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Excavation: Period 7 Monastic Industry

Cecily Spall and Nicky Toop

Period 7 was defined for the grouping of industrial features, and as such, the period is characterised by a marked land-use change; the intensity of occupation has allowed the period to be broken down into three distinct phases of activity (A, B and C). These phases consisted of small-scale, organised pit digging (A), followed by the construction of a pottery kiln, clay quarrying and pottery production (B). The kiln was then dismantled systematically and partially backfilled. Short-lived rubbish disposal and some demarcation of areas followed (C), but were soon disused and truncated by a large landscaping operation and importation of soils to level the area during Period 8A.

Features and deposits which contained Humber Ware-type pottery without the presence of Humber Ware-type wasters (understood as the product of the kiln), as well as Brandsby-type Ware, have been assigned to sub-phases A and B; features which preceded Period 8A landscaping and which did contain Humber Ware wasters were allocated to sub-phase C.

Period 7A - Organised refuse disposal

This sub-phase of Period 7 consists of small-scale pit digging in areas already used for the same purpose during Period 6. As in the preceding periods, there was evidence for zones of organised rubbish disposal within areas used previously for refuse, and elsewhere, areas were associated with poorly defined post-built structures and possible fence lines. Indeed, boundary markers and physical divisions were clearest during this period of monastic precinct activity, suggesting more investment in its organisation. The contents of pits also appeared to contain quantities of lost personal items belonging to inhabitants of the priory, most notably a highly decorative bone knife handle.

An eastern pit cluster was identified cutting into several Period 5 and 6 pits F235B, F236B and F247B. A copper-alloy finger-ring made of beaded wire, twisted and fastened with a further piece of wire was recovered from basal backfill C1559B, and is dateable to the 14th century. A D-shaped copper alloy belt buckle and a small annular iron shoe buckle, also of probable 14th century date, were recovered from F236B. Elsewhere scattered features were identified and appeared to represent rubbish pits alongside occasional postholes. Of note was a rubbish pit, F218B/F354B, which yielded a carved bone knife handle depicting a lady in aristocratic dress holding a jessied bird of prey. The subject of the bone handle is parallelled throughout Northern Europe in a small group of similar handles, but the piece has its closest match in two examples from Britain (Coventry and Crowland, Lincs.) (Paul Thompson, pers. comm.; Howe 1983, 146). Other examples are not well-dated, although a 14th century date was mooted generally by Howe and this is strengthened by the Blue Bridge Lane example.

handle, artefact 2770
Handle 2770
Carved bone knife handle

A northern cluster of pits was situated in an area used for pit digging during Period 6 and continued as an area for rubbish disposal into Period 8, although interrupted by the presence of Period 7B quarry F198B. Some depth of sequence is suggested, since the cluster demonstrated high incidences of intercutting which proved difficult to define and excavate. F245B and F254B were the earliest pits in the cluster, and were identified as sub-circular and sub-square respectively; a range of artefacts was recovered from F254B, including a pair of copper alloy tweezers, a fragmentary barrel lock and a small jet cross ornamented with possible silver inlay in a ring and dot ornament (see The Stone Objects). The jet cross, in particular, has several 11th to 12th century parallels, including one from York. Once backfilled, F245B and F254B were cut by F347B and F239B respectively and a further pit nearby, F223B, also belong with the cluster.

Jet cross pendant

Jet cross pendant

The clustered pit digging seems to have been defined by an alignment of nine postholes, running north-south for a distance of c.8.0m and possibly further, representing a possible fence line, which has been allocated to Period 7A (F193B, F195B to F197B, F335B, F336B, F414B, F416B and F431B). These postholes belong to the general western group of postholes, some of which are believed to relate to a Period 6 structure. Ceramic material was recovered from four of the features, and although Period 4 and 6 pottery was the latest from two postholes (F197B and F416B), the features have been considered a group on the strength of their alignment with F195B and F431B, which contained secure Period 7 pottery. In addition, the southernmost feature F335B (=F175B) was possibly integral to the excavation of a ditch along the precinct boundary during Phase A (F208B). Supporting allocation to Phase A was their relationship to Phase B quarry pit F38/39B, which cut postholes F197B and F416B; however, the fence line could well have been present during quarrying and may have limited F38/39B in a westward direction.

Several features of the posthole group (F295B, F398B and F399B) were cut by the excavation of Period 7B quarry pits, demonstrating that the zone of structural activity established in Period 6 persisted into at least Period 7A. It may be significant that the fence line bisects the quad of quarry pits, with the northern cluster of Period 7A pits being situated to the east of the boundary; its perpendicularity to the line of the precinct ditch is also notable. Together, these features demonstrate deliberate division and organisation of space, reaching to the limit of the monastic precinct.

A length of ditch (F208B), was identified, aligned with the southern boundary of Intervention 15 and disappearing beneath it. During Period 7A, this ditch appears to have been associated with a number of postholes F204B to F207B, F348B, F335B and F375B. Investigation was somewhat hampered by the proximity of the feature to the modern concrete boundary, and only a partial longitudinal section, undertaken in three sections, was possible. The excavated form of F208B was reasonably complex, appearing to vary along the feature's length. Where visible, the form of the ditch consisted of gently sloping edges becoming steeper towards the presumed base of the ditch, where a potential post trench was suggested in the post-excavation plan, particularly in the central excavated section where a possible post base was present. The backfill system consisted of three principal backfills which appear layered. The lowest backfill contained a sherd of residual Period 6 pottery and Period 7 pottery, hence the allocation of the feature's construction to Period 7A, supported by its association with fenceline posthole F335B.

This ditch feature represents the earliest evidence encountered for the physical laying out of the monastic precinct, and its excavated form suggests a shallow, possibly palisaded, trench. Since this period, the alignment has been fossilised as a boundary under a number of guises, and still survives today. The subsequent backfilling (including a possible recut) of F208B contained Period 8A pottery and demonstrates its longevity.

Elsewhere, scattered features were defined and, although their pottery content suggested they belonged to this period, they could not easily be associated with any particular structures or activities. Within Intervention 15 several postholes were encountered and included a northern cluster, which appeared slightly more coherent and may relate to an undefined structure. In Intervention 19, three Period 7A pits were defined and in Intervention 22 a small number of features have been dated by pottery to Period 7, although they are difficult to understand in isolation (F425B, F420B, F397B, F435B); a single unremarkable posthole (F421B) was also identified in Intervention 25. Together these features demonstrate, somewhat unsurprisingly, that nearby areas of the precinct were used for similar activities and that the buildings of Period 6, Structure 2 and Structure 3, had fallen out of use.

Period 7B - The production of Humber Ware type pottery

This phase marks a change in the intensity of occupation within the southeastern part of the precinct, and the beginning of phases of industry, which were to continue until the Dissolution of the priory. Period 7B is characterised in particular by on-site pottery production and clay quarrying.

Structure 4

The remains of a small kiln were identified during excavation, and have been allocated Structure 4. The feature had suffered severe truncation by modern features, principally a large brick-built manhole, F49B, into which several deep Period 9 sewer pipes drained. Only the deepest parts of the original structure survived, including remnants of the main firing area, which appeared to be contained within a large, possibly sub-square scoop (F58B). Signs of heat reddening within the underlying subsoil were noted at the deepest point of the feature. A series of twenty-four postholes which had survived truncation were identified along its eastern edge, and appear to be associated with F58B. These features are thought to represent some form of structure, although neither the form of the kiln nor the presence of postholes compares easily to any known kilns forms. Structure 4 was allocated during post-excavation, and the form of the kiln has been reconstructed from the main north-south section drawing and the positions and hachure plans of individual features.

Blue Bridge Lane Period 7B Structure 4 (Interactive SVG image)

The presence of a pottery kiln at Blue Bridge Lane was first indicated by a small sub-square scoop, F50B, filled with pottery wasters, which was later found to have been part of the main body of the kiln (F58B) but had been separated by the insertion of Period 9 manhole F49B. Upon excavation, F50B was found to have been filled a well-ordered layer of pot wasters and roof tile fragments (C1173B). A total of 289 sherds of waste pottery was recovered from F50B, as well as 864 grams of roof tile. A possible post-setting (F180B) was identified in the post-excavation plan of F50B/F58B and is answered in the southwestern corner of the feature, initially by post-void F509B in construction cut F376B and later replaced by F325B in construction cut F332B. The earliest layers filling F50B may represent the original lining of the kiln, which had been lost in other areas of the structure. An equivalent possible lining was identified in the eastern area of the kiln, consisting of a thin layer of puddled clay with lenses of charcoal, directly overlying subsoil; an initial lining of puddled clay would concur with the burnt in situremains within F58B. The form of F58B was not easy to define, and was excavated as a backfilled depression measuring 4.50m x 4.00m; an average depth of 0.30m and a maximum depth of 1.40m (coincident with the area of burning) is suggested by the recorded heights.

F50B west facing section

F50B west facing section

The excavated form of Structure 4 consisted of a large sub-square feature, although the true shape in plan had been removed by later activity. An external structure has been tentatively defined by a series of postholes which hug the eastern side of the kiln area; the most substantial of these features, which were set in construction cuts, were found to correspond with the corners of Structure 4. The possible post settings identified in the southeastern and southwestern corners of F58B, were answered in the northwestern and northeastern corners. These posts may have been integral to the form of the structure, while the smaller, intermediate posts appeared to have been less important structurally. A timber structure within the body of a kiln would simply not survive the firing process and it is likely that these posts represent an associated cover or enclosure for the industrial feature.

The kiln was found to be deeper towards its southern edge, where deposits belonging to the firing of the kiln had survived very deep truncation by modern manholes. These deposits represented a small area of kiln base consisting of a brown burnt sandy deposit (C2136B) overlying a reddened in situsubsoil (C1885B=C2137B), and probably represent the remains of a kiln lining. Although truncated, the dimensions of C2136/7B suggest a well-used small kiln form, which may have been used for quick batch production (J. Hudson, pers. comm.).

C2136B and C2137B north facing section

C2136B and C2137B north facing section

The make-up of the kiln base (C2136B) was sampled for archaeomagnetic dating by Geoquest, and returned two possible date brackets for the last firing of the kiln: 1320AD to 1340AD or 1360AD to 1430AD (see Dating).

Although the levels of truncation on the site had removed any in situevidence that the kiln had been fired more than once, it seems likely to have been used for more than one batch. The arrangement and possible replacement of at least one of the corner posts suggests that the kiln was fired more than once, and therefore the surrounding structure needed to be maintained. The clusters of postholes identified on the eastern side of the structure, which could be contemporary, might suggest further maintenance, alteration and post replacement, or could alternatively represent a more sophisticated superstructure than the one posited. However, it does appear from the date of backfilling and prompt intrusion of subsequent features that the industry was relatively short-lived.

After the last firing, Structure 4 was partially and rapidly backfilled with mixed deposits, with high proportions of burnt CBM and lenses of burnt red clay, which may represent redeposited kiln lining and covering detritus. By analogy with other kilns, the superstructure may have consisted simply of a cover of turves, CBM and pot wasters, which is certainly suggested by the contents of F50B (Musty 1974, 41-63).

Quarry pits, clay storage pit and well

Four large pits were found to be markedly different in character to features assigned to earlier periods, and are thought to relate to clay quarrying for the pottery kiln. These pits, identified as F38B/F39B, F198B, F162B, and F215B, bear testament to the suitability of York's boulder clay for the manufacture of pottery, which has occurred since the Roman period (J. Hudson, pers. comm.). The excavation of these features has been assigned to Period 7B, although the subsequent backfilling appears to have occurred in Phase C, since the fills contained Humber Ware wasters, which provide the distinction between sub-phases. It is presumed that the excavation of the quarries was undertaken within the same general phase of activity as the pottery production, although the actual extraction of clay is likely to have occurred in the autumn preceding firing; the clay would have been weathered during the winter months, and potted and fired during the spring. These large quarry pits later provided areas for the dumping of priory rubbish, and the fill systems and material recovered are discussed further in Phase C. In addition to the quarry pits, two further features are thought to have related to pottery production at the site, F211B and F150B, and have been assigned to this period.

View of Intervention 15 showing quarries under excavation

View of Intervention 15 showing quarries under excavation

The four quarry pits appear to be arranged in a confined area, downslope of the kiln Structure 4. The easternmost pits, F162B and F215B, appear to oppose one another, and are of similar dimensions. F38B/F39B was more difficult to define and was identified as two separate features, which are considered to represent one pit (the interruption between F38B and F39B results from the presence of evaluation trench Intervention 1). This quarry may well have been abandoned as a source of clay, since the quarry cut into an area already disturbed by the excavation of earlier pits. This may explain the comparative lack of depth, and the creeping shape of the feature in plan may have been created as more suitable clay was chased. The fourth quarry pit, F198B, also cut into an area which had been used in preceding periods for rubbish disposal, but its depth reached beyond any previous pit-digging into virgin subsoil.

Blue Bridge Lane Period 7B Structure 4 and associated features (Interactive SVG image)

A crude volumetric calculation of the quantity of subsoil extracted from these quarries suggests that approximately 40m 3 of material was obtained. No doubt the subsoil required refining, since it contains a component of glacial gravel; nonetheless, the figure represents the extraction of large quantities of clay. It seems likely that the extracted subsoil was not transported far in order to weather. During Phase B pottery production, this part of the precinct is likely to have been heavily industrial in character, dominated by clay and spoil heaps and large open quarries, and exacerbated further by the smoke and pollution caused when the kiln was in use. When considered in this light, it seems unlikely that any occupation would have been situated nearby and the normal refuse disposal and pit digging may also have been temporarily suspended. It is notable that the areas given over to quarries do not exhibit intense intercutting by later features, with the exception of F198B; the presence of large quarries, albeit backfilled, may have rendered the area liable to subsidence and therefore unsuitable for buildings or most later activity.

Clay storage pit

As well as the quarry pits, a single feature has tentatively been identified as a pit for the storage of processed clay, and has subsequently been allocated to this industrial phase. F211B was a well-defined feature consisting of a four-sided, sub-surface chamber. The walls of the chamber comprised coursed, reused plain and peg roof tiles, reused walltile and brick and stone rubble. It is possible, though not demonstrable, that the feature was used for the storage of processed clay (J. Hudson, pers. comm.) and its proximity to the kiln is noteworthy.

F211B pre-excavation

F211B pre-excavation

Water collector

To the east of Structure 4, an isolated, deep pit, F150B, which appeared to have been set in a small enclosure represented by four nearby postholes, and may have been fenced off to avoid accidents, has been interpreted as a possible water collector or well. Its excavated form consisted of a circular pit measuring 1.20m in diameter, with steep, near-vertical sides reaching to a depth of c.0.8m. Due to the nature of the basal fills, the pit was identified as a possible cesspit during excavation. However, despite exhaustive sampling, no faecal concretions were identified, nor were associated artefacts encrusted with characteristic mineralisation. It seems possible that the basal fills accumulated slowly in waterlogged conditions rather than representing cess deposits.

The associated quarries, clay storage pit and water collector or well are interesting and find easy parallels on better preserved kiln sites. Stone-lined clay storage pits were identified during excavations of kiln sites at Lyveden, Northants and Olney Hyde, Bucks.; a clay pit was also found at the latter (Moorhouse 1981, 104).

Period 7C - The end of pottery production

This sub-phase is characterised by the resumption of pit digging and ephemeral post-built structures and notably, the disuse of the four large quarry pits took place during this phase. This sub-phase has been identified by features and deposits which contained Humber Ware-type and Humber Ware-type waste sherds and thus post-dated the production of pottery on site. Where the stratigraphic relationships were present, those features which cut the partially backfilled Structure 4, but preceded the landscaping which marks the beginning of Period 8, were assigned to this industrial sub-phase.

Location of Period 7C features (Interactive SVG image)

Four adjacent pits (F76B, F122B, F76B and F518B), were situated close to a cluster of Period 5 and 6 pits (F255B, F234B and F249B). The pits are unremarkable rubbish pits filled with a mixture of refuse including pottery, CBM and metalwork. Of note were several conjoining fragments of a forest green glass urinal, which can be associated with medicinal practice, possibly within the priory itself. In addition, a suite of four features was identified cut into the partially backfilled kiln (F58B), including a gully and posthole arrangement, a large rubbish pit and a small pit or possible posthole (F384B, F401B, F404B and F450B).

Quarry pit reclamation

The quarry pits excavated during Phase 7B appear to have lain open for some time after pottery production had ceased, before their backfilling during Phase 7C. The backfill systems consisted of trample deposits, overlain by periodic dumping of discrete materials, interleaved with superficial collapses or deliberate capping. Some of these episodes indicate shared horizons of refuse disposal within the pits, which may in turn indicate changes in the wider area of the monastic precinct. Three of the pits (F162B, F198B and F215B) shared several characteristics, while F38/9B demonstrated a more simple disuse sequence, reflecting its comparatively shallow depth.

The material recovered from these pits provides information on the nature of building activity within the priory and also evidence for activity and lifestyle. Huge quantities of CBM and structural ironwork, mainly nails, but also roves, clench bolts, hinge pivots and hinge straps were recovered. This material may derive from an episode of remodelling of the priory ranges evidenced by activity assigned to Period 6d at 46-54 Fishergate (Kemp and Graves 1996, 71). The presence of an English bronze jeton dated to the early 14th century from F198B confirms the general date of the disuse of the features. The same feature also produced an assemblage of finds including two bone styli, one of which may be a parchment pricker, a copper alloy mount and two coins (two halfpennies of Edward III (1327-77). Its final levelling yielded a French jeton of 15th century date, a smooth chalk pebble with a cross incised on both sides and a thimble, also of 15th century date.

stylus, artefact 2775
stylus, artefact 2775
stylus, artefact 2783
stylus, artefact 2783
Bone styli and parchment pricker from F198B

Cross-marked pebble from F198B

Cross-marked pebble from F198B

The buildings of the claustral range were almost certainly furnished with a roofing scheme of York peg tile, and while the building materials need not derive from these buildings specifically, the bone styli, jet cross and cross-marked pebble are further indicators of the source of the rubbish dumped within these pits. By the end of Phase C, the pits had been largely levelled and following landscaping had been reclaimed for lighter industrial use.

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