Friday, 16 June 2017

The End of an Excavation

The Wests’ Garage excavation has come to an end and it’s time to say farewell for now! It really has been an exciting site to be involved in. We began our excavation with a major focus on discovering the relationship of this site to the medieval priory and how the settlement of Barnwell developed into the wider city of Cambridge.

 While we found obvious evidence of post-medieval occupation, including brick and chalk walled buildings and wells which demonstrate the occupation of the area, there was less evidence of medieval occupation. Previously excavated sites across Newmarket Road had demonstrated many more signs of medieval occupation associated with the village of Barnwell, including boundary ditches and evidence of small scale farming etc. The minimal evidence we have found for the period may suggest our excavation area is located on south-eastern edge of the priory lands, possibly bounded by medieval versions of Newmarket Road and River Lane. The priory lands would have been for exclusive use of the priory occupants during medieval period which could account for the lack of medieval evidence on our site. It is likely the type of use for the this part of the priory land would have had limited archaeological impact on the ground, possibly used for agriculture or grazing of livestock, leaving little evidence for us to find.    

What we do know, is that this area was occupied in the early 19th century and possibly earlier, which we will learn through in depth analysis of our finds. With people drawn here by the popular Stourbridge Fair and the expansion of the city into new areas from light industry and housing, the site has altered greatly from the medieval period to the modern day. And I’m sure it will continue to be altered in the future, as Cambridge continues to evolve.

Throughout the almost three months of excavation on Wests’ Garage we have learnt a lot about the way of life in this area of post-medieval Cambridge. As we study the records we have made, clean and assess the finds recovered we will continue to learn about the site and development greater understanding of the site and its immediate setting.

Many thanks to Robby, Gary, Antonio, Stuart, Davis, Julie, Ana, Josh, Jon, Dave, Judyte, Tom, Laura, Hannah, Hanna, Ryszard, Richard, Sote, Benjamin, Ergia, Carina, Jaime, Laura, Tom, Britny and everyone in the office for everything you have put into and have gotten out of this excavation. See you all on the next one!

That’s me signing off - thanks for reading!

- Britny at PCA

As the site director, I would like to extend my thanks to the excavation team listed above, with a special thank you to Britny for writing this informative and interesting blog. I would also like to thank the many partners involved in the project making the excavation a success, CgMs, Watkins and Jones and Andy Thomas of the Cambridge County Council.

- Jonathan House

Friday, 9 June 2017

Living with Water

Water has always been a focal point of our lives. Watering holes can be places of peaceful gatherings for both animals and humans and have even become a place of gossip in the modern office. Wells throughout history have been incorporated into folklore as powerful ‘wishing wells’ or renowned for the special healing properties in the water, and even, in some cases, places of holy pilgrimage and prayer. While I cannot tell you for certain if any of the folklore tales are without doubt, I still throw a penny in every ‘wishing well’ I pass as I’m sure many of you have done once or twice in your life and it can be said that water is key for our survival. Saying that, it isn’t surprising that our excavation uncovered multiple water wells used over different periods of occupation.

According to the 1888 Ordnance Survey of the area, there were three water pumps in the vicinity of our excavation. These water pumps would have been contemporary with the buildings we have been excavating and most likely the final placement of water wells before piping water directly into the buildings became common practice.

Well capped with bricks
We have uncovered over ten wells (so far). Some of these have been brick-lined, with and without mortar, clunch (chalk)-lined, and even unlined (one with a wooden edging near to the base). Some of the wells had been capped with bricks then covered in clay, while others were simply backfilled with modern rubble to build on top of them. Each well varied in depth between about 4 and 6 metres deep (although some we could not excavate to the bottom) and a few had water remaining. The variation in structure of the wells could demonstrate an alteration over time, differing skills of the well digger, or simply availability of materials to line the wells.

Bricks have been a very popular well lining material throughout history. The well digger would have begun by excavating a shaft for the well until a supporting wall was needed, then a wooden rim would be placed at the base and bricks laid on the rim lengthwise, end-to-end until the circle was complete with no mortar between the brick joints. The second course of bricks would then be laid above with joints offset, and so on until the brick courses reached near the surface. The well would then continue to be dug until water began to seep through the porous brick sides of the well. The brick well without mortar was used to allow water to seep through the sides of the well and collect in the base, while more impervious well linings (such as the mortared brick wells) would have been used when water seeped through a cavity or pipe in the base of the well.

Brick-lined well retaining water
A well even turned up underneath the brick floor of a post-medieval basement! The well had been filled with rubble and a small brick drain built into the top where multiple marbles were found, possibly a child’s long-lost game? The brick floor would have been built over the well promptly after it was filled, as over time the floor began to slump downwards over the well as the fill was compressed.

With with wood surviving in backfill

Just like this well, all had been forgotten about and made to be obsolete as they continued to be built and re-built on top of over the years. What these wells demonstrate is the continued growth and alteration of this area of Cambridge as it continued to become more populated as central Cambridge expanded. While the 1888 Ordnance Survey shows three water pumps we have found many more that would have been obsolete by the time this survey was completed.

Keep checking back as we continue to #DigDeeper