New archaeological discoveries at City Campus, Gloucester

A section of an 18th century church’s external wall and porch have been uncovered for the first time, during our excavations at the site of University of Gloucestershire’s new City Campus development in Gloucester.

Project leader Cliff Bateman, excavating a section of 18th century wall (Mikal Ludlow Photography)

The University commissioned us to carry out an excavation at the location of the former Debenhams building, in an area between Eastgate Street and Northgate Street, in what centuries ago would have been the north-eastern quadrant of a Roman town. So far, we’ve discovered an eight-metre-long footing of the Western elevation and porch of the Post-medieval St Aldate’s Church, built in around 1750.

Thought to be named after a bishop of Gloucester who died in battle in 577, the post-medieval church replaced a medieval church of the same name that may have pre-dated the Norman Conquest. Historians believe the medieval St Aldate’s Church was demolished in the mid-17thcentury after it sustained damage during the English Civil War (1642-1652).

Cliff Bateman, Senior Project Officer at the City Campus site, said: “The footing we have discovered is only 20cm to 30cm below the current ground surface and it has survived very well. It’s an interesting discovery in that, although the post-medieval St Aldate’s Church was built in the mid-18th century, photographs taken in later years very clearly show that it was a brick church, almost neoclassical in its design.

“The footing is made up entirely of very well-dressed limestone blocks, some of which I presume may have come from the earlier medieval church and possibly from the nearby Roman and medieval defensive town wall that was razed after the Civil War.

Experienced Archaeologist Nathan Chinchen, carefully excavating at City Campus

“We don’t know the location of the site of the medieval church yet because we can’t be certain that the mid-18th century church, which was demolished in 1960, used the footprint of its predecessor.

“The discovery of the mid-18th century church is extremely interesting itself, because it will enable us to start determining the whereabouts of the church burial ground.

“But it would take our work up to a whole new level if discovering part of the mid-18th century church led to us finding the location of the medieval church. There is a chance we might find the location of the medieval church when we carry out work further into the site.

“The site as a whole has the potential to increase public knowledge of the Roman, medieval and post-medieval development of this part of Gloucester.”

Within the same location, our team has discovered 12 burials, the vast majority associated with the medieval St Aldate’s Church. All the remains are being sensitively and respectfully transferred for assessment and analysis, before being reinterred.

Nathan recording the grave locations (Mikal Ludlow Photography)

Born and bred in Gloucester, Cliff Bateman said the city was among the most pre-eminent locations in the UK for archaeological research.

Roman activity within Gloucester began in the late AD40s with the construction of a legionary fortress at Kingsholm, about 900 metres from the City Campus site, before being replaced in the AD 60s by a further fort, located on what is now the modern city centre. This second fort was itself replaced by a new settlement for retired Roman soldiers.

In evidence of this Roman activity, discoveries within the basement of the former Debenhams building included the remains of Roman buildings and associated mosaics, and the Roman street just below the basement floor level.

Cliff Bateman, who has been employed by Cotswold Archaelogy since 1990, said: “Gloucester is such a significant place in terms of archaeological study – it’s unbelievable. Underneath where we’ve found the 18th century church and medieval and post-medieval burials, there will be Roman buildings in situ. Every time we work in Gloucester, we make new discoveries – it’s a massively important place.”

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