Have Archaeologists Found 14th Century Industry In Coventry?

By David Prudames | 25 October 2004
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Shows a close up photograph of a bone button blank, being held by someone between their thumb and forefinger.

The small blanks would have been the waste left over after buttons had been pressed out of a piece of bone all those years ago. Courtesy University of Birmingham.

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of what they think might be a small-scale 14th century button industry in Coventry.

Working on the site of an old Salvation Army building in Upper Well Street, the team from the University of Birmingham found pottery and bone in medieval hearths and rubbish pits.

But what caught their eyes was a number of bone button blanks. This suggests that rather than being used for decorative metallic buttons, the blanks would have been for the manufacture of buttons for practical use.

"One method of manufacture would be to saw the button from the bone, or cut the button out using a lathe," explained Erica Macey-Bracken, Finds Officer from the University of Birmingham.

"These buttons, however, appear to have been punched out using a stamp. These could have been decorated or covered with cloth as from the 14th century onwards, Coventry was exporting cloth to Europe in large quantities."

Shows a photograph of a medieval coin below a bone button blank, being held by someone between their thumb and forefinger.

The button blanks were found alongside various other artefacts from medieval Coventry. Courtesy University of Birmingham.

The archaeologists also excavated the medieval defensive ditch, which runs along the eastern edge of the site, and found substantial quantities of fish bones.

"There has been very little previous work with regard to the impact of fish farming during this period," added City Archaeologist Chris Patrick, "and this is a great opportunity for an insight into both the diet of the people living in Upper Well Street, and the local medieval economy."

As far back as the 12th century, Upper Well Street was part of the main route between Stafford and Coventry and is thought to have been continuously occupied since the medieval period.

The area is situated outside medieval fortifications, which consisted of a wall and ditch, with 12 gates and 20 towers, forming a circuit around the city and took nearly 200 years to complete.

Shows a close up photograph of a medieval coin. It depicts a face in profile and has a layer of dirt on it.

Among the finds are pieces of pottery, bones and this medieval jetton. Courtesy University of Birmingham.

During the Civil War the defences were strengthened and in 1643 some of the properties outside the wall were demolished to give the parliamentarians a clear field of fire from the city walls.

As it eventually turned out, the city was on the wrong side during the civil war and the fortifications were dismantled soon after the restoration of the monarchy.

The excavation of the area was carried out ahead of the construction of a new Salvation Army building to replace the old one, which, due to the Disability Discrimination Act, had reached the end of its useful life.

The new building will be more accessible with its main entrance on Upper Well Street giving an open view towards the medieval city wall, which has been incorporated into the design.

A full assessment of the archaeologists’ finds is currently being undertaken by a specialist team at the University of Birmingham and their findings will be published next year.

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