Time Team Series 17: Corridors of Power (Westminster)

Broadcast 18 April 2010

Benedictine monks first came to Westminster in the middle of the 10th century, establishing a tradition of worship that continues to this day. The present church, begun by Henry III in 1245, is one of the most important Gothic buildings in the countrywith the medieval shrine of Edward the Confessor at its heart.

Time Team were extremely privileged to be invited to investigate part of this World Heritage Site, in particular the North Green, formerly known as the Sanctuary. Antiquarian illustrations show a row of five substantial houses built there, alongside the nave, probably in the late 16th century. The easternmost house reused the foundations, and perhaps also the walls, of a medieval sacristy built by Henry III. The sacristy would have housed the ceremonial vestments and objects used in services at the Abbey. A series of walls found in 1869 during clearance work were assumed to represent the remains of these houses, but the references are conflicting and unclear.

Part of the Abbey’s massive 13th century raft foundation was revealed, as well as the remains of Henry III’s sacristy. This was confirmed as being an L-shaped building, linking the north door of the nave with a second doorway. Five burials found in situ; all shared their alignment with the present Abbey, and their location in relation to the sacristy suggests that they are also of 13th century date. From a later period, part of a Tudor stairwell was uncovered, as well as brick wall foundations which were considered to be of 16th century date.

Of interest amongst the small quantity of finds recovered were a few fragments of Roman brick and tile, which are assumed to have been brought in from elsewhere for re-use in later construction - none were found in situ. Architectural stonework showed the use of several different types in the medieval Abbey: Reigate stone from Surrey, Taynton stone from Oxfordshire, and imported Caen stone.

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