Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Anyone walking through the cathedral grounds over the past eighteen months or so is likely to have noticed archaeologists amongst those working on the Canterbury Journey landscaping scheme. The core team of Phil Mayne and Frances Morgan has been busy in the South Precincts since February 2018, with other archaeologists joining them during more intense periods of the project. The work has involved a combination of watching brief and excavation, a watching brief being maintained during the removal of upper levels of overburden, following which excavation proceeded to required formation depth. The ground was then left ready for the laying of new paving, and the archaeologists moved to the next area.
The investigations have certainly been fruitful. In the far north-west corner of the precincts, south of the gates of the current Archbishop’s Palace, structural remains associated with Lanfranc’s palace were identified. His Great Hall, forming the main range of the eleventh-century palace, extended westwards from the north-west tower of the cathedral church. The excavation work revealed walls of the hall, though inside only dumps of later infilling material were exposed, the floor levels lying below at greater depth.
Immediately to the south a series of medieval walls survived, underneath a depth of structural debris, in places just 15cm below the current ground surface. One of the walls was aligned east–west and formed the southern boundary of the Archbishop’s Palace. The walls abutting to the north comprised a building forming part of, or lying adjacent to, the palace, perhaps parts of the buildings represented on a tinted drawing dated 1683. At least three phases of wall were revealed, together with two fireplaces, a doorway and a window reveal. Areas of white plaster render survived in places adhering to the internal faces of the masonry. The bonded chalk and flint walls suggest a fourteenth-century or later date. The buildings they represented perhaps stood, with the modification of later brick structures, until the nineteenth century, when the southernmost range of the former Archbishop’s Palace was dismantled.
Another area to reveal significant remains lay immediately outside the south-west door of the Cathedral Church. Here, phases of masonry pre-dating the early fifteenth-century porch were observed during the laying of a new service run. They comprised what appeared to be two possible buttresses, offset both southwards and westwards from the upstanding porch masonry. The masonry was constructed predominantly of flint, though included pieces of Reigate stone. Curiously, the buttresses, if this is what they were, were not symmetrical, the easternmost protruding further south than the western. The remains are such that they suggest a structure extending further west than the current Cathedral Church, yet to date there has been no evidence of previous masonry in this area and we have no knowledge of what these masonry remains could have formed. It is hoped that future investigations which progress around the south-west corner of the church may reveal more.
To the south, outside the rapidly rising new Welcome Centre, ground reduction as part of the landscaping work revealed parts of two structures, one of internally rendered bonded brick and the other of mortared stone blocks. A conduit house is known to have stood in this general area, recorded on a plan of the precincts dating from 1669 (Wilkes) and again in 1680 (Thomas Hill). William Gosling, writing in 1774, described it as ‘a small stone house, with a cistern in it, which had a common cock for the use of the church tenants in the neighbourhood, and was supplied with water from the great reservoir in the Green-court’. A subterranean brick vault, interpreted as being associated with the conduit house, was observed in 1985–6 during construction of the former Welcome Centre but its location was never accurately recorded. Having wondered for over 30 years where the conduit house might have been, there now appear to be two candidates for its location!
Across other parts of the landscaping area, the remains largely comprised metalled and crushed stone surfaces which would have lain within the precincts during the seventeenth to early twentieth centuries. They have clearly been laid and relaid many times to aid passage around the cathedral and no doubt to accommodate the fairs held in the precincts, including the Michaelmas Fair. Also exposed have been a number of drains, including the Great Drain of Prior Goldstone, of late fifteenth-/early sixteenth-century date, seen in the pathway leading to the south door of the Cathedral Church. A small number of burials and the tops of graves have been revealed, but the depth of the landscaping has ensured that no articulated burials have required exhumation.
The works are projected to last until Christmas 2019, after which there will be a long period of post-excavation work, analysing what has been discovered and writing up the results into an appropriate publication. What is undoubtedly true, even at this stage, is that the scale of the works will have ensured that the remains significantly increase our understanding of activities within the precincts over previous centuries.