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PDAS - Summer excavation of St. Richards Dominican Friary, Pontefract

posted 1 Aug 2011, 03:56 by Paul Brayford   [ updated 1 Feb 2016, 15:10 ]
Update on the excavations being carried out by Pontefract and District Archaeology Society (PontArch)

Excavations at St Richards Priory Pontefract
Built on the former site of Pontefract General Infirmary (most of which has now been demolished), St. Richards Dominican Friary, one of only five in Yorkshire, was established in 1256 and dissolved in 1538.

The site is adjacent the medieval Hermitage and Oratory (Chapel) which is a Grade 1 listed building of national significance.

The site was first investigated by our society in the 1960’s where evidence of foundation walls was seen along with two medieval burials. Some of the walls were extremely thick and ll suggesting they may have been a part of the south wall of the church.

Further excavations occurred in the 1980’s and a geophysical survey was carried out in the Valley Gardens all of which suggested further evidence for the Friary.

Our society has been fortunate in having the opportunity to excavate an area of land adjacent the Bluebell Steps and Southgate. We will be digging for about 10 weeks until early October 2011.

We have just completed the first week of our excavations and things look very promising. We started by removing the top soil which also contained building rubble and digging down through what is eighteenth and nineteenth century agricultural soil. This soil has been improved using household waste consisting of ash, coal, broken crockery, animal bones and organic household waste. This has created deep well drained fertile agricultural soil used most probably for growing liquorice.

The cultivation and harvesting of this root crop has disturbed the underlying archaeology which has meant that fragments of human bone and teeth, medieval pottery and pipe bowls and stems and medieval building materials have risen into this later agricultural soil.

This does suggest that this part of the Friary may well be the site of a war grave from the civil war dating to 1648. Other finds including medieval roofing slabs, window leading and glass, as well as a stone window moulding suggest that they are from the medieval friary.

Over the next week we will continue to excavate down to the underlying archaeological deposits and see what they tell us about this important Dominican friary.