Oxford Archaeology Unearths Saxon Settlement In Southampton

by Roz Tappenden | 24 March 2006
colour photograph of the brick foundations of a building

Excavated 19th century cellar. © Oxford Archaeology

An archaeological dig in Southampton’s medieval city centre has unearthed Saxon structural remains and a WWII pharmacy.

Archaeologists were called in last November to investigate the 0.5-hectare site in the centre of bustling Southampton after an evaluation by the City Council.

The plot, between the city’s High Street and French Street has been earmarked for redevelopment, but the discovery of medieval vaults and structural remains dating from the late Saxon period prompted developers, Linden Homes, to delay building work while investigations take place.

A previous evaluation by Southampton City Council Archaeology Unit found infilled medieval vaults along the High Street and the historic route of French Street on the east and west boundaries of the plot.

colour photo looking across an excavation site with mechanical diggers and foundations of buildings

The High Street frontage after excavation. © Oxford Archaeology

Records also showed that there were pits and structural features in the back garden plots dating from as far back as the late Saxon period and up to the 19th century.

Richard Brown, the project manager, has been working on the site since the excavation began.

“It is nice to look at a site of this scale in medieval Southampton,” he explained, “but it’s very unusual to be able to investigate an area of this size.”

“What we have on the site is a line of cellars and some medieval vaults from the 13th century. The tenement area was actually cleared by bombing in the 1940s,” he added.

Among the layers of history was a collapsed 1940s chemist shop with a preserved pharmacy inside including medicine bottles, pots and potions.

colour photograph of a pit lined with an uneven stone wall

A stone-lined cistern. © Oxford Archaeology

“We have also found some ceramics dating back to the Saxon period. Some Venetian imports, Italian imports as well as some French and German,” explained Richard.

The excavation is currently piecing together the different periods in history of the site.

On the northwest side of the dig are the remains of a structure originating from the 13th century recorded as the great stone houses of Richard of Leicester.

In the 15th century the building was the residence of a Venetian ambassador and in the 17th-18th century hymn writer Isaac Watts lived there. Later in the 18th century it was remodelled and eventually became a post office and brewery.

Work on the site is set to continue until June 2006. For more information visit the Oxford Archaeology website at www.oxfordarch.co.uk.

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