Urban Structures and Defences


list of authors
P. V. Addyman
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 27 October 2023
A series of excavations, mostly in the early 1970s, provided growing evidence for the nature and extent of settlement in Anglo-Scandinavian York and showed how much could be learnt from an examination of the well-preserved organic remains. Most of the sites lay south of the Roman fortress, on the spur of land between the Rivers Ouse and Foss, where the major Coppergate excavation of 1976-82 fulfilled the promise of the earlier investigations. The main site in this report, excavated by the York Archaeological Trust in 1972, was at Lloyds Bank, 6-8 Pavement, adjacent to the bank's premises at 2-4 Pavement where earlier observation had indicated the likely presence of well-preserved Viking structures. Four small trenches were opened in the cellars of the existing buildings, two (II, IV) on the street frontage and two (I, III) to the rear. Despite the awkward and often constricted conditions it was possible to gain a picture of the construction, occupation and destruction of a long series of mainly Anglo-Scandinavian timber buildings. Evidence of Roman activity was found at the base of Trench IV and the other trenches certainly had earlier deposits below those which were excavated.
Although no complete buildings were excavated, it was clear that all the structures were parallel, or at right-angles, to Pavement. They appear to represent a series of buildings running back from the street on two adjacent tenements, similar to those later found in the extensive excavations at 16-22 Coppergate. Building techniques varied from flimsy post and wattle walls, with daub perhaps used as a cladding, to heavier sill beam constructions with planked floors. No brick or tile was found. Roofing material was probably of turf or thatch. Floors were mainly of beaten earth or planking. A picture of what life was like in these buildings is given by the well-preserved environmental evidence, pottery and other artefacts, details of which are published separately (AY 14/4, 16/1, 17/3). Plant and insect assemblages from the richly organic deposits gave indications of diet and living conditions. Evidence of both indoor and outdoor environments was found, but the incompleteness of the buildings excavated made interpretation difficult. Animal bone appeared to be mainly from domestic food waste; in a few instances the dense accumulations may reflect the formation of rubbish in unused buildings. Cattle were the most important species, with some pig, sheep and goat. Game, domestic fowl and wild birds were eaten. Saltwater species of fish suggest trade across the North Sea and clear evidence for cereals in the diet was provided by a human coprolite. Plentiful evidence for the uses to which the buildings were put was recovered. Tools and an accumulation of leather offcuts suggested intensive leatherworking, particularly in the buildings nearest the street frontage. A little debris was also found from bone and antler working. At no time, however, was any structure exclusively used for industrial purposes; domestic articles of iron and wood as well as pottery were found within the same layers. Textiles, some linen and silk but mostly wool, in a wide variety of weight and weave were found, although any textile production seems only to have been domestic in nature. Imported artefacts included hones from southern Norway and central Europe, soapstone from the Shetlands, amber and red-painted pottery like that from the Pingsdorf kilns, all hinting at trade links with northern Europe. The smaller excavations and watching briefs reported in this fascicule afford further glimpses of Anglo-Scandinavian York and its rapid growth in the course of the 10th to 12th centuries. At 5-7 Coppergate in 1974, beneath what was then the site of a Habitat store, there was an opportunity to reassess an area interpreted by George Benson some seventy years previously as a tannery overlying a pre-Conquest defensive system. The alternative hypothesis proposed suggests the existence of sunken floor buildings. To the north-west and close to the summit of the ridge between the Foss and the Ouse, lies High Ousegate, where underpinning of a boundary wall permitted observation of at least three fence lines of presumed 9th-10th century date. Their alignment was offset less than a metre west of the wall of the standing 20th century building. About 100m north, Parliament Street was the site of three separate investigations which confirmed the documented growth of Anglo-Scandinavian deposits in this part of York. Replacement of the Victorian sewer beneath Parliament Street in 1976 and redevelopment of the properties numbered 5-7 Parliament Street in 1980 permitted watching briefs in the area. Along the line of the sewer, presumed Anglo-Scandinavian deposits of a highly organic nature were identified, increasing in depth towards the valley of the River Foss. Traces of wicker- or timber-lined pits, posts or wickerwork fencing were encountered in the northern part of the trench and timber sill-beams and associated ashy clay floors at the south-eastern end. Beneath 5-7 Parliament Street were found posts and planks from buildings of the 12th-13th century, perhaps with Anglo-Scandinavian predecessors beneath. During reconstruction in 1971 of the Midland Bank at 11-13 Parliament Street on the corner of Market Street, Roman features were revealed at the northern end of the site (described in AY 6/1). Almost a metre above, separated by a layer of featureless black silt, a clay floor for a timber building may date to the Anglo-Scandinavian period. Some 400m to the west, on the corner of Museum Street and Lendal, an excavation, by the then York Archaeological Working Committee, of the south-western ditches of the legionary fortress, revealed linear features probably of the Anglo-Scandinavian or Anglo-Norman period. A series of trenches parallel to the fortress wall represented a fence or palisade which may have supplemented the possibly ruined Roman defences or might equally well have marked a property boundary. A review of all the currently available evidence for the evolution of defences around the Roman fortress explores the stages by which its south-west and south-east sides altered and were replaced in the Anglo-Scandinavian period. It is suggested that the later medieval circuit had its origin at this time. Finally, in October 1990, watching briefs in the street outside 2-4,20 and 22 Pavement revealed features of Anglo-Scandinavian date, which are discussed in relation to the others recorded hereabouts.
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York Archaeological Trust
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