Zoe Richardson, Site Supervisor from L & P Archaeology, provides an update on the exciting excavation finds so far.

L & P Archaeology began working at the site of the Master’s Garden during the summer months in 2017, ahead of the construction of the new kitchen. 

A Brief History of the Site

Before Sidney was founded the Grey Friars, or Franciscans, inhabited the site for nearly three hundred years before the religious Reformation which ultimately led to Sidney's foundation as a protestant seminary.

Between 1538 and 1596, the site was owned by Trinity College, and building materials were taken from the friary to be used in the construction of the College’s buildings. In 1596, construction began on the new College of Sidney Sussex.

Archaeological Excavation

During the excavation, L & P Archaeology have uncovered multiple phases of the Master’s Garden, providing us with an insight into the use and development of the College garden from its creation to the modern day.

Recovered finds from this period include pottery used by the College, corked bottles, and clay tobacco pipes. The tobacco pipes have occasionally been stamped or inked with initials and symbols, often identifying their maker.

Culverts (large brick drains) run across much of the site, ranging from the Tudor period to the nineteenth century, before being replaced by more modern pipes. The earlier culverts seem to run from the building towards the King’s Ditch. This was a large ditch first constructed in the early medieval period, and was used for several centuries as a defence and sewage works for the city. The dip of the ditch is still visible in the College gardens.

The excavations of the medieval friary have uncovered several walls and floors which show several phases of building within the friary. These buildings were demolished and robbed at the time of the Dissolution, and subsequently fell into ruin, leaving the site covered in rubble originating in the medieval period. In this rubble, the archaeologists have found many pieces of stained glass, as well as window lead, roof tiles and nails, and even some remarkably decorated tiles that were missed by those stripping building materials from the site.

Open Days

Earlier this year, a series of Open Days were held to allow members of the College, and the public, to see the finds recovered mainly in the post-medieval phase, as well as some medieval finds. Tours were conducted through the College, providing a background to the site, and people were brought down onto the edge of the site to see the surviving remains as closely as they could.

The Excavation Continues...

As L & P Archaeology continue with the excavation, they will eventually remove the medieval period deposits - including the walls - so that they can search for evidence of those who used the site before the friary was built. Much of Cambridge was settled from the late Prehistoric period to the present day, and so they expect to find evidence of early occupation on the site. This may include ditches, postholes for buildings, or simply rubbish dumps.

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