Friday, 28 April 2017

Building Upon the Stones of Our Past

How Post-Medieval Cantabrigians Used Priory Stones to Build Their Homes

The Barnwell Priory existed as a monastery just north-west of our excavation site until 1538 when it was destroyed during the Dissolution of the monasteries. After that time the priory buildings were left in ruins as the city of Cambridge expanded around it.

Our excavation of the post-medieval buildings on site uncovered the use of limestone, chalk, and sandstone blocks as footings for the brick walls of these buildings. While chalk probably dominates our finds, the next numerous is Barnack limestone.  

These limestone blocks were carved very specifically to be used for building something other than post-medieval footings. Some were shaped to have large smooth, curved edges, while multiple others have notches or holes carved into their sides which would have allowed them to fit together in very specific ways. The stones were not re-shaped to fit within the post-medieval walls, but more used for their size (they are extremely heavy!), and manoeuvred into place as strong footings to build on top of. These blocks are most likely the remnants of medieval Priory buildings that were destroyed during the Dissolution, and then re-purposed into post-medieval buildings. Barnack limestone was quarried in central England, near Barnack. This type of limestone was used extensively for English buildings throughout the ages; many of the oldest colleges in Cambridge were built with Barnack limestone. However, the quarry was exhausted by the 16th Century. This can tell us that any buildings that were using Barnack limestone were built before the exhaustion of the quarry.
While we know the post-medieval buildings on site were standing as of 1888, they would have been built some time before that, taking full advantage of the local stone left from the Priory.
It looks like recycling was a common occurrence in post-medieval Cambridge!
We’ll keep you updated on new discoveries each week, so make sure to check back as we #DigDeeper
2016. Barnack Limestone. Museum of Fine Arts. Boston.

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