Last chance to see treasures of Oxford's spectacular Greyfriars dig in pop up exhibition

By Culture24 Reporter | 09 March 2016

The last of the popular pop-up archaeology exhibitions at Oxford Town Hall is revealing the treasures found in the city's lost Greyfriars area

a fragile badge with a medieval scene with knights attacking a priest stamped out of it
A pilgrims badge showing the muder of Thomas Becket © Oxford Archaeology
The recent archaeological excavations carried out by Oxford Archaeology in the old Greyfriars area in preparation for the new Westgate Oxford shopping centre have opened a window on 10,000 years of human activity - and created a buzz of interest across the city.

So far thousands of local people have attended public events and pop up exhibitions revealing findings dating from the days of the medieval Friars through to the Civil War period and on into the fascinating Victorian and Twentieth Century history of St Ebbe's.

Now a final pop-up exhibition at the Museum of Oxford at Oxford Town Hall is giving the public a last chance to see everything from the everyday pots and religious accouterments of the friars to a spectacular halberd axe wielded during the English Civil War.

As well as the newly revealed relics, the temporary exhibition also offers a chance to find out more about the Franciscan Friary of the Greyfriars, the remains of which originate to just after the Norman conquest.

Dismantled during Henry VIII’s religious reforms of the 1530s, it is now thought to represent the most extensive plan of a medieval urban friary in England.

The large stone walls of the Main Cloister, the friars’ sleeping quarters and washrooms, their eating hall and kitchens, along with an infirmary and chapel have all been revealed.

a photo of five early pens against a black background
Medieval writing implements© Oxford Archaeology
Supplied by over 200 metres of stone built water channel, the friary was also surrounded by a massive wall, forming an extension to the medieval town defences.

All parts of medieval Oxford’s earliest buildings are also represented in the collection of over two thousand artefacts, including walls, roofs and floors.

Three octagonal posts could even have formed a screen in the friar’s earliest church. The timbers represent the most tangible evidence for buildings that people lived and worked in over eight hundred years ago and are earlier than any surviving medieval timber in buildings in the city, such as the Chapel at Christ Church.

Personal artefacts on show include beautifully decorated book clasps, a wonderful collection of styli (early pens) with an actual lead pencil for writing and the neck of a musical instrument, possibly a violin, which clearly demonstrates the site as a centre of learning and culture.

a worn and weathered small crucifix with the effigy of Christ in metal
A medieval pendant featuring Christ on the cross© Oxford Archaeology
Archaeologists have also discovered religious artefacts such as a pilgrim badge and a small Christ on the cross, belt buckles, shoes, leather bags, and pocket knives – all of which tell us much about the friar’s clothes and possessions.

“Following a successful year of free public events, we are thrilled to offer residents and visitors to Oxford another opportunity to see the findings of this significant excavation programme,” said Sara Fuge, Development Manager for the Westgate Oxford Alliance.

“The discoveries made at the Westgate Oxford site have played an integral role in helping to further understand the area’s history as it undergoes a transformation that will enhance its heritage for generations to come.”

  • The Westgate Oxford pop up archaeology exhibition is at Oxford Town Hall until April 23 2016.
  • For events and activity details see the Museum of Oxford website. Open Monday to Saturday 10am - 5pm (last admittance at 4.30pm).
a photo of four flat metalic objects
A selection of medieval bookclasps© Oxford Archaeology
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