Architectural Fragments


Forty-seven architectural fragments (AFs) were recorded on the excavations. All the AFs were clearly re-used. They are discussed on a phase by phase basis elsewhere within the report.


The architectural fragments were washed, labelled (using tyvek labels) and then recorded on York Archaeological Trust pro-forma recording sheets. In addition to a written description, sketches were drawn on the reverse of the record sheets for all but the most fragmentary architectural stones, record photographic shots were taken, rubbings were taken of any tooling marks present, and tracings of any banker mason's marks were made. Recommendations as to which stones were retained and which were discarded were noted. The resultant records were then transferred onto the Integrated Archaeological Data Base. Some of the architectural fragments were subsequently re-photographed to provide publication-standard images.


Three types of tooling were observed on the architectural fragments. The first consisted of striated tooling lines, which are created by using an undecorated blade such as an axe or chisel. The resultant tooling lines can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal depending on the direction of the draught. In some cases two diagonals in opposite directions give crossed striated lines. The striated lines were often coarser on faces which were originally concealed within the wall and finer on external faces (AY 10/04, 347–8).

The second tooling type present was claw tooling, which is created using a chisel or axe which has a series of evenly spaced teeth cut out of the flat edge. The resultant blade, called a claw, leaves rows of small rectangular indentations, the size of which depends on the number and spacing of the teeth on the claw used. Claw tooling was the dominant type used in York from c.1200. The change from striated to claw tooling is marked enough to enable the presence of claw tooling to be used to assign an approximate date to stones for which there is no other dating evidence (AY 11/02, 227 and AY 10/04, 347).

The third tooling type results from the use of blades or rasps, which were repeatedly dragged backward and forward across the external faces of blocks in order to give a fine finish to the surface. The resultant drag tooling lines consist of very fine parallel striations (AY 10/04, 347).

A single banker mason's mark was seen on the architectural fragments from Walmgate. Mason's marks act as a signature showing which mason carved a particular stone. It may be that masons were paid according to the number of blocks they carved and therefore needed to sign them. Alternatively they might have signed pieces they were particularly proud of. Setting out lines were also present on some of the architectural fragments from the excavations. These lines were carved to guide the masons when shaping the block.

Sources for the architectural fragments

Relatively few secular buildings in York were constructed from stone so it is highly unlikely that any of the architectural fragments were originally made for use in buildings constructed on the site. The most likely source for the architectural fragments was ecclesiastical buildings, which were constructed from stone. During the medieval period there were six churches in the Walmgate area. Two of the churches went out of use as early as the 14th century. The church of St Mary, Walmgate, was probably in existence by 1155–1165, was listed in documents of 1315, but was not mentioned in assessments of 1397. The church was probably demolished during the early–mid 14th century. The precise location of the church is unknown, but it is traditionally placed on the south side of Walmgate opposite the entrance to St Margaret's church (Wilson and Mee 1998, 5 and 120). The church of St Stephen, Fishergate, was first mentioned in 1093, but was annexed to St Martin-le-Grand in 1331 and was probably demolished at this time, although the churchyard is mentioned in a will of 1405 (Wilson and Mee 1998, 154). These two demolished churches would undoubtedly have been an attractive source for building stone, and since both were located c.150m from the excavation area they may well be the source of the majority of the architectural fragments on site. All the datable architectural fragments could have come from churches demolished in the early 14th century.

In addition to these demolished churches the site was also close to the two surviving churches of St Denys and St Margaret. Both of these were altered and repaired throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods (Wilson and Mee 1998, 73 and 98), and these alterations could have yielded stones which were removed for use on other buildings nearby.

Other possible sources for the architectural fragments were the church of St Peter-le-Willow near Walmgate Bar which was demolished in 1549 and the church of St George, Fishergate, which was a roofless ruin from 1644 until its final demolition in the early 19th century (Wilson and Mee 1998, 81 and 145).

The architectural fragments from the site

By far the largest group of architectural fragments from the site consisted of limestone blocks (AFs 1–4, 6–9, 11, 13–30, 32, 36–37, 41–44 and 47). Limestone was used as a building material in both the Roman and medieval periods, the Roman blocks tending to be much smaller than the medieval ones (AY 11/02, 227). All the fragments on the site were of medieval date by virtue of their size, tooling types or the decoration present.

The limestone architectural fragments were carved into a number of different forms. There were seven ashlar blocks (AFs 6, 11, 17, 23, 25, 41, 43), which were all clearly of medieval date. Only AFs 6 and 25 exhibited claw tooling, dating them to the 13th century or later. Fourteen chamfered blocks were present, two of which were adjoining fragments (AFs 2, 4, 7, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 24, 27, 28, 30, 36 and 44). Chamfered blocks are relatively common throughout the medieval period as they are used for string-courses, plinths, sills and jambs. The majority of the chamfered blocks had striated tooling (AFs 2, 4, 7, 20, 24, 36 and 44) and could therefore only be dated as medieval, but a few were 13th century or later in date as they had claw tooling (AFs 19, 27, 28 and 30). The remaining fragments were too eroded for tooling to survive (AFs 13, 14 and 18). Some of the chamfered blocks (AFs 2, 20, 24, 27, 28 and 30) were clearly from jambs, one was clearly a window sill (AF7), while the remainder were either sills or plinths. A mason's mark in the shape of a letter M or W was present on jamb fragment AF2. AF8 was a heavily worn limestone fragment, and the pattern of wear suggested it may originally have been a door sill. AF42 was a small irregular fragment which may originally have been wall core that was later re-used.

The moulded blocks found during the excavations (AFs 1, 3, 9, 15, 16, 21, 22, 26, 29, 32, 37 and 47) comprised a variety of forms. These included a detached shaft, a stone basin, a string-course, fragments of window jambs, an elaborately moulded voussoir, a hood mould, a combined window sill and mullion base, a block from a circular pier, and a shaft with an annulet. Four of the fragments could be dated to later than 1200 due to the presence of claw tooling (AFs 16, 21, 22 and 26). Three of the blocks were carved with mouldings seen during the Early English and Decorated styles of architecture (AFs 1, 15 and 16) suggesting a date range from 1180 to 1350. A further five had mouldings which could be from Decorated or Perpendicular churches, giving a date range of 1280–1550 (AFs 9, 21, 22, 32 and 37). Others could have been carved at any time between the 12th and 15th century. AF47 must have been carved in the 12th century as it was found within deposits of that date. AF3 was clearly medieval but the date could not be refined. AF29 was a large block of curving shape, the exact function of which is unclear; again the dating could not be refined beyond saying it was medieval.

Millstone fragments

Five fragments of millstones (AFs 5, 10, 12, 33 and 46) were present. The millstones were either made from coarse-grained red sandstone or millstone grit. In the case of AF5 and AF33 it was impossible to calculate the original circumference of the millstone. AF10 was in excess of 0.94m in diameter, AF12 was 0.96m in diameter and AF46 was 1.60m in diameter. AFs 5, 12 and 33 all had parallel grooves underneath, while AF10 had concentric circles underneath. AF46 lacked any grooves, but was quite badly eroded. The fragments were probably from large commercial millstones, from either wind- or water-powered mills. Mills of this type began to operate in the 12th and early 13th centuries, after which the use of hand querns was discouraged (N. Rogers, pers. comm.). The millstones on site could therefore be of any date from the 12th century onwards.

Other architectural fragments

Four small fragments of sandstone floor-flags (AFs 34, 39, 40 and 45) were recovered on site, but none was in its original position. The fragments were so small that they cannot be said to constitute evidence for a stone floor within any of the buildings on site. It is more likely they were simply fragments robbed from elsewhere for re-use as building material.

A small number of stones from the site were allocated AF numbers but probably had non-architectural functions. Two of these (AF31 and AF38) were probably used for sharpening tools as they were covered with deep grooves. AF35 was a block of smoothed banded metamorphic rock. Such rock is not used in building construction in York, and again the fragment may have been used for sharpening or polishing metal tools.

Phase 5
Phase 6
Phase 7
Phase 8
Phase 9.2
Phase 9.3
Phase 9.4
Phase 9.6
Phase 9.8
Phase 9.9
Phase 10
Phase 11
Phase 13

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Striated tooling on an external surface of 12th century date from the Bedern excavations, York

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Striated tooling on a concealed surface of late 12th century date from the Bedern excavations, York

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Claw tooling of late 13th–early 14th century date from the Bedern excavations, York

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Drag tooling of 14th century date from the Bedern excavations, York

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Architectural fragment 2, with mason's mark

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Architectural fragment 21

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A lithograph by F. Bedford of St Denys' church Walmgate c.1843

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A lithograph by F. Bedford of St Margaret's church Walmgate c.1843

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Architectural fragment 21

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Architectural fragment 15
© Copyright York Archaeological Trust 2003