Digging the Almshouses

Archaeological project in 2011

By Mary Gray
Photo:Mary Gray and Martin Cook BA MIfA

Mary Gray and Martin Cook BA MIfA

In 2011 a group of CADHAS volunteers took the opportunity (with appropriate permissions) to carry out a small archaeological dig in an area of the Almshouses gardens where some work was due to take place. 

The group was trained and supported by Martin Cook, BA AlfA and finds analysis was supplied by Laura Griffin, BA AlfA.  We are very grateful to Martin and Laura for their time and expertise.  A brief summary of Laura's analysis of finds follows.  

Martin Cook's full report of the dig is available in the CCHS Archive Room and will be available as a downloadable pdf on this site shortly.

Method of analysis

All hand-retrieved finds were identified, quantified and dated to period. The excavation of the site and retrieval of finds was largely undertaken by volunteer archaeologists working under archaeological supervision, therefore everything thought to be of archaeological interest was collected. As a result, the finds assemblage was large and, due to limited resources, it was decided to quantify the material by weight only.

All information was recorded on pro forma sheets. The pottery and ceramic building material was examined and recorded by fabric type and form and assigned a general date range rather than dating specific individual objects.

Artefactual analysis

The total assemblage of artefacts weighed 8.030kg. Datable material was of medieval to modern date, with terminus post quem dates for individual contexts ranging from the late 17th-20th centuries.

Medieval
Photo:Some of the finds

Some of the finds

The pottery assemblage retrieved from the excavated area consisted of sherds from domestic vessels of medieval, post-medieval and modern date. Medieval sherds were identified within three contexts (2, 5 and 12). All were residual and of local production, with the only identifiable form being that of a large jar/cistern datable to the late 15th-16th century (context 12). The two small body sherds from contexts 2 and 5 were thought to be of earlier date and most likely from 13th-14th century jug forms.

Other material of medieval date consisted of two fragments of green glazed ridge tile (contexts 5 and 12). Such tiles are commonly associated with sites of this period and generally date between the 13th and 15th centuries.

Post-medieval

Two contexts (12 and 22) could be dated to the later 17th century by the finds retrieved. These included sherds of black-glazed post medieval red wares, including the lower half of a tyg – a multi-handled drinking vessel commonly associated with 17th century assemblages. Vessels of this type were made at a variety of centres with the most local being based at Wednesbury in the West Midlands. In addition, bowl and jar forms of the same fabric were also identified (context 12).

Remaining pottery from context 12 consisted of a mottled ware cup of post-medieval buff ware and small fragments of tin-glazed ware, all of which again could be dated from the mid-late 17th century. Other finds consistent with a 17th century date from the above contexts included clay pipe fragments, window glass and bottle glass.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Digging the Almshouses' page
Other material of post-medieval date was either residual or came from contexts 11 and 19 which could be dated only to the general period. This included further sherds of red sandy-, buff- and tin-glazed wares in a variety of forms including bowls, dishes, pancheons and drinking vessels. A press-moulded, slip-decorated dish of the same date was identified within context 9. Such vessels are thought to have been the oven-table ware of their time and are commonly encountered within assemblages of this date. Many are thought to have been produced in Staffordshire, although it is likely that smaller, local industries began to produce their own versions.

A further sherd stood out because of its distinctive decoration. This was from a Westerwald stoneware tankard which had moulding and bright blue cobalt glaze, characteristic of the ware (context 2). Tankards of this type were commonly used in the 18th century and were often emblazoned with the initials of the reigning monarch eg. 'GR'.

A large assemblage of clay pipe was found within context 9, including both stems and bowls, some of which had moulded decoration. Such items were the cigarettes of the day and very disposable and therefore are commonly found in large quantity on domestic sites of post-medieval date.

Pieces of window equipment were identified amongst the finds from context 3. These included what appeared to be a corroded iron latch and a possible catch, along with a fragment of lead window came and numerous shards of glass. All are thought to date to the post-medieval period.

Remaining material of post-medieval date included fragments of ceramic building tile, vessel glass and iron nails.

Modern

A total of five contexts could be identified as being of modern date (contexts 2, 3, 5, 7 and 9). Once more, this dating was based primarily on the presence of pottery types known to have been produced late 18th century onwards including cream ware, pearl ware, modern china and various stonewares. Once again, this material was of a domestic nature consisting mainly of tablewares in the form of pieces of dinner services. The stonewares also included kitchenwares/containers in the form of jars and bottles.

Other finds associated with this period included fragments of both window and bottle glass, fragments of corroded iron objects and sherds from stoneware drainage  pipes.

Significance

The artefactual assemblage from Campden Almshouses provides a useful insight into domestic life on the site stretching from the medieval period to the present day. In particular, the pottery retrieved has provided a good sequence of dates for the majority of contexts and has been a useful tool in establishing the chronological development of the site.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Digging the Almshouses' page
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