Canterbury Archeological Trust

The Longmarket Excavation
Jonathan Rady

Hillside Systems

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On 5th April 1990 the excavation of a large site at the Longmarket in the centre of Canterbury commenced prior to a major redevelopment. The site of the Longmarket lies immediately south of the cathedral precincts and is bounded by three ancient road frontages - Burgate (to the north), Butchery Lane (to the west) and the Parade (to the south).

In 1942 the area was fire-bombed during an air-raid and virtually all the medieval and post-medieval properties on the Longmarket site were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. After the clearance of bomb damage (which included the emptying of the cellars on all three frontages) small-scale archaeological excavations were carried out between 1944 and 1948. These excavations, some of the first in Canterbury and the first post-war urban excavations in the country, were mainly concerned with the investigation of Roman levels. One of their more important findings was the location of parts of a large Roman masonry building containing rooms or corridors with tessellated pavements inset with mosaic panels.

Post War

In 1955 the site was redeveloped as shops and offices with the incorporation of some of the Roman remains in a basement museum. Upon the termination of the leases to these properties the site, in the ownership of Canterbury City Council, leased to Land Securities PLC, became available for redevelopment. Demolition commenced on 1st February. The demolition contract included measures to protect the Roman Pavement which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The protective works, supervised by the Trust, were designed to ensure that the pavement will survive redevelopment processes to become the centre-piece of an enlarged museum to be formed under the new buildings.

The excavation, of six months duration, was entirely funded by the developer, Land Securities PLC, and principally consisted of an area c. 40 x 30 m. situated at the southern end of the site. Most of the northern part of the site, an area known to contain a major Roman street and a number of large cellars, was not excavated. However, in addition to the main excavation area, the cellars along the entire length of Butchery Lane were emptied and excavated to natural brickearth to provide a full profile of the archaeological levels from Burgate to the Parade.

Site clearance with a machine continued until 27th April and entailed the removal of all the post-war cellar backfill and the stripping of all modern building foundations including the 'decapping' of 'frankie' piles which once supported the buildings.

At the time of writing, the Roman deposits are still under excavation. The earliest deposits so far excavated with any degree of completeness are of Anglo-Saxon date. Virtually no post-Roman 'dark earth' levels survived at Longmarket as a consequence of medieval disturbance, particularly pit digging. Although residual Anglo-Saxon pottery of the fifth to eleventh centuries has been recovered from later features, structural remains date from the mid to late Anglo-Saxon periods only, and consist of five sunken-featured timber buildings. Four of these were situated in the eastern part of the site and appear to have respected the position of Roman walls, which were almost certainly standing above ground when the Anglo-Saxon buildings were erected. In addition, it is quite likely that some of these Anglo-Saxon buildings may have re-used the Roman walls as structural elements of their design.

Loom weights

Of the two northernmost structures, only one was fully excavated. This roughly square building (c. 2.4 x 2.2 m.) was set between two parallel Roman walls and probably possessed two main structural posts positioned centrally at the north and south ends. The proximity of the Roman walls to each side of the building suggest that it may have used them as an integral part of the superstructure, a theory supported perhaps by the lack of any evidence for structural timbers on the west side. Three large post-settings and a row of stakes along the eastern side may indicate that the Roman wall here was less substantial or that collapse had taken place during the life of the building. After a period of backfilling, the structure was destroyed by fire. The upper fills contained large quantities of heavily burnt daub with wattle and timber impressions that had obviously collapsed from the superstructure; the edges of the 'cellar' were also scorched. Included within these deposits were a number of loomweights and pottery of ninth- or tenth-century date.

A few metres to the south, two much larger Anglo-Saxon structures survived although both were badly disturbed by later pit-digging and robber-trenching for Roman walls. These two cellared structures, each about 4.5 x 3.0 m., were aligned east-west, separated by and perhaps re-using a Roman wall. The buildings were almost certainly in use at the same time, although at present their dating remains unclear. However, it is probable that one of the structures was an extension to the other since good evidence existed for a connecting doorway. The southern structure, perhaps the earlier, was entirely post-built and similar to other late Anglo-Saxon cellared buildings found in Canterbury, most notably at Adelaide Place in 1980. No structural post-settings were obvious in the northern building; its cellar however was well-defined by a continuous sequence of abutting planks set on end in a construction-slot. These had revetted each side of the cellar, and later had rotted in situ. Evidence for the connecting doorway between the two buildings was provided by a gap in the revetting on the south side and two structural post-holes, presumably representing door jambs, at the terminal ends of the revetment.

One other sunken-featured building was located at the southern end of the site set within the courtyard of the earlier Roman masonry building This structure (c. 3.6 x 2.6 m.), aligned east-west, was badly disturbed by medieval pits. Only two sides of the structure survived. At the base of these were well-defined post-pits, five at the southern end of the building alone. The western end of the cellared building also appeared to be revetted with planks. The cellar itself was floored in re-used trampled Roman mortar derived from the courtyard make-up of the Roman masonry building. At the time of writing the date of this feature is not known, but it is thought likely to be of ninth- or tenth-century construction.

Various other Anglo-Saxon features, generally of a later date, have also been located, particularly rubbish- or cess-pits and wells. Most of these were probably associated with the occupation of the sunken-featured buildings and have yielded large numbers of loomweights (sixty-six from the entire site, twenty-nine of which are late Anglo-Saxon). Quantities of pottery, a ninth-century copper alloy strap-end, two fine late Anglo-Saxon bone combs and various other finds (including beads, keys and pins) have been recovered.

The early medieval phase of occupation on the site, perhaps dating to before c. 1150, is mainly represented by rubbish- and cess-pits. These relate to properties along Butchery Lane (originally Sunwin's Lane) which was probably densely occupied at this time. Traces of domestic structures are scarce, most of the remains having been destroyed by later medieval and post-medieval development, particularly the construction of cellars along the road frontages.

Some of the earliest documentary evidence for the site dates from just after the middle of the twelfth century and is provided by Christ Church Priory rentals. These documents comprise rent rolls and surveys of property held by Christ Church in the city. By the end of the twelfth century Christ Church held between one third and one half of all the domestic property in Canterbury. Using the detailed study of these documents, published by the late William Urry, it is possible to locate most of the property boundaries in the Longmarket area at c. 12OO. Boundaries established at this time became almost permanent topographical features often defined by masonry walls (see below), many of which survived in this area until 1942.

The documents also tell us about the sort of people who occupied the site at this time, mainly wealthy and influential citizens as might be expected for an important city centre site close to the cathedral. The most important resident was Theoric or Terric the Goldsmith, first mentioned in documents in about 1180, and according to Urry 'one of the great men of the city in the last years of the century'. He employed journeymen, set up a Royal Exchange and acted as an agent for King Richard and King John and was for a time Borough Reeve. By c. 1200 he and his family occupied a large stone house, traces of which were located in the north-east corner of the site in 1946. Theoric also occupied two other properties on the site, one against Butchery Lane and another extensive property in the south-west corner of the site once occupied by Sunwin's smithy. Much of the excavated area was covered with medieval and post-medieval buildings, some of the earliest dating from the early thirteenth century. At present the dating evidence has not been studied in sufficient detail to allow an attempt to correlate excavated buildings and document-dated property holders. After all the material evidence has been studied, dated and phased it may just be possible to tentatively draw links between the documents and the archaeology.

Cess tank However, a large masonry cellared building, partially excavated in the centre of the site, may have been of early thirteenth-century date. This structure, set to the rear of Theoric's property on Butchery Lane and connecting with the large holding behind his stone house, was very well constructed out of finely carved chalk blocks. Unfortunately no internal details of this building could be examined. The east wall had been totally rebuilt in the later thirteenth century and perhaps at the same time the entire south-western corner was reconstructed when part of the cellar was turned into a large cess-tank. The latter operation had removed all traces of the original floor levels.

One other structure, located on the site of Sunwin's smithy, may also be of early thirteenth-century date. This large (perhaps undercrofted, building, approximately c. 25 x 13 m., was almost totally destroyed by later cellars, but its position and some aspects of its layout can be deduced by the remains of its footings preserved under later cellar floors. No floor levels relating to the structure survived, and only one short section of original masonry of coursed flintwork remained. sandwiched between two later cellar walls. In the extreme south-east corner of the property block, a fragment of a door jamb possibly belonging to this stone house was found fossilized within a modern cellar wall. The position of the jamb, at basement level, indicates that part of this building at least was cellared. A number of equally-spaced square footings in this area may represent the position of piers supporting the arched roof of the cellars. Similar pier base footings were located in the vicinity in 1946.

A prolific number of twelfth- and thirteenth-century rubbish- and cess-pits was dug to the rear of these early properties, a practice which continued right up to the seventeenth century. Whilst the principal use of most of the area to the rear of the road frontage properties seems to have been for rubbish disposal there was also good evidence to suggest the presence of outbuildings and workshops in these areas. Of particular importance were the badly disturbed remains of a building located to the rear of a property fronting onto Burgate occupied by Theoric the Goldsmith in c. 1200. An extensive deposit of burnt clay flooring, together with traces of ovens and furnaces as well as metalworking debris including many ceramic crucible fragments, strongly suggest the presence of a metalworking workshop. It is tempting to postulate that this may have belonged to Theoric himself.

Excavation photo At some time in the mid-thirteenth century large-scale redevelopment of the site took place. This involved a clearance and levelling of the area, Saxon deposits, and the construction of a large number of substantial masonry walls, with deep gravel and chalk footings. Some of these were boundary walls following the line of earlier property divisions, which divided the site along its north/south axis.

The properties along Butchery Lane and Burgate appear to have been rebuilt at this time, many of them with cellars. Although much of the superstructure of these buildings would have been of timber, the cellar walls were of masonry, mainly constructed in chalk and flint. Fragmentary traces of the rear walls were found re-used in post-medieval cellars and included such details as doors, windows and chimney-stack bases. The presence of these cellars or undercrofts imply well-constructed and substantial timber-framed buildings above. Prosperity is also reflected in the quality of the recovered finds particularly pottery from cess- and rubbish-pits to the rear of the properties. Thousands of sherds and many complete or restorable vessels have been recovered. More importantly these often represent quality tableware. including highly decorated jugs from London, the Rhineland, southern France, Spain, North Africa and the Middle East.

In the fourteenth or early fifteenth century a range of timber buildings was constructed against the east wall of the masonry house on the site of Sunwin's smithy, in an area previously gardens to the rear of the road frontage properties. These structures extended north into the rear of the adjacent property and covered an area of c. 35 x c. 8 m. of which a 24 m. length was examined. The buildings were erected off masonry dwarf walls, and were undoubtedly kitchens or workshops. An extremely complex sequence of clay floors and dump levels c. 1.5 m. thick in places survived to within 30 cm. of modern ground surface in this area, although heavily disturbed by later intrusions. The excavated stratigraphy revealed a constantly shifting pattern of occupation, which continued uninterrupted until the early seventeenth century. Four rooms were examined, as well as a passage at the north end of the range. The earliest floor levels had slumped sometimes by as much as 1m. into underlying cess-pits. The presence of such soft ground required constant re-levelling, generally by the deposition of thick dumps of clay, and to the south the possible rebuilding of the superstructure. Virtually all of the rooms possessed tile-on-edge hearths, or ovens, which were replaced quite frequently, usually in different positions, as new floors were laid. In the southern room a fragment of a large stone fireplace, erected against the masonry building to the west, was located. Cess- and rubbish-pits and at least three stone-lined cess tanks were located in the small strip of gardens remaining to the rear of these properties. A large number of other pits, cess-tanks and wells of the later medieval period were also excavated across the site.

Apart from evidence for the deepening of extant cellars along Butchery Lane in the mid fifteenth century, the next major phase of development probably occurred from the mid seventeenth century. Most of the cellar walls, and probably much of the above-ground superstructure of the Butchery Lane properties, were rebuilt in brick during the post-medieval period. Occasionally fragments of earlier medieval cellar walls were re-used. Numerous features relating to these cellars, such as dividing walls, post-holes for internal structures and stone garderobes, were recorded. To the south, the post-war museum basement and related groundworks had totally removed all evidence for the earlier cellars and their associated range of road frontage buildings. Parts of the timber range to the rear undoubtedly survived however, although all levels post-dating c. 1650 have been lost to modern disturbance. Some of the structures shown in this position on the 1874 Ordnance Survey map of Canterbury may well have retained elements of the medieval properties. In c. 1825, these were abutted by the new Corn Exchange and Longmarket building which extended from the Parade to Burgate on the east side of the site. No levels relating to this building survived, but its massive brick and rubble concrete footings were located, and remained a visible feature throughout the excavation.

The full importance of the Longmarket excavation will only be apparent after many months of post-excavation work has taken place. However even at this early stage, it is clear that apart from the Roman levels the site has yielded a long and intense occupation sequence, dating from the mid to late Anglo-Saxon period to the middle of the seventeenth century. The many thousands of excavated contexts have yielded a large corpus of finds, including some exceptional groups of pottery representing perhaps the most important early medieval and medieval ceramic assemblages yet excavated in Canterbury. The quantity of potential environmental evidence recovered from the hundreds of cess-pits, cess-tanks and rubbish-pits, spanning many centuries. will hopefully provide data for diet, butchery and livestock practices, and eventually illustrate the lifestyle and health of the former occupants of the site. This information, allied with documentary evidence, should present us with a comprehensive picture of life on this important city centre site.

Pottery in the Longmarket
Two reports on the pottery finds in the Longmarket
Two Late Saxon Combs
A very interesting article on two hair combs found in the Longmarket excavation
Human remains
A short report on some human bones found during the excavation
Two Medieval London-type jugs from Longmarket
A detailed report on two interesting jugs found in a cess-pit.

See this place today Click on the logo to see this place today.   The information on this page is Copyright © Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd. 1991 Reproduced with permission.
The text and pictures were taken from Canterbury's Archaeology 1989/1990, The 14th Annual Report of Canterbury Archaeological Trust Ltd.

Peter Collinson Last change: 18th November 2018