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Medieval archaeological discoveries at York’s Guildhall

Archaeologists working at York’s Guildhall in northern England have uncovered portions of an Augustinian friary, along with human remains. The items they have found so far date between the post-medieval era to as far back as the Roman period.

These latest discoveries were made as work continues on site as part of the project to restore and redevelop the Guildhall building back. The 14th century landmark is set to become home to new office space, while improving public access to this heritage site.

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In partnership with VINCI Construction UK and York Archaeological Trust, excavations underneath the area of where the Timber Hutments of the Guildhall once stood, have revealed limestone walls and medieval burials thought to be part of the Augustinian friary and its use after it was surrendered in 1538. This includes deposits containing artifacts of glass, pottery and coins dating from the post-medieval period, to as far back as the Roman period. This site has most recently been occupied by the council’s offices and demolition of the structure was completed this month.

Among structures linked with the medieval Augustinian friary is a set of ovens that may have been part of the kitchen area. Two large, later walls run through the friary remains and appear to have reused a lot of the friary stonework. The archaeologists have also uncovered a single phase of graves which may date to the later use of the friary. Unfortunately, these were badly disturbed by a later phase of demolition works a few hundred years ago.

The medieval and post-medieval phases of archaeology have disturbed earlier significant Roman deposits underneath. The dig has uncovered a lot of earlier material, including large quantities of fragmentary Roman painted plaster, an abundance of almost complete Roman roof tiles (tegulae) and a small number of plain Roman mosaic tiles (tesserae) – however, all these Roman finds have been incorporated into later Medieval deposits and features. It is therefore possible that the medieval Friary was built over the ruins of a Roman building that once occupied the riverfront of Eboracum.

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The historic landmark in the centre of York dates back to the 14th century when it was once used as a meeting place for the city’s guilds, an association of artisans or merchants who oversaw the development of their particular trade or craft in York. The building was used to entertain monarchs such as Richard III and was also the site of the trial of Margaret Clitherow in the 16th century.

“The site’s rich history and significance in the life of the city makes this a truly unique project,” comments York Councillor Nigel Ayre. “These latest findings have uncovered yet another layer of history in our city centre and taught us more about the site prior to the Guildhall which stands here today.”

“An Archaeological investigation was carried out before work began on site, however during the more extensive excavation post demolition, such is the nature of working in an historic city like York means YAT have uncovered more, exciting archaeological finds. As careful excavations are underway, progress of works has continued on other areas of the site, to minimise any disruption to the project schedule whilst the archaeologists carry out their work.”

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“We know that significant projects like this, spanning over 18 months, will always include unexpected developments. We are confident that the progress made in recent months, particularly throughout the floods, demonstrates the diligence and high quality of work on the project, and that every effort will be made to recover any lost time. These findings demonstrate the importance of improving public access to this fascinating part of York’s history and we’re pleased that this redevelopment will provide just that.”

Earlier this year, the archaeologists working at the Guildhall complex found remains dating back to the Roman period. Click here to read more.

Top Image: The Guildhall in York facing onto the River Ouse. Photo by Kaly99 / Wikimedia Commons

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