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Two thousand years of development in Gloucester’s Greater Blackfriars area

The importance of archaeological archives

The Upper Quay Street site in 1989, prior to redevelopment, looking north from the Quay Street/Upper Quay Street junction towards St Nicholas’ church. The site is now occupied by flats
The Upper Quay Street site in 1989, prior to redevelopment, looking north from the Quay Street/Upper Quay Street junction towards St Nicholas’ church. The site is now occupied by flats

Excavations within Gloucester have a long history of providing exciting archaeological discoveries but, once excavated, most of these remains survive only as archaeological archives and within publications. Creating a secure archive from these excavations is essential if we want to apply new ways and techniques to analyse these materials and records.

Recording the remains of Roman barracks at Ladybellegate Street in 1989. The Roman remains lay at depth, covered by a medieval graveyard and later remains
Recording the remains of Roman barracks at Ladybellegate Street in 1989. The Roman remains lay at depth, covered by a medieval graveyard and later remains

As Glevum, Gloucester was one of the most important towns in Roman Britain, becoming a city of fluctuating fortunes in historical times. It remains a vibrant place to live, work and visit, and its urban landscape continues to evolve. In 1989 and 1991, redevelopment in the Blackfriars/Quayside area of the city prompted excavations at Upper Quay Street and Ladybellegate Street. These were undertaken by staff from the City Excavation Unit under the direction of Malcolm Atkin, who battled difficult conditions to reveal archaeological snapshots into significant moments of Gloucester’s past.

Ladybellegate Street site lies within the perimeter of the 1st-century Roman fortress and later walled town, and excavations here revealed the remains of barrack blocks from the fortress and more substantial buildings of the subsequent Roman colonia (civilian town). The inhabitants of this part of the colonia were evidently prosperous and keen to adopt a Romanised lifestyle, occupying houses furnished with mosaics and painted walls.

Recording the mosaic floor from a Roman town house at Ladybellegate Street
Recording the mosaic floor from a Roman town house at Ladybellegate Street

In contrast to the finery of the town houses at Ladybellgate Street, excavations 250m to the north-west at Upper Quay Street revealed evidence for the working part of the Roman town, where goods were imported and exported via the River Severn, providing trading links up and down the river and its hinterland, and overseas.

The lower-lying land at Upper Quay Street is close to what was in the 1st century AD an inlet from the River Severn, land that has long since been reclaimed. Revealed within six small trenches were the preserved timbers of a Roman wharf, which dendrochronological analysis showed was built from AD 74 onwards.

The Roman wharf at Upper Quay Street, looking landwards from the former inlet. The wooden wharf revetment runs left to right across the centre of the image, with a wooden drain (blocked with a wooden chock) extending beneath it at right angles. In front of the revetment, horizontal timbers and wooden piles are the remains of a jetty against which boats would have moored to load and offload goods
The Roman wharf at Upper Quay Street, looking landwards from the former inlet. The wooden wharf revetment runs left to right across the centre of the image, with a wooden drain (blocked with a wooden chock) extending beneath it at right angles. In front of the revetment, horizontal timbers and wooden piles are the remains of a jetty against which boats would have moored to load and offload goods

Some of the goods landed here were spilled, and it is easy to imagine the curses of merchants as figs, grapes and olives were knocked into the muddy channel, to be discovered by archaeologists some 1900 years later. Further wooden piles had been recorded nearby in the 1930s, but unfortunately the archive for those works had not survived and so the piles are not located with any certainty, making them difficult to interpret.

1930s construction work uncovered wooden piles at Upper Quay Street. Gone are the days when sites featured three-piece suits and cloth caps, but the muddy conditions will be familiar to any generation of archaeologists
1930s construction work uncovered wooden piles at Upper Quay Street. Gone are the days when sites featured three-piece suits and cloth caps, but the muddy conditions will be familiar to any generation of archaeologists

As the colonia flourished in the 2nd century the low ground around Upper Quay Street was reclaimed in advance of Roman house building, and the excavations revealed that at least one of these Roman houses included a mosaic floor.

Despite the significance of the remains at both sites, the excavations were undertaken at a time when funding for post-excavation analysis and publication was not built into rescue archaeology budgets. Malcolm Atkin and his team carried out some initial work and limited publication, and the site archive remained secure but largely unexamined within Gloucester City Museum. Renewed redevelopment now being undertaken within the Greater Blackfriars area prompted Andrew Armstrong, the Gloucester City Archaeologist, to secure funding from Historic England to enable the Roman findings from the site to be analysed and published, so that the results could inform archaeological mitigation strategies to accompany the present redevelopment. This analysis and publication was led by Cotswold Archaeology but was only possible because the site archive had been held securely for 30 years in the City Museum. The results are published in volume 138 of the Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society (2020) whilst the archive (which includes details of post-Roman remains not analysed as part of the recent project) is back at Gloucester City Museum, secure for future researchers.

Jonathan Hart

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Cotswold Archaeology and COVID-19

Cotswold Archaeology fully understands and accepts its responsibilities for the safety and well-being of our staff, clients and others during the national health emergency brought about by the onset of the COVID-19 virus. We have worked hard since March 2020 to ensure that our operations accord with the latest Government guidance and have developed a suite of COVID-19 Health & Safety policies and procedures. Most recently we revised our risk assessments to align fully with the updated guidance set out in Working Safely During Coronavirus. You can view our COVID-19 office and site risk assessments. These precautions allow us to adhere to Government’s policy which regards activities related to construction as essential to keep the country operating. Our field teams are currently working at full capacity.

All our offices remain open for business but are closed to visitors. The majority of our office staff are working remotely from home. They have full connectivity and will respond to customer communications and new project enquiries. If you have an enquiry on a potential new project please contact us in the usual way, using email or mobile telephone numbers. On current projects we continue to adapt to changing customer requirements and methods of working.

Inevitably the majority our in-person public events remain on hold for now, but we do have a rolling programme of ongoing virtual public events, details of which can be found on our events page.

Cotswold Archaeology will react accordingly when the Government feels able to unwind its lockdown restrictions and we will update this notice as the situation evolves.

Neil Holbrook
Chief Executive

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Archaeological Excavations at Main Road, Kelsale, 2020

The remains of part of a medieval farm were found during excavations by Cotswold Archaeology in 2020 on the west side of Main Road in Kelsale. The site, on a shallow east-facing slope overlooking the River Fromus, was pasture at the time of digging. The work was undertaken as a requirement on the planning conditions for new housing and was paid for by the developer Badger Building. The archaeological potential of the site had been identified during a preliminary trial trench evaluation, when remains dating to the medieval period (1066-1539) were found in the northern part of the site. As a result, an area measuring 74m x 38m was identified for more detailed work.

The main phase of activity uncovered during the excavation (lime green on Figure 1) dated to the 11th to 13th centuries and was probably part of a farm. On the west side of the site there were two opposing ditched enclosures; the gap between them was 2.3m wide forming a narrow trackway that led eastwards to an open area of ground (perhaps with some temporary posts or fences). Few finds were recovered from the ditch fills but environmental samples produced evidence of wheat and barley grains and legumes suggesting food, hay and fodder plants. It appears that these were not domestic enclosures for dwellings (we would have expected a lot more pottery and general detritus) but paddocks for livestock, although one large pit associated with the northern enclosure contained 13 sherds of 11th to 12th-century pottery and a low level of other material that we would interpret as general rubbish, including a dump of charcoal. This might represent the very edge of the inhabited part of the farmyard.

A site plan showing the archaeology found during excavations
A site plan showing the archaeology found during excavations

A series of north-west/south-east orientated narrow gullies were found at the eastern end of the site, beyond the open area. These were aligned with the enclosures and may have formed part of the same agricultural activity, perhaps indicating strip fields for arable crops. Pottery found within the gullies dated from the 12th to 13th century, perhaps a little later than the pit associated with the enclosures to the west, and they cut across some less well-defined gullies (orange on the plan), which represent an earlier phase of use, probably also agricultural. Other pits and postholes are likely to represent those daily activities associated with a working farm, such tethering posts, fences, barriers and occasional pits. A large pit in the southern part of the site was clearly for rubbish disposal; it contained pottery, animal bone, fired clay and charcoal, and was deposited in layers, perhaps with the more potent deposits being sealed by sterile material before subsequent deposits were made.

Medieval bone tuning peg from a musical instrument
Medieval bone tuning peg from a musical instrument

Overall, the excavation produced one of the largest collections of medieval pottery recorded so far in the area, as well as an 11th to 12th-century iron knife, a coin dated 1247-79 (probably Henry III) and a medieval iron hinge pivot that would have come from a building. Most exciting of all, however, was a bone tuning peg from a musical instrument.

A cut quarter of a hammered voided long-cross penny (1247-79)
A cut quarter of a hammered voided long-cross penny (1247-79), probably for Henry III. The reverse on the left shows three pellets in one quarter and the possible ligated letters CR around the edge, which would have originally noted the moneyer’s name and mint when the coin was complete; the obverse shows the remains of side hair curls of the king and letters ICV from HENRICVS REX

Environmental evidence revealed that a range of cereals (wheat, barley and oats) would have been grown, eaten and fed to animals, indicating that the land was probably managed through a mixture of crop rotation and pasture. Further insight into medieval Kelsale’s diet comes from the presence of animal and bird bones (including bone from sheep and cattle), birds’ eggs and fish, with shell deposits indicating that oysters, mussels and cockles were also popular. Generally, these would have been thrown into rubbish heaps or ‘middens’ within the settlement and then later used for manuring the land, which is how they ended up in the field ditches. Dog and cat bones were also found; these were from pets kept for pest control and were probably originally buried and subsequently disturbed and the bones dispersed.

Although only a small excavation, this work has added to the picture of medieval Kelsale and shows what evidence can survive beneath our feet across the Suffolk countryside.

Cotswold Archaeology are grateful to Badger Building for their help, support and funding of these excavations.

Caz Adams

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2021 Excavations at Clare Castle, Suffolk

After the disruption of Covid in 2020, we are at last able to plan a third and final season of excavation at Clare Castle in Suffolk, which we hope can take place between mid-September and early October later this year.

In 2018, Clare Castle Country Park Trust received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to help conserve the remains of the castle and to share its importance with the wider public, including a three-year campaign of community excavations. This year’s work builds on two previous seasons of digging carried out in 2018 and 2019 under the direction of Cotswold Archaeology.

Volunteers excavating at Clare Castle in 2018
Volunteers excavating at Clare Castle in 2018

The castle is an early motte and bailey castle built by Richard FitzGilbert in the 11th century, after he had been awarded the land by William the Conqueror following the Norman invasion in 1066. It flourished for 300 years, reaching its zenith during the ownership of Elizabeth de Burgh in the 14th century, after which it went into decline.

In the mid-19th century the Great Eastern Railway company built the Sudbury to Haverhill railway line, cutting right through the outer castle earthworks, after which the castle became overgrown and was lost amongst the railway sidings. Some hint of its hidden history was uncovered during railway construction with the discovery of an early 15th-century gold cross and chain. In the mid-20th century, burials were also uncovered during the building of a new weighbridge but, until 2013, no systematic excavation of the castle had been undertaken and we didn’t know how much had survived. Excavations in 2013 by Access Cambridge Archaeology with Carenza Lewis found that the railway had not destroyed everything and provided tantalising glimpses of the surviving medieval archaeology.

Volunteers cleaning one of the walls
Volunteers cleaning one of the walls during 2019 dig

So far, the first two seasons of our excavations have uncovered the remains of a probable stable, a large clay oven (perhaps for baking some of the thousands of loaves of bread that would have been consumed at the castle) and a substantial ditch and bank (possibly from an earlier rampart), which were found in the outer bailey in 2018. Finds recovered date mainly to the 12th to 14th centuries, reflecting the ‘heyday’ of the castle, and include arrowheads, horseshoes, and household items like knives, keys and pottery. A picture of medieval life is emerging, confirming the suggestion from the documentary evidence that the castle’s outer bailey was occupied by huntsmen and their animals, as well as containing the kitchens and industrial areas.

In 2019, excavations in the inner bailey found that the few burials uncovered previously were part of a vast communal cemetery, probably where the occupants of the Saxon town were interred before it came under Norman control (these were normal burials, not evidence of some mass slaughter!).  We also found the remains of medieval buildings, and it is these that we are looking forward to investigating this autumn; after such a long break, it is exciting to be able to finally plan the last phase of digging at Clare Castle.

As this is a community project, the work is being carried out by local people from all walks of life, including volunteers, work experience students, local groups and schools. There will be opportunities to share in our discoveries through visits, tours and open days, and to kick-start this season’s work we will be holding a public online lecture on the castle and the results of the excavations so far as part of the Festival of Archaeology on Wednesday 20th July, at 7pm.

Book your place now.

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Burwell: a medieval settlement on the edge of the Cambridgeshire fens

We have recently finished digging a small medieval settlement site on the western side of Burwell in Cambridgeshire. Burwell lies on the eastern edge of the East Anglian fens and was founded on one of a number of small sand islands that formed dry, slightly higher areas within the generally marshy and seasonally flooded fenland, before the systematic draining of the fens began in the 1600s. These islands were a focus for occupation, known for being hubs of medieval trade and commerce, and valuable to the local economy as platforms from which to exploit fenland resources. Communication around the fens was by deeply cut channels called lodes, believed to be Roman in origin. One, Burwell lode, connected the village with the other fen waterways into the 20th century.

Overhead photograph showing features at the site after stripping
Overhead photograph showing features at the site after stripping

Burwell was a substantial settlement in the medieval period, with 42.5 households recorded in Domesday and a castle (unfinished) and priory in the 12th century; the presence of a 7th-century Anglo-Saxon cemetery, which was excavated in the 1920s, suggests settlement originated much earlier.

A medieval seal matrix and seal rings: evidence for commercial activity on the fen island
A medieval seal matrix and seal rings: evidence for commercial activity on the fen island

Smaller cuts, or private lodes, were used as navigable channels to bring small flat-bottomed vessels further into the settlement, creating small-scale inland docks. The results of our excavation included the exceptional discovery of what appears to have been one of these small lodes, running from the Burwell lode to the west and coming to an end within the site. A stepped platform on its southern side perhaps served as a mooring platform for loading and unloading. The pottery found within the lode dates to 1100-1300 AD, so broadly contemporary with the castle and priory. The natural topography drops away to the west and the ground immediately south of the lode had been raised and levelled (perhaps with material upcast from the digging of it) to extend the area of dry ground. Within this area, and in the naturally higher ground to the south-east, were found a series of paddocks and enclosures as well as at least two structures, one built of substantial posts, perhaps a warehouse or barn for storing produce coming in or out of Burwell.

Evidence of the commercial use of the site can be found in the medieval finds assemblage, which includes a lead seal matrix and seal rings and a copper-alloy scale pan, all of which suggest a mercantile focus to the activity.

CA are grateful to Artisan (UK) Developments Ltd who have funded the work.

Jo Caruth

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Mesolithic Cave Burial System Identified from Human Remains

The exciting results of early Mesolithic radiocarbon dates on human bones from the cave at Cannington Quarry are now published in the Proceedings of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, Volume 28 (3). Cotswold Archaeology (CA) previously reported the discovery of an entirely new Mesolithic cave burial site in Somerset, through our work on the human bone collection cared for by South West Heritage Trust – material which had been found in the 1960s.

Mesolithic burial sites in the UK are incredibly rare and the preliminary investigations by CA’s specialist in human remains, Sharon Clough, have significantly contributed to the knowledge of burial at this important time in Britain’s history, when it was being repopulated by people after the last Ice Age.  Sharon’s work owes a lot to the meticulous work of Philip Rahtz and his published account of the original discovery; it also highlights the importance of museum collections and archives for further research.  Additional work is planned on this collection, in collaboration with the South West Heritage Trust.  

For a copy of the Proceedings please follow this link to the UBSS website where it can be purchased for £12.50, or free to members of the Society. 12 months after publication PDF articles are available to download from the UBSS website at no charge.

If you have a press enquiry and require more information on these findings, please contact us at enquiries@cotswoldarchaeology.co.uk.

Right facial bones today compared with the original photograph before the calcareous deposit was removed

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The henge at Vaynor farm – found on the route of the SW gas pipeline and subjected to r

All in good time: radiocarbon dating

As archaeologists we are used to studying time and placing the archaeological material we excavate into its correct sequence. The identification of material allows us …
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