Discussion and Conclusions (Part 1)

Structural Development

The excavations at 41–9 Walmgate produced a sequence of well-preserved and closely stratified archaeological deposits which spanned the mid 10th to the 20th century. They uncovered a complex sequence of buildings fronting onto Walmgate and the rear of buildings fronting onto St Denys' Road. The extent and complexity of the buildings fluctuated through time, as did the property boundaries, and no evidence for a definite rear boundary to the plots was found. The orientation of property boundaries was consistent throughout the sequence from Anglo-Scandinavian to modern times: north-east to south-west. There was, however, at least one period (early 12th to early 13th century) when no buildings or property boundaries seem to have existed. The precise position of property boundaries shifted over time.

The earliest evidence recovered was a series of timber buildings dating from the mid 10th to the late 11th century (Phases 1 to 4). Initially there were post-built structures close to the Walmgate frontage and stake- and wattle-built buildings to the rear. A rapid succession of buildings followed on both the Walmgate street frontage and the eastern side of the site, using both these construction techniques and, in one case (Building F), a rubble footing was used to support a sill beam. A more uniform pattern of slot-built foundations appears in Phase 4 for the rear walls of properties fronting onto Walmgate.

The Anglo-Scandinavian properties varied in size. The earliest were c.5.7m wide, whereas the Phase 4 properties were up to 7.2m wide. Overall dimensions for the buildings were not recovered because some of their walls lay outside the area of excavation. Evidence for the unification and subdivision of properties as well as the re-arrangement of property divisions was recorded. Buildings A and H were used for domestic purposes, with Building A also used for wool processing and perhaps leatherworking. Other activities on or close to the site may have included metalworking. This contrasts with evidence from Coppergate where craft working and industrial activities were intensively carried out (R.A. Hall, pers. comm.). The limited area of excavation at Walmgate may explain this disparity, or it may be that particular activities were concentrated in particular areas of the city. Building H appears to have been built on top of a deliberately created construction platform, perhaps to keep it above rising ground water, resulting from the damming of the River Foss and the creation of the King's Fishpool in the late 11th century.

In the early 12th century, the area was cleared of buildings and the land remained open for approximately a century. The dramatic change from a densely occupied urban settlement to open land suggests a major depopulation of this part of York at this time. This has been witnessed in other areas of the city including Hungate (Macnab and McComish unpublished) and Little Stonegate (Macnab unpublished b). It was not a universal pattern, however, as buildings stood in Coppergate throughout the 12th and 13th centuries (AY 10/06) and also in Aldwark (AY 10/02).

In the late 12th and early 13th century ovens were constructed in the north-west corner of the excavation area. These were probably used for a clean process such as bread baking. A number of gullies and post-holes on the eastern side of the site reveal an increase in activity here, but their exact function could not be ascertained. Artefactual evidence suggests that metalworking and horn working were carried out in the vicinity.

Buildings were again erected on the Walmgate street frontage in the early 13th century after the construction of a road surface, a precursor of the present Walmgate. These consisted of two adjacent buildings, the easternmost (Building M) having a kitchen attached to its southern side. Both buildings were thought to have been used for craft activities, perhaps being deliberately sited away from residential areas and close to the main road. The westernmost (Building N) was used for iron smithing, and other crafts, such as lead working, bone and horn working, were also carried out within the buildings.

Later in the 13th century Building M was demolished and a rudimentary structure (Building O) was built for an unknown craft activity. To the east a new property boundary extended back from Walmgate. Iron, copper and lead working waste was recovered from pits and dumps associated with this property boundary, indicating metalworking in the vicinity. Scattered industrial activities continued into the early 14th century, with the digging of a sunken work area and the disposal of industrial waste nearby.

In the early 14th century the area was cleared before the laying out of two new property boundaries. Three timber-framed buildings were then constructed, Buildings Q and R with their long axis at right angles to Walmgate, and Building P parallel to it. Building Q may have had a domestic function, with a kitchen or craft working area at its southern end. Buildings P and R may have been used as warehouses. In the mid to late 14th century Buildings P and Q were rebuilt as Buildings T and S respectively. Building S consisted of two rooms and appears to have had a domestic function. Copper alloy waste was found in levelling material within Buildings R and S, but we cannot be sure whether metalworking actually took place in either building. Smithing waste was recovered in the backyard area. Building T was replaced by Building U, also with its long axis at right angles to Walmgate. This new building was divided into two rooms, that closest to the street frontage being used for metalworking.

The area underwent further reorganisation in the early 15th century, the earlier boundary being moved 2m to the east. This suggests the acquisition of a portion of the Walmgate street frontage. Buildings R and S were demolished, Building U extended, and two new buildings (V and W) were constructed. Building V was a hall parallel to the Walmgate street frontage. Its construction and the movement of the property boundary may suggest depopulation at this time, land on the street frontage becoming available for construction after the Black Death of 1348-50. Building V may have re-used an early 14th century timber framework from another building, as the RCHM Building Survey (see archaeological and historical background) proposes a date for Building V c.100 years earlier than that suggested by the archaeological evidence. Archaeological evidence also suggests that the hall was soon divided into two storeys at its eastern end with the addition of an exterior stairbase. Building W was constructed in the yard behind Building V and was used for iron smithing. Building U was divided into three rooms: the front was a shop unit, the middle was used first for domestic purposes and later for metalworking, and the southern room was used as a kitchen. To the east of Building V, an alley or lane gave access to the yard and Building W, whilst to the west of Building U, a row of cottages (including Building X) fronting onto St Denys' Road were constructed.

In the early part of the 15th century Building U was re-organised. Its northern room was converted to a hall, either for use by the metalworking artisans or to be sublet. The middle and southern rooms were amalgamated and used for metalworking. Building V had a new central hearth and a screens passage was inserted between Buildings U and V. Building Y was constructed to the south of Buildings U and W, perhaps serving as a storage or finishing area for the metalworkers. Building W continued to be used for metalworking. Later in the century the northern room of Building U was converted into a shop unit, but before the end of the century the entire building was used for metalworking, both iron smithing and copper alloy working; a large furnace was constructed in the southern room.

The late 15th or early 16th century saw the renovation of Buildings V and W, whilst Building U continued to function as a workshop for both iron smithing and copper alloy working. Towards the mid 16th century a new stake- and post-built partition wall was inserted between Buildings U and V. Both iron and copper alloy metalworking continued in Building U until the late 16th century. Iron smithing alone seems to have taken place in the northern room, whilst mixed iron and copper alloy working took place in the southern room. Building V may have been used for metalworking, possibly being converted into two workshops at this time. Its eastern end was cleared before the construction of large hearths and a possible corner furnace. Buildings W and Y were demolished by the late 16th century.

Buildings U, V and X were radically re-organised in the early 17th century. The area to the south of Buildings U and V was cleared before the insertion of a well shaft. Following this Building V was extended to the south and a new yard area laid out. In the 18th century Building Z was constructed, fronting onto Walmgate. An alley was inserted between Buildings V and Z to provide access to the yard behind Buildings U and V. Finally, in modern times, Buildings U and V were reorganised into three tenements. The buildings (U, V, X and Z) were all demolished by 1966.

Discussions and Conclusions (Part 2): Metalworking

Click to enlarge
Excavation in progress

Click to enlarge
Stake- and wattle-built buildings

Click to enlarge
Bone spindle whorl

Click to enlarge
Ovens during excavation

Click to enlarge
Buildings R and S during excavation

Click to enlarge
View across yard and Buildings U, V and W

Click to enlarge
Central hearth in Building V during excavation

Click to enlarge
Buildings U and V

Click to enlarge
Layout of post-medieval buildings
© Copyright York Archaeological Trust 2003