An excavation is being carried out in Jewry Street, Winchester, ahead of development on the site by Mr M Bakhaty. The site is in the north-west corner of the historic core of Winchester. This area of the town is known to have been occupied throughout Winchester’s post-medieval, medieval and Roman past.
For more information about the archaeology and history of Winchester, visit the Winchester Museums Service website.
A brief history of the site
Previous investigations have shown that the site lies within a fortified Iron Age settlement. The Roman town of Venta Belgarum was built over this earlier settlement and grew to be the fifth largest town in Roman Britain.
Occupation of the town continued into the post-Roman period, when it became an important royal and ecclesiastical centre. During the reign of King Alfred in the late 9th century the Saxon town (burgh) was formed as streets and defences were rebuilt. Jewry Street probably came into existence at this time. In the medieval period major ecclesiastical monuments were built, most notably the present cathedral building which is less than 700m from the site and was started in 1079.
The current buildings on the site date from the 19th & 20th centuries. From 1865-1901 No. 19 was the Golden Lion Pub, No. 20 was first a coach-builders and then a cycle shop. Tea rooms took the place of the cycle shop and were themselves replaced by several other businesses over the years.
The Post-medieval period
As the excavation on site has moved further from the street frontage, a flint-lined well has been uncovered. It was dug sometime between the 16th and 18th centuries, before piped supplies were available and it drew water held in the underlying chalk.
Maps from the 17th and 18th centuries have provided us with useful information about the site . John Speed’s rather sketchy 1611 map of Winchester appears to show two buildings with a narrow lane to the north connecting Jewry Street with Staple Gardens, roughly in the vicinity of the site.
Three buildings, still apparent today, can be seen on William Godson’s 1750 map of Winchester . The northern building is wider, perhaps reflecting the modern division between Numbers 19 and 20.
The lane shown on the 1611 map has gone and appears to have been absorbed within the boundaries of 20 Jewry Street. Also significant is the amount of open ground within the city walls. This picture is little altered by the time of Thomas Milne’s 1791 Plan of the City of Winchester.
The Medieval period
Below the 19th and 20th century buildings, archaeologists discovered a large cellar from a medieval building. It was finely built and some evidence of its thick mortared chalk footings remains, along with a small section of the original stone blocks. The cellar presumably belonged to a substantial property fronting what is now Jewry Street. Interestingly the property boundaries of Numbers 19 and 20 are still aligned on these medieval boundaries.
This was a prosperous area of the town between the late 11th and 14th centuries, known as ‘Scowrtenestret’ (Shoemakers’ Street), and later ‘Gywerystrete’. Although frequently referred to as Vicus Judeorum or Jewry street from the 13th century, the centre of the medieval Jewish community was nearer the western end of the present High Street. Documents from the fifteenth century list the occupants of the three medieval properties on the site. Amongst them were weavers, labourers, poor men, carpenters, a book binder, a tinker and a widow.
The Roman period
Pits and wells have destroyed nearly all traces of remains earlier than the medieval period. One that has survived is a small ‘island’ of so-called ‘dark-earth’. This deposit appears to cover the remains of Roman Winchester and may be soil that formed over the town when it fell out of use at the end of Roman rule in the early fifth century.
Several cess pits have been found, running in a line north to south through the middle of the site. They lie half way between two Roman streets and either served a public building or, more likely, lay to the rear of the houses which fronted the two streets. The pits are cut 5-6 metres deep into the underlying chalk and only one other like them has been found in Winchester.
The pits are an exciting source of evidence: as well as degraded human waste, they contain fragments of pottery, building materials and many animal bones.
Small items have been found, such as bronze finger rings, a fine bone pin, tweezers and coins accidentally dropped into the pits nearly 2,000 years ago.
The most valuable information may well come from the smallest finds of all – the remains of mineralised seeds, fruit stones and insects. Calcium from the soil and phosphate from urine combine to form calcium-phosphate. It is this formation which is required for the seeds to become mineralised. Samples of soil are taken from site, then carefully processed and the seeds analysed by experts. This will give us more evidence of the diet and way of life in Roman Winchester.
One find of particular interest is a piece of fine pottery, of a type known as samian ware which was imported into Britain in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.
What makes this piece so special is that it has a near complete maker’s stamp, SVRD--LVS.F. Research suggests that it is the mark of SVRDILLVS, a pottery maker who worked in Lezoux in central France between 90-150AD. The F at the end of the name stands for fecit, Latin for ‘made (it)’.
The piece of pottery is part of a shallow dish. Interestingly, scratch marks in the pedestal base of the dish suggest that after it was broken it was turned upside down and the base itself reused as a small dish.
Also uncovered was a nearly complete locally made pot and several examples of a type of pottery known as New Forest ware.
New Forest Roman pottery
The New Forest potteries produced a variety of different styles and types of pot, from the late 3rd to late 4th centuries. These included imitation samian ware, mortaria (a bowl for mixing and grinding) and fine colour-coated tableware. The pottery found here at Jewry Street is just that, a classic example of local tableware. The colours vary from a matt red to a lustrous purple, depending on whether they were fired at a comparatively low or high temperature. The most common items were indented beakers, cups, small bowls and flagons. Some of them were decorated.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the New Forest did not have a large population during the Roman period. This is probably because intensive settlement, forest clearance and cultivation in the Neolithic (4000-2400BC) and Bronze Age (2400-700BC) meant that the soil was no longer suitable for agriculture. This lack of people and the plentiful local supplies of clay and sand were probably important factors in the creation of the pottery industry.
The design of the pottery kilns in the New Forest is unique in Britain at this time. As there was no pre-existing local industry this raises intriguing questions about where their design came from. It is interesting that the closest parallels for the earliest New Forest pots come from north-eastern France and West Germany.