OA East had the rare opportunity to excavate a part of urban Cambridge between February and June 2014. The site excavated for Ashbury Construction Services is of particular importance, since it is located within the heart of the medieval settlement of Barnwell, and is across the road from Barnwell Priory. Both were later consumed by the town’s expansion to become a suburb of it by the early 19th century.
Initially, it was the post-medieval archaeology that proved to be particularly interesting, with discoveries of glass making waste and pottery probably dating to the early 19th century. A number of the plates were inscribed with personal names, including a plate of Henry Shippey, a cook at St John’s College, Cambridge, between 1813 and 1837. The team also uncovered a 17th-century cobbled surface and associated walls identified as storage for keeping fleeces or barrels, and a brick built cellar. Finds from it included lamps and vast quantities of drinking vessels, including several Belarmine jugs. Digging deeper into the medieval horizons uncovered at least nine medieval plots, including parts of their frontages with post-built structures and clay floors. Their back plots contained masses of intercutting pits, clay-lined tanks, some ovens and 10 wells. Environmental evidence pointed to various processing activities across the settlement, with evidence of fish bones, cereals and insect and crop parasite infestations.
From the start, volunteers were invited to process finds at the OA offices at Bar Hill, and a dedicated team was quickly established. An open day was held in the summer, and visits to local schools were undertaken by OA to talk about the discoveries.