Marked up ready to dig
1 Feb 2014 – A condition of our planning consent was to organise a dig to determine what historical remains might be going to be damaged by construction of our new extension. We are just outside the city walls in one of the two oldest suburbs, St Bartholomews. In this quarter the Romans buried their dead and there were a tannery, a brewery and a slaughterhouse. These continued far into the centuries. We are also on the site of the Parliamentary encampment during the English Civil War.
The gateway digger
All our friends and most of the street were hoping for some major finds. So we dug.
The Council were very disappointed. No what they call articulated bones, no Roman road and no evidence of much else either.
They went down 850mm
They did find some human bone fragments, which we have to rebury under the foundations, together with two broken bits of 3rd Century Roman pottery. They know the cemetery is 3rd century and 30 metres away SE beyond our easterly wall, so not surprising to find fragments from disturbance over the centuries but no actual burials. They think our garden wall could run along a very old boundary and is perhaps even sitting on the Roman cemetery boundary ditch – which would explain why the two trenches they dug were so empty. We are on the wrong side for bodies.
Incredibly neat but empty hole
They also found a few bits of broken tile probably from the Civil War period when the suburb was demolished so they could fire the cannon over the walls, plus a damaged flint tool maybe from 2500BC.
They dug down nearly a metre to the hoggin bank which is very compacted and apparently made up of the dust blown off the leading edge of the glaciers for millennia during the Ice Age. This bank runs all the way to Southampton apparently and is one reason why the churches and cathedrals are built on it – it is raised above the flood plain and drains well so does not flood. How sensible of our forebears to build on such a hump and good news for us all no doubt given recent events. And a pretty amazing insight into how insignificant our 3 score years and ten are in the grand scheme of things.
Known in the jargon as Trench Two I believe
Everything has been sent off to Newhaven for cleaning, dating and cataloguing before being returned. We have to re-bury the bone fragments but we can keep the bits of pottery and the tool apparently. Nothing worthy of a museum exhibit either.
The sum total of finds – minus the human remains
So – no Chichester Hoard and no decorated lead coffins I am afraid. We know from research that our wall marked a path down to the fields from the road in olden days so there may be some truth in their suppositions about the Roman boundary.
Sum total of the dig minus the bones
10 March 2014 – Two large holes in the ground which are causing a headache for the structural engineer as these seriously weaken the base on which to put the new extension foundations and floor:
1 Feb 2014 – And two meagre takeaway trays of broken pottery. Mind you the finer pieces in the top tray are 3rd century Roman and the rest are roof tiles from 16th and 17th century, probably left over from the demolition of the houses by the locals to obstruct the Parliamentarians:
The human bone fragments are not shown out of respect and will have to be reburied in the trench before the concrete goes in.
We got a bit of a shock when we discovered we were supposed to get the archaeology planning condition discharged before going on site (a potential delay of 8-12 weeks) and pay a further £97.00 for the privilege!