Revolutionising our understanding of Southwell's past

28 Sep 2011 13:32:44.483

PA 286/11

They came expecting to find Romans but what they discovered could revolutionise our understanding of the historic Cathedral town of Southwell in Nottinghamshire.

A team of archaeologists from The University of Nottingham think they have discovered the remains of an Anglo-Saxon defensive enclosure and planned town. For the first time they believe they have the evidence which links the well recorded Roman settlement at Southwell to the later  Medieval Minster site.

This summer the small army of academics and students got permission to dig for Romans at the bottom of people’s gardens. The two week dig also involved a detailed archaeological building survey of the country’s most complete workhouse. Built in 1824 and now owned by the National Trust the Southwell Workhouse was the prototype for all future Union workhouses and it is the most complete one of the system to survive.




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In their search to find out more about Southwell’s Roman settlement and how the town evolved as the centuries unfolded the Nottingham archaeologists discovered what they believe is an ancient Burh — an Anglo Saxon enclosure around the historic core of the cathedral town. The remains of ancient banks and ditches still survive today, but a test pit near one of these banks revealed a ditch which contained small fragments of pottery that have got the archaeologists determined to come back and find out more.

Dr Naomi Sykes, a lecturer in Zooarchaeology, who led the two week dig said: “We excavated all manner of finds from this ditch, including modern day pottery. In the same area we found bits of roman motaria — ancient roman pottery kitchen vessels. But further down in the earlier deposits we discovered fragments of medieval pottery. This exciting find ties the Roman site to the later Medieval Minster site and suggests that there was settlement activity and buildings around that period.”

Dr Chris King, a lecturer in archaeology, said: “We’ve only had a short time to dig and it has left us with many more questions that need answering. The people of Southwell have laid their gardens open for students to come and dig large holes in them but they are very excited about our discoveries and we are already making plans to return next summer to continue the work we began in June.”

There is another opportunity to see what the team are up to when they return to the Southwell Workhouse on the weekend of October 1 and 2 2011. The same team from the Department of Archaeology will be digging another series of test pits with the help of the Southwell Community Archaeology Group — this time to help piece together the history of the workhouse and hopefully tell them more about the history of Southwell itself.

The dig will take place each day between 12 noon and 4pm.

Dr King said: “Southwell Workhouse is a site of national importance and we hope that archaeology can shed new light on life in the Workhouse as well as the earlier history of the town.”

Visitors to the Workhouse are welcome to come along and watch the dig in progress, free of charge, and to see a selection of artefacts uncovered during the two week dig which took place in July.

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Notes to editors

The Workhouse is open Wednesday – Sunday, 12noon – 5pm (last admission 4.00pm), until October 30 2011. For more information about the Workhouse go to:

 The University of Nottingham, described by The Sunday Times University Guide 2011 as ‘the embodiment of the modern international university’, has award-winning campuses in the United Kingdom, China and Malaysia. It is ranked in the UK's Top 10 and the World's Top 75 universities by the Shanghai Jiao Tong (SJTU) and the QS World University Rankings. It was named ‘Europe’s greenest university’ in the UI GreenMetric World University Ranking, a league table of the world’s most environmentally-friendly higher education institutions, which ranked Nottingham second in the world overall.


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More than 90 per cent of research at The University of Nottingham is of international quality, according to the most recent Research Assessment Exercise, with almost 60 per cent of all research defined as ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’. Research Fortnight analysis of RAE 2008 ranked the University 7th in the UK by research power. The University’s vision is to be recognised around the world for its signature contributions, especially in global food security, energy & sustainability, and health.

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Story credits

More information is available from Dr Chris King,; or Jane Button or Wendy Purvis at The Workhouse on +44 (0) 16368 17260
Lindsay Brooke

Lindsay Brooke - Media Relations Manager

Email: Phone: +44 (0)115 951 5751 Location: University Park

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