Anglo-Scandinavian Settlement South-west of the Ouse


list of authors
J. Moulden
Dominic Tweddle
list of contributors
D. A. Brinklow
M. Carver
S. Donaghey
R. A. Hall
Is Part Of
The Archaeology of York [Series]
Anglo-Scandinavian York (AD 876-1066) [Volume]
Council for British Archaeology for York Archaeological Trust
Date Copyrighted
Date Available
Digitally available on 13 October 2023
The ridge of land running parallel to and south-west of the River Ouse has always formed an important part of the City of York. In the Roman period it was the site of the civil town (opposite the legionary fortress which was on the north-east bank of the river), a settlement which by AD 213 had achieved the status of a colonia and was the capital of the Province of Britannia lnferior. There is little evidence for continued occupation in the area of the colonia in the immediately post-Roman period. The first indication of Anglo-Saxon settlement in the vicinity comes from a cremation cemetery on The Mount dating to the late 5th and 6th centuries, but it is not until the 8th and 9th centuries that Anglo-Saxon objects become relatively abundant within the area of the former colonia. Surviving sculpture of this period suggests that the church of St Mary Bishophill Junior was in existence at this time.

In the Anglo-Scandinavian period, settlement within the area of the former colonia is indicated by the street names, many of which contain Old Norse elements, and which form a distorted grid, possibly laid out under the supervision of the Archbishop of York who had important landholdings in this area. The extent of the settlement is confirmed by the number of churches that have yielded archaeological evidence for existence in this period, notably St Mary Bishophill Junior, St Mary Bishophill Senior, and St Clement's Nunnery at Clementhorpe outside the circuit of the medieval walls of the city. There is only slight archaeological evidence for the existence of Holy Trinity Priory and St Martin-cum-Gregory, but both are mentioned in Domesday Book. More slender threads of evidence also point to the existence of the church of St Gregory and of the chapel of St Mary Magdalene in this period.

In addition to the topographical and ecclesiastical evidence, there are nearly a hundred individual finds or sites which have produced material dating to the Anglo-Scandinavian period (catalogued on pp. 24-36). Taken together these confirm that there was considerable activity across the whole of the area of the former colonia.

Excavations have produced important evidence for settlement both inside and outside the area of the Roman colonia. At 58-9 Skeldergate, an open area excavation revealed the remains of four rectangular timber buildings, dating to the pre-Conquest period. The earliest structure, Structure A, lay to the north-east of the excavated area and fell largely outside it. The structure was post-built, with the posts placed in cobble-packed foundation trenches, and was subsequently demolished and replaced by Structure B. Structure B was also post-built, but with the posts placed in individual post-holes. Structure C, lying to the south-west of Structures A and B, was stratigraphically the next structure on the site and consisted of a beam slot oriented north-east/south-west, parallel to which was a series of pits and post-holes. These features can be interpreted either as two walls of a single structure or as the outer walls of two different structures. A conclusive interpretation was made impossible by the scale and nature of later disturbances, and by the fact that if there were originally two structures the remaining walls lay outside the area of the excavation. The next building on the site, in the south-west of the excavated area, appears to have been Structure D, again a rectangular building, but constructed using a sill-beam technique; one beam survived in situ. This produced a radiocarbon date of ad 990 + 70, but the sample may have been contaminated. South-west of Structures A and B and north-east of Structure C lay the foundation for a stone wall which may also date to the Anglo-Scandinavian period.

At 37 Bishophill Senior, immediately adjacent to 58-9 Skeldergate, no structures dating to the Anglo-Scandinavian period were discovered. However, one pit and two burials were probably of this date.

In 1976 and 1977 excavations on the site of Clementhorpe Nunnery, just outside the circuit of the medieval walls, revealed a substantial alignment of cobbles oriented east-west and 1.5-2.0m wide by 30m long. At its west and east ends this cobbled foundation returned to the north. At the southern corner of the feature were three large limestone blocks. These cobbles can be interpreted as the foundation of a large structure, possibly having a superstructure of stone, which existed on the site after the end of the Roman occupation, and which was destroyed at some time before or during the life of the medieval nunnery. It may represent a pre-Conquest church of St Clement around which the later nunnery was founded. Two 9th century coins and a coin of King Edward the Confessor point to pre-Conquest activity on the site as does the discovery of a small lead weight with an enamelled insert, probably of 9th century date.
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York Archaeological Trust
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