Fruitful Excavations At Berwick-upon-Tweed Town Centre Construction Site

By Caroline Lewis | 17 July 2007
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photo of an archaeologist in a hard hat at work on the ground inside a building

The investigation underway. Courtesy Myddelton Construction

An archaeological investigation at a construction site in the centre of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, has turned up a host of material dating from the middle ages and post-medieval period.

The site is on the town’s main shopping thoroughfare, Marygate, which has been part of the urban centre of Berwick since the medieval period.

AOC Archaeology Group were brought in to make a study of the historically sensitive building site, which has revealed layers of post-medieval midden deposits on top of post-medieval building remains such as mortared stone walls, brick and tile surfaces and drains.

photo of the lower walls of a stone structure

The medieval oven remains. Courtesy Myddelton Construction

Beneath these features, which date to the 18th century, earlier remains were found. These included clay-bonded walls and stone-flagged surfaces, believed to come from the mid-16th century at least. Better evidence for this will be confirmed when pottery from this layer is dated.

The most significant finds were two kilns, though what they were used for is not yet known.

“We’ve taken soil samples which might turn up bits of grain,” said Erlend Hindmarch, Project Officer for AOC, “but it’s hard to say at the moment what they were used for. However, they were large industrial structures, not domestic ovens.”

The medieval structures may relate to ‘burgage plots’ – narrow plots of land extending from the street frontage where industrial activity would have taken place.

photo of a bottle labelled poison, two old stamped letters, a razor blade and other 20th century artefacts

Some of the modern finds. Courtesy Myddelton Construction

On further study, the midden finds will tell archaeologists more about the lifestyles and activities of people in this part of the town in centuries gone by.

“We found stack loads of bone, which can show us what they were eating and throw light on agricultural things,” explained Erlend. “The pottery remains will tell us about people’s status and trade, so we can build up a nice picture.”

The initial on-site exploration lasted two months. Now the finds will be examined and a report produced.

photo of some old bottles and other artefacts

It's amazing what you find under the floorboards. Courtesy Myddelton Construction

“Whilst this material has yet to be assessed in detail, it is one of the largest single assemblages of archaeological material recovered to date in Berwick, and is a valuable archaeological resource,” said Assistant County Archaeologist Nick Best.

“Further assessment of the assemblage will allow a glimpse of both commercial and domestic activities occurring on the site and may even hint at the diet of some of Berwick’s medieval inhabitants.”

In addition to the historically interesting items found was a collection of socially interesting artefacts dating back to 1898.

Before the archaeologists got on the scene, floorboards were taken up revealing old bottles, football league results, pool coupons, cigarette cards and newspapers. The items, currently on display in the construction site, will be offered to Berwick Museum.

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