Given that Michaelhouse stood in the south-west corner of what is now
the fine Great Court of Trinity College, there has been little opportunity
for archaeologists to dig it up. A survey of available literature brought
to light only one archaeological report, which is now more than a hundred
years old (Atkinson, 1891-4). More recent surveys have relied on architectural
evidence and on maps, such as the ones mentioned above, which were drawn
years after Michaelhouse surrendered to Henry VIII.
While some alterations to the buildings south of Trinity's hall were
being conducted in the late nineteenth century, some foundations came
to light. Given their location, archaeologists assumed that they belonged
to Michaelhouse's hall. They point out that a hall of a small institution
like Michaelhouse, which seldom had more than two dozen members even
at the height of its power, would not have been able to accommodate
the additional hundred or so scholars from King's Hall and the other
seven hostels. Michaelhouse's hall, if it were to be of use, would have
As if to underline the dangers of accepting too literally the details
of plans made in the 16th and 17th centuries - where accuracy may have
taken second place to artistic merit - the archaeological findings contradict
them. Hammond's (1592) plan shows a three-storeyed building with no
buttresses, and an oriel with a range of four other windows to the north
and three to the south. A plan dating to 1595, however, has a different
number of windows both to the north and south of the oriel, plus fewer
chimneys. By the time Loggan's plan (1688) had been drawn up, the old
hall had been converted to butteries and a new kitchen had been built.
The oriel window survived until the 1770s, when the whole range between
the present hall and the south-west corner of the court was demolished.
Because new cellars were included in the rebuilding, most of the original
foundations were also destroyed. All that was left of Michaelhouse are
the rubble foundations of the oriel and four buttresses; two of the
buttresses retained the lowest course of dressed masonry. None of these
can be seen today, because the plinth of the replacement building buries
them by a depth of at least 0.5m.
The nineteenth century excavations suggest that to the north of the
oriel, the buttresses were almost twice as far apart as those suggested
on the 1592 plan, while the buttresses to the south were about 4.5m
apart, as opposed to the plan's estimated 3.5m. Using diagrams from
the report, it is possible to determine a new set of dimensions for
Michaelhouse's hall. It seems it was about 23m in length, and was about
12m in width. Archaeologists maintain that since this would have represented
a sizeable room for a mere two dozen scholars, it must be assumed that
the hall was lengthened during the 1550s when a larger hall was required.
There are records of an extension being made to the northern end, so
it seems they were correct. However, it should not be forgotten that
the small community of Michaelhouse scholars tended to live well - as
exemplified by the addition of an extra twelve chambers for the already
existing Fellowship - and just because other, less well endowed institutions
tended to live in cramped conditions, there is no reason to assume that
Michaelhouse did, too.
Besides measuring the foundations, the excavation also discovered some
fragments of the oriel window mouldings. From these, it is possible
to project that the transoms were arched and that they formed a delicate
three-light window. However, nothing remains of them today.
The archaeological evidence gives some idea of what the hall was like
after its 1550s remodelling. It had an open-plan room with a central
hearth (evidence for this also comes from the chimneys in Hammond (1592)
and the plan of 1595). At the southern end, near the light flooding
in from the oriel window, would have been the high table. A conclave
or the combination room was attached. This was a place where the Fellows
could gather to talk in the evenings - the origins of the Fellows' common
rooms still used today. Since Michaelhouse had a generously proportioned
hall, it is not unreasonable to assume that it also had a nice, spacious
To the north of the hall were a series of screens forming a passage
that would have allowed servants to serve meals cooked in the kitchens.
The northern end of the hall was extended in the 1550s, and so it is
difficult to tell what might have been the original Buttetourte hall
and what was added later. However, it is likely that the passageway
to the kitchens and the two adjoining rooms (buttery and pantry) were
later additions, because it is more likely that the original kitchen
would have been in the north courtyard - well away from the main buildings
to reduce the risk of fire. The passageway, buttery, and pantry, therefore,
were added in the 1550s, when there would have been a reason to link
the hall with the newly raised kitchens.