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Archaeological discoveries at York’s Guildhall
As work safely continues on the site of York Guildhall, archaeologists have discovered remains dating from the post-medieval to as far back as the Roman period, including potential remains of the Augustinian friary, human burials, glass, coins, decorated plaster and pottery.
These latest discoveries were made as work continues on site as part of the project to restore the Guildhall building back to the heart of the city’s social, business and civic life through the restoration and redevelopment of the existing structure.
The 14th century landmark includes a collection of Grade I, II* and II listed buildings. The site will become home to top quality office space for new and emerging industries in the heart of our historic city centre. In addition, the restoration work will improve public access to the nationally significant heritage on display, through a new café, community use, events space, civic meetings and a new riverside restaurant.
Nine months into the project, progress on site has included:
- The demolition of the south range buildings;
- Preparations such as piling and substructure to the new south range buildings which will hold WC facilities and a café.
- Underpinning to the north tower, known for a large crack visible from Lendal bridge
- Demolition of north annex
- Begun the internal renovation of the Victorian section of the existing building, which includes the historic main hall.
In partnership with VINCI Construction UK and York Archaeological Trust, excavations underneath the area of where the Timber Hutments of the Guildhall once stood, have revealed limestone walls and medieval burials thought to be part of the Augustinian friary and its use after it was surrendered in 1538. This includes deposits containing artifacts of glass, pottery and coins dating from the post-medieval period, to as far back as the Roman period. This site has most recently been occupied by the council’s offices and demolition of the structure was completed this month.
The historic landmark in the centre of York dates back to the 14th century when it was once used as a meeting place for the city’s guilds, an association of artisans or merchants who oversaw the development of their particular trade or craft in York. The building was used to entertain monarchs such as Richard III and later Prince Albert. It was also a centre for judicial practice, the site of the trial of Margaret Clitherow and also the counting of the ransom for the release of Charles I during the English Civil War.
Cllr Nigel Ayre, Executive Member for Finance and Performance, City of York Council said;
“The site’s rich history and significance in the life of the city makes this a truly unique project. These latest findings have uncovered yet another layer of history in our city centre and taught us more about the site prior to the Guildhall which stands here today.
“An Archaeological investigation was carried out before work began on site, however during the more extensive excavation post demolition, such is the nature of working in an historic city like York means YAT have uncovered more, exciting archaeological finds. As careful excavations are underway, progress of works has continued on other areas of the site, to minimise any disruption to the project schedule whilst the archaeologists carry out their work.
“We know that significant projects like this, spanning over 18 months, will always include unexpected developments. We are confident that the progress made in recent months, particularly throughout the floods, demonstrates the diligence and high quality of work on the project, and that every effort will be made to recover any lost time.
“These findings demonstrate the importance of improving public access to this fascinating part of York’s history and we’re pleased that this redevelopment will provide just that.”
Cllr Andrew Waller, Executive Member for Economy and Strategic Planning, City of York Council said;
“In the current economic situation we recognise the important role projects like the Guildhall will play in supporting the recovery of our economy and providing spaces for small businesses.
“Bringing these historic buildings back into use is a significant project for the city, alongside other projects that have been continued to keep construction operating with social distancing”
Tom Coates, Project Supervisor, York Archaeological Trust, said;
”Recently we have been monitoring construction works in the North Annexe building to the north-west of the Guildhall. This work has revealed a sequence of archaeological deposits dating from the modern period to potentially as far back as the Roman period.
We have uncovered structures linked with the medieval Augustianian friary, including a sequence of ovens that may have been part of the kitchen area. Two large, later walls run through the friary remains and appear to have reused a lot of the friary stonework. We have also uncovered a single phase of graves which may date to the later use of the friary. Unfortunately, these were badly disturbed by a later phase of demolition works a few hundred years ago.
The medieval and post-medieval phases of archaeology have disturbed earlier significant Roman deposits underneath. We have found a lot of earlier material, including large quantities of fragmentary Roman painted plaster, an abundance of almost complete Roman roof tiles (tegulae) and a small number of plain Roman mosaic tiles (tesserae) – however, all these Roman finds have been incorporated into later Medieval deposits and features. It is therefore possible that the medieval Friary was built over the ruins of a Roman building that once occupied the riverfront of Eboracum.
This was an exciting opportunity to understand the archaeology of the area, and we thank CYC and Vinci for their cooperation during the works as we continue to monitor the redevelopment.”
Rob Henderson, Project Manager, VINCI Construction UK said;
“Supporting the archaeologists during this phase of the project has been of real interest to our team whilst we have managed to continue with the critical works to the tower adjacent to the investigations. We will soon be able to protect and preserve the finds below the new structure to be built in collaboration with York Archaeological Trust and City of York Council.”
The Guildhall restoration began in September 2019, initiating vital restoration and redevelopment of the Grade I, II* and II listed buildings, to offer office space, community use and a riverside restaurant.
Key benefits of the development include:
- Bringing the Guildhall’s historic business role into the 21st century– creating quality office spaces with the potential to create an estimated 250 jobs in high value sectors.
- Give the public improved access to the nationally significant heritage – through community use, events and civic meetings.
- Maximising the economic impact of the Guildhall – creating £848k per annum income following completion and an estimated £117m GVA boost to the city’s economy over the next five years. In addition, the construction phase would contribute 50 additional jobs and £7m GVA in total.
- Using 21st century green technology to heat the building, reducing costs and the environmental impact of the development.
Waterway and wellbeing charity, Canal & River Trust are the navigation authority for the River Ouse. The Trust is supporting the project by enabling VINCI Construction UK to use the waterway to make site deliveries, helping to limit the disruption to residents and visitors in York city centre.
The project received £2.347 million from the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (the LEP), delivered in partnership with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, through the Leeds City Region Growth Deal – a £1 billion package of government investment to accelerate growth and create jobs across Leeds City Region.
You can view the latest developments, plans and time-lapse footage online at www.york.gov.uk/GuildhallProject