OA East's archaeological excavation of a site at Harvest Way, Cambridge, is now underway and expected to take up to five months to complete. Work nearby and evaluation of the site in 2013 made it clear that the remains of buildings, pits and wells of all periods from medieval to modern survive across the site in spite of the development in the 1960s which saw the erection of large factory units.
The site is important because it lies within the heart of the former lay settlement of medieval Barnwell Priory, founded by Augustinian Canons in 1092 at a site near Cambridge Castle and moved to its present site in 1112. The settlement was established separately from Cambridge to meet the priory's demand for labour on its vast farming lands. Barnwell Priory was wealthy with many holdings, including houses in Cambridge and an annual fair. But its policy of acquiring and enclosing land led to conflict with the lay community and was the main reason it was attacked in 1381 during the Peasants’ Revolt. The priory was the main place of residence for the bishops of Ely in the 15th and early 16th century and for royalty visiting Cambridge, including kings John, Henry III, Edward II, and Richard II (and his court).
After the dissolution of the priory the lay settlement declined and by 1728 St Andrew the Less had a population of 181, the smallest of the 14 Cambridge parishes. A large fire in 1731 destroyed 50 dwellings in the village. In 1749, 48 houses were recorded in the parish with 252 people and 79 houses by 1801. The population grew dramatically to 9,486 in 1841, by which time the village of Barnwell became a suburb of Cambridge. This massive increase in population created a densely built up area of mixed industrial buildings and residential slums.
So far we have investigated the 19th century archaeology of the site and have found the remains of buildings, including two with cellars, that can be traced on maps of the area, and we have high hopes of being able to match names to houses by looking at the 19th century census returns.
Want to get involved?
We will be regularly updating our blog about finds from the dig - do check for updates!