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St Richard’s Friary, 2012 excavation: what we found

A north to south trench was excavated 20m south of the 2011 site to try and find the remains of the Friary church’s south wall.

First, the remains of C18th to C20th horticultural activity had to be excavated and recorded. Underneath the garden deposits, a large quantity of Dissolution (after 1538) and C17th debris derived from Friary stone robbing was found, mostly shattered sandstone, decayed mortar and plaster lumps with broken floor tiles and drilled stone roofing slabs.

Lying on its clay-bonded

sandstone foundations,

 single course of

mortar-bonded faced

wall coursing was found.

The heavily robbed wall

was 86cm wide and set

on a 1.2m wide foundation.


An integrated buttress foundation projected 1m south from the wall foundation, in exactly the position predicted by the outline plan drawn in 2011.

This wall and buttress are believed to be the remains of the Friary church south wall.

A demonstrably earlier mortar-bonded wall lay1.5m north of the later wall and was equipped with a weep-hole drain which still functioned, carrying away the groundwater oozing from the natural clay. The earlier wall had been dismantled, leaving only a line of clay-bonded foundation, but retained the mortar imprint of the wall it once supported.

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Dating the walls by independent means is, so far, impossible, given that only 2m of each was exposed and no artefacts were found in direct association with them. However, we do have some clues. The window tracery excavated  in 2011 has been dated on architectural grounds to the period 1360 to 1380. Secondly, we have a reference to the Friars’ church and buildings being ‘ruinous’ in 1373 and timber being donated for their rebuilding. Both dates tally, suggesting that the first church, construction of which began just after the Friary’s foundation in 1256, was in ruins by the 1370s, exactly the date range of the window tracery when supplied new, thus implying a rebuilding at about 1374. The two walls found may well represent both the early (narrower) and later (wider) churches suggested by the independent sources.

A C17th or C18th buttress was found buried by horticultural soils and hospital period tarmac surfacing. The 2.3m-long buttress was directly bonded to the stump of the north – south stone wall bounding Bluebell Steps to the east. The stone wall is now surmounted by a brick replacement, probably dating from the 1938 construction of Hydes Ward and its entrance from the Bluebell Steps.

See also:

Background to St Richard’s

1963 dig

2011 dig

Site plan (2012)