD 125-225. Previous excavations of the site have provided widespread evidence of Roman occupation of the area within and around the castle. The discovery of a lime kiln, set into the bank, has shown that the Roman building and the later Norman castle sited here were taking advantage of an already existing earthwork dating to the early Iron Age.
Northamptonshire Archaeology 38, 2015, 177-194. From Hillfort to Mansion: Excavations at Fineshade Abbey. Gill Johnston and Burl Bellamy.