The Site and 2018's Excavation
In the summer of 2018 the archaeology department of Bishop Grosseteste University (BGU) undertook an excavation at St Hugh’s, a property located on Newport, in central Lincoln. The excavation was designed to enable undergraduates and visiting international students to learn the key skills of archaeological fieldwork, but the project also acted as a meaningful research exercise in the historic centre of Lincoln.
During the Roman period, the land lay adjacent to the northern extension of Ermine Street, a route that is perpetuated today as Newport, extending north from the walls and gate of the colonia of Lincoln (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Newport Arch
Previous investigation has shown that Newport was used for both burial and settlement in the Roman period (Figure 2), and from the 12th century the area emerged as a suburb of Newport (Figure 3) and was unusually demarcated by a formal boundary—a ditch and earthwork bank – which survived mostly intact until the eighteenth century, but which today only survives as a slight scarp in the grounds of the BGU campus. The suburb was served by two churches, St Nicholas and St John; the unequal distribution of land belonging to each church suggests that St John was a later parish, and that its property was carved out of the existing parish of St Nicholas.
Figure 2: Roman Burials and Cremation.
Figure 3: Detail of William Stukeley’s 1722 map of Lincoln, showing the Newport suburb surrounded by its own earthwork enclosure. The site of the ‘Fryery’, on the junction of Newport and Rasen Lane is clearly marked.
The area which was later to become St Hugh’s was situated on the edge of Newport Green—a long, narrow market place which formed the backbone of the suburb. Perhaps more significantly, historic maps also indicate that the area later occupied by St Hugh’s was the location of an Augustinian Friary, the only major institution in the suburb, which was founded in the thirteenth century. There is little documentary evidence relating to the friary, and the boundaries, internal features and history of the house are poorly understood.
Our excavations will help unpick the complex development of Newport, targeting in particular evidence for Roman use and the remains of the poorly-understood medieval friary.
Figure 4: John Speed’s map of Lincoln, dated to 1610. The Newport suburb is depicted to the left of the map in the area marked ‘Newport church’. The friary building, by then ruined, can just be made out at label ‘A’.
The excavation is located at the junction of Rasen Lane, St Hugh’s is a Grade II Listed Building, which was recently purchased by the university, with the aid of a European Regional Development Fund grant, in order to house the Lincolnshire Open Research and Innovation Centre. In addition to its built fabric, St Hugh’s is located in an area of significant below-ground archaeological potential, which the archaeologists at BGU sought to explore.
With the site having such significant archaeological potential, the excavation team decided to excavate two trenches at St Hugh’s; one at the front of the property, and one at the rear. Investigation at the front identified at least one Roman tenement onto Ermine Street. Situated outside of the city walls, the form of this structure and the character of the finds recovered, suggest that it was probably a trader’s tenement. This would likely have been comprised of a shop at the front of the property, behind which would have been a workshop and domestic space, and a yard or garden at the rear. Excavations found a burial at the interface of the inside and outside space, in what is often called an eaves-drip location, a feature formed by water falling from the roof of a building and creating a linear or curving indentation in the ground. Burials such as this are closely connected to traders’ properties, and may have brought good luck or protection to the building. As expected, little archaeology relating to the medieval period was found in the front trench, as this would have been occupied by Newport Green. However, medieval walls were identified in the back garden of St Hugh’s during the final week of fieldwork. These remains were buried at a significant depth (c.1.5m) due to later landscaping and, while it is difficult to be certain at this stage, it is highly likely that these deposits relate to the Augustinian Friary and later private residence.
This summer of archaeology has proved hugely exciting, with the discovery of some wonderful finds and features, and has allowed the excavation team to characterise the nature and quality of the remains in the grounds of St Hugh’s. The team will be returning in 2019, and for several more seasons, so that they can learn even more about historic Newport, and continue to train future generations of archaeologists at the same time.