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Roman lime kiln found under City Arcade in Exeter


Archaeologists have excavated incredible new evidence of the Roman fortress and barracks which occupied a chunk of riverside Exeter.

Roman lime kiln found under City Arcade in Exeter
The remains of a Roman lime kiln found under City Arcade in Exeter 
[Credit: Devon Live]
In the decades after the Roman Conquest (around AD55), City Arcade and Fore Street lay within a legionary fortress, and later formed part of the Roman town of Isca Dumnoniorum.

A drone photograph shows the incredible detail of the layout from above, after being unearthed during works to create luxury student flats.

It's the second important Roman discovery made during works to build student flats in the West Quarter in recent years. In 2017 the home of a wealthy family was found under Quintana Gate.

A particularly unusual discovery at City Arcade is the visible, large oval sunken feature (5m in diameter and 1.7m deep) of Roman date which had a quantity of lime and charcoal in its base.


This is believed to be an early example of a lime kiln, where limestone would have been heated inside the kiln to make lime for use as mortar in buildings.

This is only the second example of a Roman lime kiln excavated in Devon to date and a rare find nationwide.

From circa 1200 St John’s church was located adjacent to the site and was connected to it by a long-demolished arch called St John’s Bow, which bridged John Street.

In more recent times, the Coachmaker’s Arms public house (now the Fat Pig pub) lay at the Smythen Street end of the plot, on the other side of John Street.

A very well-preserved group of finds dating from about 1700 has been recovered from a large rubbish pit, including numerous ceramic tankards, fragments of glass wine goblets, near complete clay pipes, and a whole two-handled drinking cup known as a tyg.

Roman lime kiln found under City Arcade in Exeter
Pottery from the 1700s including clay pipes
[Credit: Devon Live]
These finds are likely to have come from a nearby inn, almost certainly the former Coachmaker’s Arms, which is known to have been in existence in 1765 and probably before this.

Stuart Randall, who is leading the AC archaeology team, said: "It’s always great to work on a new site in central Exeter which is adding so much to our knowledge of the city.

"I must admit that finding the kiln was a bit of a surprise, as big industrial features within the Roman town boundaries are very unusual."

Once the excavation has been completed, construction work will begin in earnest.

The archaeologists will then have the task of carrying out research on the archaeological records generated as part of the excavation, specialists will carry out analysis on the various artefacts found and ultimately a detailed report will be prepared on the overall findings.


It is not known whether URBN will incorporate any of the findings into the building.

Christian Hookway of URBN Construction commented: "It has been an interesting exercise undertaking the archaeological investigation at the former City Arcade site; the finding of the Roman industrial -scale lime kiln was fascinating to see excavated to such precision and that the structure has been fully intact below ground for a couple of thousand years.

"The quantity of the smaller items being found is astounding, in that complete and fragmented tankards, glass vessels, clay pipes and Roman pottery are uncovered daily by the archaeological team, giving historical significance to the current project and contributing to furthering the catalogue of the history of Exeter’’.

Andrew Pye of Exeter City Council commented: "It is an important site, located just within the Roman legionary fortress and the Roman and medieval walled city, and demonstrates just how much of Exeter’s history can survive beneath modern buildings, despite damage caused by bombing and modern concrete foundations.

"It is a good example of how the planning system and developers work together to make sure that remains affected by new development are properly excavated and recorded, thereby adding to our knowledge of the development of the fortress and of the city that followed, for the public benefit.

"I look forward to in due course to seeing the published report and hopefully some of the finds on display.”

Author: Alex Richards | Source: Devon Live [June 18, 2019]

TANN

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