ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 53, June 2000


Great sites: Llyn Cerrig Bach

Mike Parker Pearson recalls the site that revealed the religious significance of water in later prehistoric Britain

The years of the Second World War were a curiously productive period for archaeology in Britain. The famous Anglo-Saxon treasures of Sutton Hoo were hastily dug out in the months before war broke out, and `rescue archaeology' - the emergency excavation of construction sites - was born in the work carried out by WF Grimes on new defence installations all around Britain.

Few wartime discoveries, however, proved to be as dramatic or far-reaching as the chance finds made by RAF engineers building a remote airfield in North Wales in 1942. RAF Valley, near Llanfihangel-yn-Nhowyn on Anglesey, was built over the former lake of Llyn Cerrig Bach, and the finds were made when engineers began digging out sediments from the lake to stabilise sand dunes and level the ground surface. In amongst the heaps of peat they noticed iron weapons and chains.

In July 1943 the director of the National Museum of Wales, Sir Cyril Fox, received a letter from RAF Valley's resident engineer informing him of the finds. Fox visited for two days in August and arrangements were made to ship the material to the National Museum, a task which was finally completed in 1945. Despite wartime secrecy, The Times published a short report of the discoveries in 1944. What had been found was a remarkable array of Iron Age metalwork - swords, spears, chariot fittings, horse bridles, cauldrons, a trumpet, currency bars, animal bones and two sets of slave chains - which today forms one of the main displays in the National Museum.

Votive offerings

The artefacts seem to represent a series of votive offerings dropped into the lake from a rock platform. Cyril Fox thought they derived from Druidic rites, which were finally stamped out in about AD 60 when Suetonius Paulinus's Roman army invaded Anglesey. More recent radiocarbon and stylistic dating suggests, however, that the offerings range from about 500 BC to after AD 100, and we now associate them less with Druids than with the far wider phenomenon of `votive deposition' of valuable metalwork into water in Bronze Age and Iron Age Britain.

The discoveries at Llyn Cerrig Bach provided the first near-certain evidence in Britain for this mysterious religious practice which has inspired so much legend and superstition - from the story of Excalibur and the Lady in the Lake to the modern practice of throwing coins into wells and fountains for good luck.

We know only a little about the circumstances of discovery, mainly for reasons of security at the time. Fox did not carry out an archaeological excavation and we can only guess at what was lost and what may still remain in the lake. Sites like this normally produce wooden posts and worked wood, for example, from causeways, bridges and platforms. The resident engineer also claimed to have found human bones - presumably the evidence of human sacrifice - but Fox reported none in the small percentage of bones that he himself carried away from the airfield.

Other votive sites of the same period, discovered since Llyn Cerrig Bach, have invariably yielded human remains. Phil Macdonald, a researcher at the National Museum, has been digging into the archives and thinks that Fox may have deliberately overlooked the human bones for reasons of wartime propaganda. According to Macdonald, Fox may have been reluctant to publish evidence of ancient British human sacrifice, as it was incompatible with wartime notions of innate British decency and fair play. This propaganda conveniently contrasted with the cruel sacrificial killings and executions that Tacitus, the Roman historian, reports of the ancient Germans.

Fortunately, though, no-one thought to conceal the slave chains, each for five captives chained at the neck. These chains seemed to support Strabo's observation that slaves (along with grain and hunting dogs) were the main British exports in the pre-Roman period, and illuminated the often overlooked fact that life could be just as cruel in prehistoric Britain as it was elsewhere.

Long before Llyn Cerrig Bach was dug out, archaeologists in Switzerland had found similar Iron Age deposits in association with wooden post structures at La Tène, which most archaeologists now consider to have been a votive site or sanctuary. Llyn Cerrig Bach not only demonstrated the existence of such practices in Britain but also illustrated the wealth of Iron Age societies through the elaborate decorations on the metalwork and the sheer range of finds.

Sacred rivers

Since then, archaeologists have excavated a number of similar sites in Britain, and reassessed the significance of finds from watery deposits generally. The prehistorian Richard Bradley, for example, made a strong case in his book A Passage of Arms for seeing nearly all metal objects of this period in lakes and rivers as religious offerings, questioning whether such discoveries could really have resulted from `the carelessness of so many boatmen'.

The most spectacular parallel (but earlier) site found since Llyn Cerrig Bach is Flag Fen near Peterborough, where Francis Pryor has excavated an extraordinary timber causeway and a massive quantity of Bronze Age and Iron Age weaponry and other finds dropped into the boggy mud around the timbers.

Less well known is the Iron Age wooden causeway at Fiskerton, near Lincoln on the north bank of the River Witham. This was excavated in 1981 by Naomi Field who found swords, spears, ornaments and tools in association with the causeway which was successively rebuilt nine times between 456 - 282 BC. Amongst the hundreds of finds, she found a fragment of a human skull with a sword wound, which has recently been radiocarbon dated to between about 410 - 160 BC. Other certain or probable votive sites have been found at Clifton-on-Trent, at Orton Longville near Peterborough, along the Thames between Kingston and Battersea and also up-river at Eton (see news, this issue), as well as at a handful of other sites on the Witham.

For the first time, we can now imagine what Llyn Cerrig Bach might have yielded had it been excavated carefully. Between the rock platform and a small island in the middle of the lake, Phil Macdonald reckons that there may have been a similar wooden causeway. Perhaps one day new excavations at the site, which is still a military airfield, will resolve such issues and yield up more surprises.

Mike Parker Pearson is Reader in Archaeology at the University of Sheffield

Frobisher the Fraud

New evidence from Baffin Island suggests the explorer Martin Frobisher may have tried to defraud Queen Elizabeth I herself, writes Réginald Auger

The Elizabethan sea-captain Sir Martin Frobisher almost became one of England's great explorers. In 1576 he led an expedition to find the fabled North-West Passage from Europe to Cathay and the Far East. He reached Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic and the bay that now bears his name. But he got no further.

The following two years he returned to Baffin Island to mine for gold. He became the first Englishman to build a house in North America. But he failed to find any precious metal, returning home early with a shipload of useless rocks. He was later knighted for his role in seeing off the Spanish Armada. Thus ended the career of one of history's great might-have-beens.

Frobisher would perhaps have remained a footnote to history, were it not for the fact that he left behind in Canada the remarkable remnants of an Elizabethan mining operation together with a `time capsule' of buried food and other remains preserved in permafrost, including a complete loaf of Elizabethan bread, flour, rye, peas, a wicker basket and a number of decorated tiles from a stove used for heating the camp hut.

Recent archaeological and oral-history research carried out at the site has now shed fascinating new light on Frobisher's expedition. Traditionally, he was regarded as an `honest failure' - an explorer who genuinely believed he had found a vein of gold but who was later proven wrong. However, I now believe that he may have known all along that the rocks were worthless, and was attempting a massive fraud on his expedition's investors including Queen Elizabeth I herself.

Evidence has also emerged that a handful of men may have been left behind when Frobisher abandoned the site. It appears they later tried to build a new ship in which to return home, but died in the attempt. This raises the intriguing possibility that these men were marooned by Frobisher to die alone in the Arctic - perhaps because they refused to acquiesce in his fraudulent enterprise and threatened to unmask him on their return.

The English quest for a route to China started during the mid-16th century when an expedition left England sailing north-east. The explorers came to a barrier of ice, and instead of pursuing their journey to the Orient, they sailed up the Ob River and reached Moscow where they established trade with the court of Ivan IV. Hence was born the Muscovy Company whose monopoly of trade with the people of north-eastern Europe went unchallenged for about 20 years. However, in the 1570s a group of London merchants challenged that monopoly and obtained permission from Elizabeth I to sail north-west in search of a route to China.

They were helped by a map published in the early 1570s that identified a hypothetical route north of the American continent, which was thought to run through a zone of temperate climate. To lead the expedition, the merchants commissioned Martin Frobisher, an experienced captain who had already sailed to the African coast.

Longitudes and latitudes are intentionally left vague in Frobisher's travel accounts in order to keep secret the discovery of new lands. Nonetheless we believe that he sailed to Baffin Island during his first voyage in 1576. As was customary, he collected and brought back to London natural history specimens such as plants and rocks to show his investors he had been to a new territory.

History records that the wife of one of the investors, not impressed by the rocks' appearance, threw them into a fire. When withdrawn and quenched in vinegar, they turned a golden colour. Intrigued by this, Michael Lok, former director of the Muscovy Company and entrepreneur par excellence, took them to various chemists until one told him that the black rocks contained silver and gold. And so began the first `Canadian gold rush'.

A second voyage to the place where those rocks were discovered was mounted for the summer of 1577. Three ships left London under Frobisher's command, and this time the sole purpose of the expedition was to search for precious-metal ores. Frobisher had abandoned altogether his initial intention of finding a route to China.

The expedition reached Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island and spent a few weeks mining and surveying for new deposits. One mine was discovered on a small island which was named after the Countess of Warwick. (The island is now called Kodlunarn - Inuit for White Man's Island.) The expedition returned to London in autumn 1577 with 200 tons of black rock. It had been estimated that transforming only 900 pounds of that precious ore would suffice to pay for the whole expedition.

Eager to strike it rich, London merchants, courtiers and even Queen Elizabeth I herself, under the impulse of Michael Lok, mastered enough capital to send a third expedition to Baffin Island in 1578 - without having tested any of the ore they had just received. Over 400 people aboard 15 ships left Portsmouth in May 1578 en route to the Countess of Warwick Island where the vein of supposedly rich mineral had been located. Confident that the area was rich in minerals, the expedition planned to establish a colony of 100 people on the island. Miners, soldiers, carpenters and mariners were to be left with provisions for 18 months.

After a perilous crossing of the North Atlantic, during which the expedition lost goods, ships and manpower to ice and spring storms at sea, 12 ships reached their destination by mid-July. Among the missing ships were the Dennis which was transporting prefabricated barracks - essential to the founding of a colony.

So the colony was not to be. However, the Countess of Warwick Island at least offered a safe haven for the summer of 1578, during which the expedition could mend ships, assay ore brought daily to chemists and, from a small bulwark built on the landward of the island, keep an eye out for belligerent Inuit. After a few weeks on the island, Frobisher loaded his remaining ships with 1,200 tons of ore and sailed home.

Research on the archaeology of the Frobisher Voyages by my team from Laval University and the Smithsonian Institution began in the early 1990s. Although the site was abandoned over 400 years ago, a number of features were still visible on the surface.

The most obvious were the abandoned mines, a small cottage erected on the highest point of the island, and two laboratories where ores were assayed before being loaded on board the ships. Less distinct were the bulwark and what seems to have been a blacksmith's shop, a ditch dug on the west side of the island to gather water for people spending the 1578 summer on the island, a possible burial ground and what may have been a turf-walled hut.

The cottage was built as a construction experiment in Arctic conditions, shortly before Frobisher's departure. According to the expedition's journal of 30August 1578: `This daye the masons finished a house made of lyme and stone . . . to the ende we mighte prove against the nexte yeare, whether the snow coulde overwhelm it, the frosts break uppe, or the people dismember the same.'

It was also intended as a showcase of English artefacts and customs for local Inuit people, a way to ensure in advance their curiosity and friendship should Frobisher ever return to the island. To that end, `the better to allure those brutish and uncivill people to courtesie againste others times of our comming', Frobisher left bells, knives, lead figures of men and women, mirrors, whistles and pipes. He also left a loaf of bread in the oven for them to see and taste.

When we excavated the cottage we found that most of the artefacts had gone. They were presumably so enticing that local people took them off for their own use. We did find, however, a few stove tiles, mortar and English flint. The cut foundation stones were still in place.

We also examined two workshops. One seems to have been used for the initial step in assessing ores in crucibles, and the other for secondary refining to extract precious metals. In the former, we found over 1,000 crucible fragments associated with charcoal, anthracite and slag. The other workshop produced not only crucible fragments but cupels, lead fragments, heat-resistant ceramics and charcoal.

What seems strange is that, despite this intensive mineral examination in the presence of trained chemists, Frobisher nonetheless transported 12 shiploads of rock home to England. Immediately after his arrival in London in September, Frobisher was told his rocks were worthless amphibole.

Our initial hypothesis was that the lead brought from England for use in the refinement process was itself `contaminated' by silver, leading to false positive results during refinement of the aphibole on the island. However, tests conducted on lead fragments from the site by geochemist Georges Beaudoin of Laval University have found no traces of any precious metal contamination.

As a result we now believe that Frobisher, or someone in charge of assaying, may have been trying to defraud the expedition's investors. We can't prove it. But the idea is perhaps supported by the mysterious disappearance at sea of the 1578 expedition's laboratory records. After Frobisher's return, his chemists were asked by a judge investigating the affair to hand over their laboratory books. They explained that they had lost them through a porthole left open during a storm on the journey back to London.

Of Frobisher's two principal mines on the Countess of Warwick Island - one in the centre of the island and the other on the north shore - the latter is the more interesting because it was here that Frobisher decided, before departing, to store unused supplies in preparation for any future expeditions in subsequent years.

An entry in the expedition's journal for 30 August states:

`We buried the timber of our pretended forte, with manye barrels of meale, pease, griste, and sundrie other good things, which was of the provisions of those whych should inhabite, if occasion served. And insteede therof we fraight oure ships full of ore, whiche we holde of farre greater price. Also here we sowed pease, corne, and other graine, to prove the fruitfulnesse of the soyle against the next yeare.'

During the 1993 - 94 seasons of excavations in that abandoned gully we found just what the journal promised - including peas, flour, barrel parts, a basket, stove tiles and timbers. The material was buried about two feet below the surface, a depth at which the soil is permanently frozen ensuring excellent organic preservation.

Most interestingly, along with the buried timbers we also found large quantities of wood chippings, representing the debris of what seems to be a boat-building project that took place in the gully. Detailed analysis of stratigraphy showed that the wood chippings were produced slightly later than the burial of the wood. Someone, it seems, had come along after Frobisher's departure, dug up the buried timbers, and used them as raw material.

This intriguing new evidence seems to correspond to a story related by Inuit oral history. The story was first told to the American journalist and explorer Charles Francis Hall who came to the Countess of Warwick Island in 1861.

To our amazement, the very same oral tradition was passed on to us by the great-grandsons of Hall's informants.

According to the story, a group of white men were abandoned in Frobisher Bay. Inuit people helped them survive the following winter; and in the spring they built a ship in the gully where Frobisher's timber and other supplies were buried. The white men, however, tried to sail away before the ice had cleared and perished in a storm.

If the Inuit had indeed fed and protected a marooned group of white men, it would seem to represent a change in attitude from earlier years. According to the expedition's journals, a party of five men rowed ashore in 1576 and were never seen alive again. The following year, members of Frobisher's second expedition came across what they took to be the remains of their colleagues lost the previous year:

`But amongest sundrie straunge things whiche in these tents they founde there was rawe and newe killed fleshe of unknown sortes, with dead carcasses and bones of dogs, and I know not what. They also beheld (to their greatest marvaile) a dublet of canvas, made after the Englishe fashion, a shirt, a girdle, three shoes for contrarie feete and of unequal bigenesse, which they well conjectured to be the apparell of our five poore contriemen whiche were intercepted the laste yeare by these countrie people, aboute fifty leagues from this place.'

I see no reason why Inuit oral tradition should not be believed, supported as it is by our excavated finds. It is therefore possible that the five men lost in 1576 were not killed as the 1577 journal leads us to believe, but were kept alive for two years - either as captives or as voluntary members of the Inuit community - before being helped to build a ship to return home some time after 1578.

It is perhaps more likely, however, that the Englishmen who dug up Frobisher's timbers had been abandoned in 1578. Why would they be left behind? Marooning was a classic punishment for mutiny, and the men may have been mutineers. On the other hand, they may have simply known too much about Frobisher's attempted fraud, including the truth about his bay which went nowhere, and threatened to tell all when they returned to London.

Réginald Auger teaches archaeology at Laval University in Canada. His research on Frobisher was conducted with William W Fitzhugh, Director of the Arctic Studies Centre at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC

Buried with the friars

Exceptionally well-preserved finds from an Augustinian friary in Hull have shed light on life and death in the Middle Ages. David Evans reports

A medieval friary in the north-east of England is not, perhaps, the first place you'd look for evidence of high-fashion civilian clothing from the 14th and 15th centuries. Fat monks and flagellation sticks, yes. They are only to be expected. But hoods, gowns, girdles and some of England's earliest underpants were more of a surprise.

Excavations at Hull's former Augustinian friary produced such a massive and unusual assemblage of medieval finds in 1994 that archaeologists are only now beginning to get to grips with what they all mean. It was the largest excavation on any site in the north of England that year, and the most extensive ever on an urban religious house in England.

What makes the site particularly special was the degree of preservation of organic remains in waterlogged soil. In addition to numerous complete items of clothing, evidence was also found of exquisite medieval carpentry in surviving coffins. Moreover, the human remains represent one of the most informative samples of England's medieval population found anywhere in the country. One especially corpulent senior cleric looks like he may have been the spitting image of Robin Hood's legendary companion Friar Tuck.

Friaries played a very significant part in the life of a medieval town and its community. Not only were their churches and precincts major landmarks, but they also fulfilled many of the roles now performed by our social services - looking after the poor, sick and homeless, and offering both physical and spiritual comfort to those in need.

Although historians know a great deal about the three major mendicant orders - the Franciscans, Dominicans, and Carmelites - the lesser orders such as the Augustinians remain much less well understood. At the peak of their success, the Augustinians had only 39 friaries in England and one in Wales. Before Hull few had been excavated at all, and most of these were either 19th century clearances or on a very small-scale.

Medieval Hull in fact had three friaries - the Augustinian friary fronting the town's marketplace, a Carmelite friary some 500 yards away, and a Carthusian house outside the city's north gate. The Augustinian friary was founded in 1316 - 17 and lasted 223 years, before gaining the distinction of being the very last Augustinian house in England to surrender to the Crown on 10 March 1539.

One of the interesting things the excavation established about the friary's early years was that a number of occupied tenements were deliberately cleared to make room for the new monastic house. Traces of wooden buildings that had existed over four phases of construction and rebuilding were found underneath the friary's street frontage.

The traditional picture is that friaries were usually founded on wholly peripheral or poorly drained land; but more evidence is accumulating to show that monasteries could be quite ruthless in imposing themselves on occupied ground. The Cistercians, for example, depopulated land to make room for their abbey at Jervaulx in North Yorkshire in the 12th century. In Norwich, a large area was cleared for the foundation of the town's second Dominican friary in the 14th century.

Rare survivals

Few monasteries have been sufficiently excavated to produce evidence of the temporary buildings which went up in their initial years. Hull is a happy exception. Copious evidence was found for timber buildings underlying what would later be parts of the cloister. As some of these appear to be contemporary with the first church (itself substantially of timber), they may be temporary accommodation for the friars whilst the church was being erected.

The survival of the formal monastic garden was highly unusual. In most urban houses, gardens were quickly destroyed by redevelopment after the Dissolution, but here the friary continued to be occupied as a private house and garden until at least the mid-17th century, which seems to have ensured a large degree of preservation.

There was no firm botanical evidence for what was grown here, but the main layout was clear - a large rectangle divided by pathways into four equal rectangular plots, with a path around the edge of the garden, and a large central feature in its middle. Some of the plots are further sub-divided into beds. This was not a pleasure garden but a practical place for growing vegetables, herbs and fruit. A conveyancing deed of 1627 lists the garden as measuring 49 yards by 23 yards - dimensions that were accurate to within a foot.

Human burials from the site have provided some of the most intriguing glimpses into medieval life. The 245 articulated skeletons (that is, skeletons with all or many of the bones still in their original positions) represent both monks and lay citizens of Hull. Nearly half were women and children, including the tiny skeletons of two foetuses - one of which was still in the womb.

To judge by their burial clothing, and from documentary records, men and women of all positions in society were interred in the friary - from one former Lord Mayor of Hull, John de Grimsby who died about 1440, through wealthy burgesses, down to the poor and needy. By the early 15th century there was a thriving business to be earned from wealthy patrons paying to be buried in chantry chapels, for which evidence was found in the south aisle of the church.

One of the more remarkable burials was found in the choir of the church. It was the skeleton of a large man in an enormous coffin built of English slow-grown oak (the only example from the friary) and sited very close to the high altar of the first friary church. The peculiar micro-environment of the coffin has led to his outline surviving as a ghost image on the coffin base.

Whatever the chemical explanation for this may be, the outline shows quite a large and corpulent man - one of the few instances where it is possible to put flesh back onto a skeleton. Here is someone who fits the stereotype image of Friar Tuck; and from the position of the burial within the church, this is probably one of the early priors. If anyone in the friary was to enjoy a good diet, it is likely to have been the prior.

All other coffins were made of Baltic oak - faster-grown, straighter and easier to work than English oak - and most have been dated by dendrochronology to individual years ranging from about 1330 to 1390, with notable clusters around years when the Black Death was known to have been virulent.

Instances of different coffins being made from planks from the same tree point to burials being either simultaneous or very near-contemporary; whilst the makeshift construction of some coffins - with planks roughly nailed together like a packing crate - suggests they were produced in considerable haste. Are we here seeing evidence for a community coping with an outbreak of plague?

Certainly, these badly made coffins are in marked contrast to the care taken in preparing the carefully hidden dowels used to hold the best coffins together. Previously, little was known about 14th century carpentry, because owners of surviving wood panelling or paintings are understandably unwilling to allow archaeologists to take them apart. The best coffins from Hull, however, have shown an unsuspected level of skill, with dowels around 7mm wide carefully drilled into the ends of planks at times only 11mm thick, allowing for only the tiniest margin of error.

Towards the end of the 14th century there was a marked change in burial practice. Coffined burials were replaced completely by shroud burials, which allowed far more bodies to be packed into the interior of an already crowded church.

Burial clothing

The survival of clothing was exceptional. The evidence suggests that people were buried in their `Sunday best'. A number of wealthy individuals were buried in all-black costumes which seem to have been highly fashionable at court in the early 15th century. All the textile was wool - there was no evidence for silk or linen.

The preference was for loose, full-length gowns, dark in colour and sometimes worn with a surcoat or tabard in the 14th and 15th centuries. From about the 1380s these fashions began to be replaced by full gowns arranged in pleated folds, with voluminous sleeves and belted at the waist. Headgear, meanwhile, was mostly a type of hood which covered both head and shoulders, and had a long tail or pipe hanging down the back. The general standard of tailoring was the equal of anything found in London or Newcastle from the period, albeit typically made in more sombre colours.

Particularly interesting were several pairs of male underpants. This woollen variant of `boxer shorts' was worn underneath the newly fashionable canvas breeches which tended to chafe the thighs. The use of wool, rather than linen, may indicate that these particular examples were winter clothes.

In addition, rare examples of complete, full-length, decorated leather girdles for women were recovered. These are the long belt-like garments that wound around the waist and extended in a long strap to the ground, seen in church brasses and manuscript illuminations. No complete examples had been found in Britain before.

Seven burials were accompanied by hazel or willow poles. In some cases, two sticks were laid across the body. What could they have been? They were too insubstantial to have served as a stave or a splint. Could they have been flagellation sticks? Some were certainly of an appropriate size.

Others may perhaps have been ceremonial `wands of office' held by some monastic officials. References exist to medieval officers called virgatorii or virgatores (wand or rodbearers) at monasteries such as Westminster Abbey, but we have very little idea of what their duties entailed, or how widespread such practices might have been in other religious houses.

Plenty of evidence emerged of moderate ill-health. As with almost any medieval population, there were several examples of fractures and infections of the long bones, and two skulls with caries. Almost a third of the adult burials within the church had suffered from degenerative joint diseases.

Some of our Augustinians appear to have verged towards the sin of gluttony. A fair number of adult skeletons demonstrated marked signs of a bone disorder called DISH (diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis). This is associated with a limited diet high in cholesterol, coupled with a lifestyle which involved very little physical activity.

Unhealthy lives

It is particularly common among very fat middle-aged men leading a sedentary life, and was in fact more prevalent in monasteries than elsewhere in the medieval population. The physical effects show in the spine, fusing the vertebrae into a single sheath of bone, and making the spine as a whole resemble a candle with wax dripping down the sides.

What is perhaps even more interesting is that there are at least four skeletons with clear evidence of syphilis. The stratification of some of these clearly shows they were buried in about 1450 - 75. The disease, which takes some 20 years before it begins to leave its mark on bone, was quite advanced at the time of death. These victims had contracted syphilis long before the return of Columbus and his ships from the New World - traditionally regarded as the time when `The Great Pox' was introduced into Europe.

Our excavation has raised questions about the relationship of the friary to the outside world. Whereas many Dominican and Franciscan friaries had great naves, or extra-large transepts to accommodate large congregations coming to hear the friars preaching, our church had a fairly conventional ground plan - rather like many larger parish churches. Only in its earliest phase does the plan suggest provision for a preaching area.

This may suggest that the Augustinians of Hull preferred to preach from market crosses and other public places, taking their religion out into the community rather than expecting the community to come to them.

Why did so many of the wealthier townsfolk wish to be buried here, instead of at the parish church of Holy Trinity standing only a few yards away on the other side of the marketplace? Was the friary regarded as a more fashionable place to be buried?

Burial in the parish churchyard was free, but those interred within the friary church either had to pay for that privilege, or had earned the right by virtue of their social position. We may be looking here at a similar social division as can now be found in our health system - between those who opt for private treatment and those who stay within the NHS.

From friary to pub

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that our monasteries were rapidly despoiled at the Dissolution, the evidence of excavation suggests that this particular religious house escaped relatively lightly. The small quantities of glass recovered from Dissolution layers suggest that the windows were systematically dismantled and removed, along with the roofing lead and the internal fixtures and fittings. But much of the brickwork and masonry was left standing.

After a period as a private house, the friary buildings were replaced by three pubs standing very close to one another - the Tiger, the Cross Keys, and the Marrowbone and Cleaver. The Cross Keys was an enormous coaching inn with accommodation for over 60 guests and huge stables. The Tiger used the friary's west tower for guest bedrooms, part of the nave for stables and the west range for its bar.

The font, reduced to indignity as a public urinal, stood in the Tiger's main yard. It has now recovered a tiny portion of its former dignity as a birdbath, and graces the garden of the excavation team's masonry expert in a village some 12 miles from the city.

David Evans directed the excavations at Hull Friary for the Humberside Archaeology Unit (now the Humber Archaeology Partnership). The full excavation results will be published in 2002

Return to the British Archaeology homepage

Return to the CBA homepage

© Council for British Archaeology and individual authors, 2000