Street food – cooking in the medieval period at Wangford quarry

A long term excavation at Wangford quarry in Suffolk, which has revealed a medieval kitchen, was bounded on two sides by ancient medieval routes – Green Lane ran across the north edge of the site and Mardle Road along its eastern edge. Green Lane is now little more than a rough track but in the medieval period this was probably a significant route, linking nearby Southwold on the coast to the first crossing of the River Blyth estuary at Blythburgh.

Excavations at Wangford Quarry

While Green Lane ran along the higher ground to the north of the site, to the south of the road and within the excavation area was a deep fold or dry valley (the ‘Swale’), a glacial feature that ran down to the River Wang in the south.

It was within this dip that much of the medieval archaeology survived, including a stand-alone kitchen building (or brewhouse), a bread oven and a possible barn. It appears that foodstuffs were prepared and cooked here and sold or transported directly onto Green Lane.

Within the funnel-shaped Swale were a series of rectangular and trapezoid enclosures dating from the 12th to 14th centuries. The wider, top end opened up towards Green Lane to the north, while the lower, narrower end tailed down the Swale to the south. As the enclosure expanded southwards it developed into the unusual and distinctive large triangular shape revealed in the excavations.

Near the lane frontage, the kitchen building measured 7m by 5.5m and revealed over eighty separate post-holes (sometimes in intercutting clusters suggesting up to three phases of repair, replacement or rebuild). Post-holes were most densely clustered along the long edges (the eves) and were more sparse at the shorter (gable) ends. The entranceways were probably at these ends. An area of scorching represented a central hearth.

Post-ex photo of medieval kitchen
Medieval kitchen building

Behind the kitchen and away down the slope (and protected from the worst of the weather within the deep fold of the Swale) was a bread oven. The circular oven floor was made of hard fired baked clay and was over 2m across. A clay dome would have risen over the oven floor but this has now ploughed away. Under the clay floor were packed large flint cobbles, designed to retain heat. The whole oven was placed within a shallow rectangular pit, representing some form of sunken building or shelter, possibly a bakehouse (measuring 5m long and 3.7m wide).

medieval oven, quarter sectioned to show stone cobbles
Medieval oven with flint cobbles

Some large post-holes close to the lane frontage appear to be associated with a large but shallow rectangular pit. This has been interpreted as a cavity under a suspended floor and with the post-holes might be part of a barn or storage building. The suspended floor could have kept flour, grain or other stored foodstuffs dry and off the ground.

post ex photo of medieval barn, with post holes half sectioned. On a frosty morning
Medieval barn

The kitchen, oven and barn buildings within the triangular ditched enclosure all form part of a food processing and cooking complex, probably selling produce straight onto Green Lane, then the main thoroughfare linking Southwold with its hinterland. But after the 14th century, this area of activity appears to fall out of use and the reason for this might centre on Mardle Road that runs along the eastern edge of the site.

Mardle Road links the village of Wangford (about 1km to the north) to marshland associated with the River Wang and the Blyth Estuary to the south of the site. At some point in the early Post-medieval period Wolsey Bridge was built and Mardle Road was extended down to the bridge crossing over the River Wang. The bridge was part of a major remodeling of the marsh with a substantial river wall and a sluice, making the Wang freshwater above this point and creating a safe crossing of the river. This new route through the marsh became the main access to Southwold and marginalised Green Lane and the cooking complex within the Swale, bringing the medieval sequence at Wangford quarry to an end.

Jezz Meredith
Senior Publications Officer

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