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The archaeological excavations at 2 Redcliff Street, Bristol

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April 2009

At the Society’s April meeting, Richard Young of Cotswold Archaeology gave a talk on the excavations at 2 Redcliff Street, Bristol, of which he was project manager. The excavation of the site took place between May 2007 and May 2008, and the team are now approximately mid-way through the post-excavation task of evaluating the evidence unearthed by the dig.

The earliest finds, dating to the twelfth century, were extremely impressive: the clay soil and the fact that the site seems generally to have been heavily waterlogged (though not during the excavations, fortunately!) had resulted in a high degree of preservation of organic materials, including wattle walling, which is rarely found in such good condition as it was here, and a number of leather shoes. As the latter included both off-cuts and worn out shoes it seems that both the making and repair of shoes was occurring on the site at this point in time.

Well preserved walls from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries provide clear evidence of the development of the site as the Middle Ages progressed. Evidence of industrial activity abounds. Close to twenty circular structures of various sizes were found on the site, which are thought to be the bases of dye vats. Such structures have been found on other sites, but only at this particular excavation were traces of dye recovered from the soil, which should help to confirm conclusively the nature of these structures.

Kilns were also found on site along with fragments of glazed pottery: the indications seem to be that one of the activities occurring on the site was the firing of moulds used to produce cooking skillets. A furnace with substantial amounts of its ash pit and flue still remaining suggests that metalworking was taking place on the site, too. An expert in furnaces of the period declared the one found at 2 Redcliff Street to be without archaeological parallel. Shards of crucibles were found in close proximity, and the residue from these has been sent for analysis to determine the precise nature of the metalworking which was taking place.

The archaeology dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries suggests the presence of warehouses, kitchens and washhouses. It is known that a significant amount of sugar refining and distilling took place in Redcliffe in the eighteenth century, but there was little by way of evidence to suggest that that was occurring on this particular site. What was unearthed was evidence confirming the road-widening which took place circa 1878 and which had the unfortunate consequence of destroying any archaeology relating to the mediaeval shop fronts. Still, you can’t have it all....

Shop fronts aside, the site presented a fascinating uninterrupted and undisturbed stratigraphy running from the twelfth century to the present day, with a wonderful degree of preservation and a couple of highly important finds. Who knows what further secrets are hidden under the foundations of Bristol’s tower blocks and car parks, waiting to be discovered?

The Thornbury Local History and Archaeology Society always welcomes new and occasional members. Details of our programme can be found on this website, the library or the Town Hall. Our meetings are on the second Tuesday of the month, held at St Mary's Church Hall beginning at 7.30pm. Visitors are always welcome at the society for the small charge of £2.50.

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