Medieval Urbanism in Coppergate: Refining a Townscape


list of authors
R. A. Hall
K. Hunter-Mann
list of contributors
S. Rees Jones
C. Daniell
R. Finlayson
A. Mainman
J. Hillam
C. Groves
J. A. Spriggs
I. Panter
B. Lott
Is Part Of
The Archaeology of York [Series]
The Medieval Walled City North-East of the Ouse [Volume]
Council for British Archaeology for York Archaeological Trust
Date Copyrighted
Date Available
Digitally available on 11 August 2023
Investigations of three sites in the Coppergate area — one large area excavation, one small-scale excavation, and a large-scale watching brief — are reported here. Excavation of 1000m² at 16–22 Coppergate, a street of Anglo-Scandinavian origin, encountered parts of four medieval tenement plots, and traced their development from the Norman Conquest to the post-medieval period. The impact of William the Conqueror on this part of York, through the erection of York castle and the damming of the River Foss to flood its defensive ditch and create the King’s Pool, was identified in the introduction of substantial levelling dumps at the riverward end of the properties. It took a longer process of dumping and levelling to erase the topographic dichotomy inherited from the Anglo-Scandinavian period, when intensive, ground-raising activity at the street frontage had resulted in the creation of a steeply sloping zone midway towards the river end of the excavation, where no buildings could be constructed. From the mid 13th century, however, the whole site was potentially available for building upon. Anaerobic conditions, particularly in Anglo-Norman levels, facilitated the preservation of structural timbers, as well as a range of organic and inorganic artefacts and environmental data.

Documentary evidence from c.1300 onwards indicates that Coppergate was the residence of wealthy and influential citizens in the 14th and 15th centuries, before gradually becoming a slightly less desirable area. Although no structures survived on the street frontage, decipherable remains of at least 26 buildings of later 11th- to 17th-century date were recorded, together with ancillary features such as pits, walls, paths, dumps and levelling deposits. The structural remains are an important series, which make a significant contribution to bridging the gap in York between excavated building remains of Anglo-Scandinavian date and surviving structures of the 14th century and later; they also reveal building types and development patterns in backlands behind the street frontage. The excavation also charted a continually evolving pattern of land use, legible principally in fluctuating access and boundary arrangements. The size, chronological range and intensity of activity single out this complex of evidence as an unusually significant case study of medieval urban development.

Tree-ring analysis of 131 samples from medieval and post-medieval Coppergate produced a master chronology spanning the period AD 950– 1395. Many of the tree-ring dates were much earlier than expected from other archaeological evidence, probably due to the re-use or stockpiling of timbers. Other samples could not be dated, probably because the timber came from a diverse range of sources, possibly including hedgerows.
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York Archaeological Trust
CC BY 4.0
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