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Pottery clues to medieval Nottingham's growth industry

Behind the white fencing at the back of Pryzm nightclub, archaeologists are unearthing clues that may help illuminate the story of medieval Nottingham.

Pottery clues to medieval Nottingham's growth industry
Paul Flintoft of Trent & Peak Archaeology at the Confetti site 
[Credit: Nottingham Post]
And they may one day be able to state that a monument to one of the city's creative industries of the future was built on the foundations Nottingham's creative industry of the past.

Long before pharmaceuticals and cigarettes, bicycles and lace, Nottingham was renowned as a centre for pottery. And not just in England, for the town's distinctive green glazed crockery was exported around Europe.

Items of pottery, glass and roof tiles – and what looks like the remains of a brick kiln - have now been discovered by archaeologists ahead of the redevelopment of the Convent Street site as a digital learning centre the Nottingham Trent University and Confetti Institute of Creative Technologies.

Kilns have already been discovered in this quarter of modern Nottingham. In Goosegate and Broad Street, for instance, and the site of the New Market pub.

But the Convent Street discovery is different because it is early evidence of industry outside the medieval town.

Medieval Nottingham was enclosed by the town ditch, which to the north-east of the settlement ran along the line of today's Upper Parliament Street. Previous kiln finds have been found on the town side of the ditch, but here is an example from the other side.

"Defence was a factor but the main purpose of a town ditch was demarcation," says Paul Flintoft, project manager at Trent & Peak Archaeology. "Every town would have needed one. It's almost as if there may have been a suburb on the outside of the ditch. With all the development taking place in the city in the coming years, this could be the first of many such finds which may change our understanding of Nottingham's medieval economy."

Several artefacts have been removed from the site and cleaned for further analysis. They include glass bottles from the Victorian era but, more interestingly, examples of green glazed pottery.

Pottery clues to medieval Nottingham's growth industry
A fragment of green glaze pottery and a tile are among items found at the site 
[Credit: Nottingham Post]
A 5in fragment incorporating part of a jug rim and handle suggests that Nottingham pottery was decorative as well as practical.

Time lapse cameras are trained on the site, taking photographs every 30 seconds, and a digital record will be created to enable archaeologists to examine a "virtual" site after builders have started work on the Nottingham Trent University and Confetti Institute building.

Work on the digital media hub, with its 17 classrooms and media suites, will begin in May and is scheduled for completion in August 2018.

Marc Preite, Nottingham Trent University's project manager, said the discoveries would not delay the work because he had factored for archaeological work ahead of the redevelopment.

"That's a routine thing, although the City Archaeologist, Scott Lomax, had pre-warned me that there was a medium to high risk of something turning up.

"I'm not an archaeologist but it has still been a fascinating experience and it's a privilege to be involved in a project in which something interesting has been found."

The block of modern Nottingham bounded by Upper Parliament Street, Convent Street and Huntingdon Street has had several uses over the centuries. It has been home to a cigar maker and an abattoir and is now the base for Confetti Institute of Creative Technology and Antenna Media Centre.

One theory is that any commercial activity on the site in medieval times may have been connected with the adjacent St John's Hospital, which dates from the early 13th century. At the time a "hospital" had little to do with medicine and more to do with hospitality for the destitute.

The discovery of trenches at the Confetti site led to speculation that they could have been graves, perhaps connected with the hospital.

There were no signs of skeletons. Material from the trenches will be tested for evidence of calcium and phosphates, but as Paul Flintoft points out, they would be just as much evidence of animal remains as human remains.

City Archaeologist Scott Lomax is no stranger to medieval discoveries in this quarter of the old medieval town. Thanks to his intervention, the truth was established concerning partial skeletons discovered in Cranbrook Street in the 1960s.

They had long been presumed victims of cholera in the 19th century, but after Mr Lomas received funding from the Council for British Archaeology the remaining bones were carbon-tested at Oxford University and found to date from the early 15th century.

Of the latest discovery, he said: "It's a very significant site and another piece in the jigsaw that will tell us about live in Nottingham 600 or 700 years ago."

Author: J.H. Lewis | Source: Nottingham Post [February 18, 2017]

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