This blog entry has been written by the Warwickshire Historic Environment Record (HER) and is about the current archaeological work taking place in the centre of Warwick at Northgate Street by Archaeology Warwickshire.
Introduction to the site:
The site (see plan below) is one of those fairly rare opportunities for archaeological work to take place within the centre of an historic county town such as Warwick. The area being examined is set between Northgate Street, the confusingly named Northgate Street South and the Butts, across an area that was previously occupied by large brick County Council buildings. The offices at the Butts used to be the home of the County Archaeological Information and Advice team (consisting of the Warwickshire HER and Planning Archaeology) the Archaeology Field Team (Archaeology Warwickshire) as well as the Ecology Service and the Warwickshire Habitat Biodiversity Audit. You will be pleased to know we were all re-homed within offices in Warwick (although for some reason not necessarily with the same amount of space!).
The frontage along Northgate Street and the buildings along Northgate Street South are being retained and it is the area behind this that has been cleared and where the archaeological work is taking place.
Seeing part of the old offices being demolished as development work started was an interesting experience particularly as the two ‘pavilion ends of the buildings at The Butts were retained (being a listed building), leaving old doorways leading to nowhere and leaving part of our old offices being used as a site office for the excavations.
Archaeological work, of course, never just happens and there is a process that has taken place that has got to the point of the site being excavated. This site is particularly complicated being in the centre of an urban setting and being surrounded by historic buildings which are to be retained. Much of the discussions and work related to the historic buildings (which are mostly listed) have been carried out by representatives from English Heritage, Warwick District Council Planning Officers, Conservation Officers, the developer, the owner and others.
Regarding the archaeological side, once proposals were brought forward for the site to be developed, then the Planning Archaeologist at Warwickshire County Council was contacted and discussions took place to agree a programme of works at the site. This process would have involved consulting the Warwickshire HER to help inform the background to the site, although because the site was our old home and in the centre of Warwick it is one of those sites that we had a fairly good grip on the site background to some extent already.
Once a programme of archaeological work was agreed then this was started once the site had been cleared of above ground buildings. The archaeological work initially consisted of trial trenches in selected areas across the site and then led to full area excavation across those parts of the site where archaeology survived that would be impacted by the development.
While archaeological work is being carried out the site is monitored periodically by the Planning Archaeologist.
History of the site and Archaeological Progress So Far
Prior to the recently demolished 19th century militia building and the 20th century council offices the site was occupied by the rear gardens of the fine town houses of Northgate Street. Archaeological evidence for this period has been found in the form of substantial stone drains and garden features which may tie into those illustrated on the board of heath map of 1851.
Pottery and other domestic rubbish of this date has been recovered. Prior to the town houses being built in the early 1700s we know from documentary sources that there were thatched, timber framed dwellings along Northgate street, which were burnt down during the Great Fire of Warwick in 1694. Currently evidence is being investigating that may date to this catastrophic event. The area has produced archaeological features from the entire medieval period – conquest to the reformation. Notable finds include a wooden box which could date back to the 15th century; It was too degraded to lift in one piece and had only survived to be identified as a box due to the mineralisation of the wood by the rusting iron bands which enclosed it. A coin believed to date to the short reign of Edward VI was also found.
Sealed below a layer of brown, sandy soil are a series of earlier features. Will these turn out to date to the 1100 year old (this year!) Saxon Burh of Warwick? We can’t wait to find out!
Different parts of the site have been excavated over the last few weeks and the excavation is not over yet! One of our members of staff went up St Mary’s Church Tower (adjacent to the site) to get some spectacular images of the site.
Post Excavation – What Happens?
Once the archaeological work on site is complete then a series of post-excavation processes takes place. This will involve finds processing, preparing an archive for deposition with the Warwickshire County Museum and the writing and submission of an archaeological report to both the Planning Archaeologist and the HER.
Once the archaeological report is approved then the HER is updated with information about the archaeology and history of the site, this information on the HER can then be accessed and used for further archaeological work that may take part as part of the planning process in the area, or by members of the public or local researchers interested in the history and archaeology of the area. It may even be used by academic researchers looking at particular periods, themes or areas for their research.
As you can see archaeology and particularly the way the HER is involved is very much a cycle of information, especially when it comes to commercial archaeological excavations as part of the planning process such as this one at Northgate Street. Information from the HER is provided and consulted to inform and help with the process at the beginning and then information is fed back into the HER once the archaeological work has taken place and the planning side has finished.
I hope you have enjoyed this blog entry and found it of interest. Feel free to contact the Warwickshire HER with any questions you have about this site or any archaeological or historic site in Warwickshire.
I would like to thank the following people for their help with this blog entry:
- Caroline Rann (Project Officer, Archaeology Warwickshire)
- Anna Stocks (Planning Archaeologist, Archaeological Information and Advice, Warwickshire County Council)
- Giles Carey (Assistant Historic Environment Officer, Warwickshire HER)
- Stuart Palmer (Business Manager, Archaeology Warwickshire)
Thank you all!
(Historic Environment Record Manager)