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After a bit of a slow start quite a large assemblage of finds has been retrieved over the last 3 and a half weeks and predictably this week the excavation of part of a ditch running north/south across the site is producing bags and bags of animal bone and pottery.
Last year’s backfill produced an amazing range of finds: clay tobacco pipes, lead shot, fragments of Samian pottery, as well as Westerwald stoneware and post-medieval Spanish olive jar and a variety of other post-medieval wares, including slipware dish fragments, blackware vessels and pieces of Cistercian ware cups. It’s interesting to see what ended up on last year’s spoil heap rather than in finds trays but it is easy to miss fragments when it’s wet and muddy.
Once the backfill had been removed the quantity of clay tobacco pipes found fell considerably and stopped completely after the last of the 17th century demolition deposits were removed from the south side of the trench. It looks as if we are firmly in the 16th century across most of the trench and in some areas possibly the late medieval.
A plaster-rich deposit lying to the east of the stone building and excavated by James, Andrew and Dan produced quite a variety of objects and there seemed to be a race as to who could find the most, which certainly upped finds retrieval. Two tiny twisted loops of copper alloy wire are examples of objects common on sites from the 16th century onwards, they may have been used to reinforce textile purses and stop them being cut open by thieves (cut-purses). Alternatively recent work by costume historians suggests they are the ‘eyes’ from hook and eye fastenings. The remains of a double-sided ivory comb would have been a possession of quality as would have been a jet bead found by Maeve.
The bead is the size of, and looks like, a black olive or grape; it was found in a deposit containing Roman and medieval pottery as well as 16th century Cistercian wares; initially it was suggested to be Roman like most other finds of jet from the city however a medieval or later date is a possibility. A variety of jet beads have been found in medieval contexts in York and a similar but slightly smaller bead has been described as being from a rosary (Ottaway and Rogers 2002, 2948, fig 1516. 13500). A small glass bead from the same context needs more work to identify as to date, it displays an intricate pattern of blue, yellow and opaque red glass largely obscured by dirt. The remains of a beautiful blue glass bead was found by Lauren as it fell out of the section at the east end of the site, the bead is quite large and possibly had applied spots in another colour, again some research is needed to suggest a date which is likely to be between the Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon periods.
Another find associated with dress and appearance is a well-preserved late medieval copper alloy buckle with semi-circular cut outs on the edge of its plate, a similar plate but attached to a different shaped buckle has been published from Meols (Griffiths, Philpott & Egan 2007, 99-100, Pl 16 719).
A potentially important copper alloy seal matrix was found by Frances close to the northern wall of the stone building. The surface is obscured by dirt but the legend around the edge can be seen and x-radiography should enable us to read it and to identify the image in the centre of the seal. The seal matrix is a pointed oval, a common medieval shape, with a suspension loop on the reverse. If the matrix carries a name we might be able to identify whether the owner was a member of the Fraternity of St Anne whose building we may have found or perhaps a clergyman from St John’s.As well as providing new information about the past of Grosvenor Park the excavations have the potential to help us understand changes in the use and supply of pottery in late 15th and 16th century Chester. Large jars and cisterns in a coarse Coal Measure fabric (Ewloe-type ware) are a feature of late medieval pottery assemblages in Chester but we don’t know for sure whether they continued in use into the 16th century nor do we know when Cistercian-type ware cups were first used. However the ditch running north-south across the site is producing large fragments of Ewloe-type ware jars and Cistercian-type wares suggesting they were in contemporary use, something also suggested by an assemblage excavated at 25 Bridge St, Chester (Debenhams) in 2001. Analysis of the ditch assemblage may therefore help clarify the pottery sequence for this transitional phase between the medieval and post-medieval periods. The ditch fill is also producing a lot of well preserved animal bone, Ian Smith last week identified much of this as cattle and probably good quality cuts of meat suggesting high status eating.
Ewloe-type ware jars
Finally in this brief summary of this year’s finds building materials should be mentioned. Fragments of floor tiles including one with a griffin, a pattern found in previous seasons in the park, continue to be found as well as crested ridge tiles and Welsh slates, a number of which are coming from the ditch, all give clues as to how the building we are excavating may have looked.
Sadly this year’s excavations are coming to an end and we will have to curb our curiosity about what more there is to discover below the ground until next year. It is uncommon to find a medieval and early post-medieval site in Chester that has not been disturbed by later buildings. Moreover to be able to excavate an open area containing a stone building and associated features is also a rare experience these days, especially for this archaeologist who normally is confined to the office!