On Saturday 30th November, Lucy Marston and I gave a talk at the South Yorkshire Archaeology Day in Sheffield entitled ‘The Enduring Market Place: Medieval to Post-modern Thorne’, which outlined the results of a recent combined building recording and archaeological excavation project in the town. We were first up in front of a packed auditorium at the Showroom Cinema.
Lucy spoke first. Her well-illustrated talk focused on the historic buildings that were standing on the site when Wessex Archaeology got involved. The key structure was the large late 17th-century building that stood at 1 & 2 Market Place and fronted onto Silver Street. Although Grade II Listed, the building was in a terrible state, and consent had been granted for its demolition ahead of the redevelopment of the site.
The talk not only discussed the results of the recording, but also the difficulties entailed in obtaining as much information as possible in the safest possible way, and how these were overcome utilising innovative recoding techniques.
Through these techniques, and recording during the structural watching brief throughout demolition, it was possible to show that, although there was no evidence of timber framing, the building had been constructed in the late 17th century, developing from a vernacular tradition to a more ‘polite’ town house of mid-18th-century date.
My talk concentrated on what was discovered within the below-ground archaeology following the demolition of the buildings on the site.. Three wells were located; the largest had started life as a stone well in the late medieval period; in the 18th century a brick sleeve had been inserted into the well shaft and lead pipes incorporated to enable water to be pumped directly to serve the houses on the site, one being the building that Lucy had recorded.
What was exciting, as we proceeded down through the layers on the site, was the range of pottery that was being recovered. Not only were we finding evidence of glazed jugs and cooking pots from the 13th and 14th centuries and later, we were uncovering quantities of rough looking shell-tempered pottery including bowls and jars dating back as early as the 10th century: we had ceramic evidence showing almost 1000 years of continuous settlement in Thorne.
The pottery from the site included wares that had been imported, pointing to the existence of well-established trade routes along the River Don when Thorne would have functioned as a river port with access to the Humber and the near continent.
Dark patches showing clearly in the yellow sandy clay turned out to be postholes marking where timber buildings once stood, with other patches representing rubbish pits dug in the backyards of the buildings.
Soil samples from the pits indicated that, in addition to eating meat, the people of Thorne had a diet that included fish, fruit, nuts and grain and that they lived in a marshy environment that was subject to seasonal flooding. The latter point seemed especially resonant, given the recent floods along the Lower Don.