Everyday Life (Part 1)
 

Introduction

The Everyday Life section brings together all the items recovered from the site which relate to the daily life of the inhabitants. These include objects used in the preparation and consumption of food and drink, structural fittings and lamps from the buildings (Part 1), personal and dress accessories (Part 2), and items relating to music and recreation, to writing and to trading, horse equipment and weapons (Part 3).

Food preparation

Rotary querns

Rotary querns were used to grind grain into flour, and remnants of these tough stone domestic tools are fairly common finds on middle and later Saxon period sites, their use beginning to decline from the 12th century onwards, when prohibitions against personal querns came into force (Biddle and Smith 1990, 882). Although their use for grinding grain tailed off at this period, fragments often appear in medieval levels, sometimes re-used for packing post-holes, or built into walls or hearths (see for example AY 17/15, p.2799). Three fragments found at Walmgate, all in Phase 5–7 levels (SF01412, SF01561, SF01376) are of basalt lava, a material typically used in the Anglo-Scandinavian period in York for querns (AY 17/14, Table 255, p.2551), and possibly imported from Germany (AY 17/15, p.2799). SF01412 was recovered in material which backfilled a robbing cut from a demolished double oven structure in the backyard area, possibly used for bread baking; at 16–22 Coppergate, lava quern fragments were similarly recovered from deposits associated with a demolished 12th century bakery (AY 17/15, 2799). Also recovered at Walmgate were a large quern fragment made of Millstone Grit (SF01432), perhaps formed from a re-used Roman fragment of gritstone (pers.comm., P.L. Manning), and a second fragment of gritstone (SF01569), less certainly but probably part of a quern. The gritstone probably derived from the Pennines.

Mortars

Three finds (SF00929, SF00920, SF00921) comprise fragments of five mortars, all made of Magnesian Limestone. Mortars were used with a pestle for grinding various materials, including foodstuffs, and they appear to have superseded rotary querns for grinding materials during the 13th century. Like the querns, they are very durable, and fragments recovered may have been re-used, so pinpointing a date for their initial use is difficult. An example of this is SF00929 which comprises three fragments from two mortars, which all appear to have been re-used within the walls of the Phase 9.4 garderobe. The mortars share certain features including broad rim bands, moulded projections and broad ribs running down the body; the projections and ribs provided strength to the mortars, and also enabled them to be set into table tops, thus allowing use of both hands in the grinding. Similar mortars have been found on other medieval sites in York including Coppergate and Bedern (AY 17/15, 2799).

Vessels

Glass

Medieval vessel glass is a relatively rare survival, partly because it deteriorates significantly when buried, and the glass that has survived usually comes from high-status sites, such as castles, palaces, manors and some ecclesiastical sites (AY 17/15, p.2814). The site at Walmgate is not of high status, and it is therefore no surprise that little vessel glass was found in the medieval levels. Three fragments (SF01223, SF01237, SF01251) all appear to be residual Roman body fragments, while SF00870 appears to be post-medieval/modern in date and therefore represents contamination. Just a single tiny fragment (SF00408) may be from a medieval vessel.

Stone

A body fragment from a stone vessel, probably a bowl, was found in a pit (SF01568). The thick-walled bowl was made of steatite, a stone type which it has been suggested, probably originated in the Dalradian Supergroup in Shetland (AY 17/14, p.2541). There is blackening on both the interior and exterior surfaces, indicating that the bowl had been subject to heat, and was probably used for cooking. Similar vessel fragments were found mainly in Anglo-Scandinavian deposits at Coppergate, and it is thought that finished or roughed-out bowls were imported from Scandinavian settlements in Shetland (AY 17/14, p.2605). Although found in a late 12th–early 13th century pit, SF01568 was recovered alongside 10th–11th century pottery, with which it is likely to be contemporary.

Structural fittings

Roofing lead offcuts

Two strips of lead sheet with nail holes (SF01041, SF01058) probably result from the removal of roofing lead from a building; the sheet would have been lifted off the roof by cutting round the nails holding it in place (AY 17/15, p.2832). The lead roofing may have come from a locally demolished or refurbished church in the locality; one possible candidate is St Mary, Walmgate, which was demolished in the early 14th century. Another is the still existing church of St Denys, also on Walmgate (see Architectural Fragments report). Wherever these offcuts came from originally, they were probably destined for recycling.

Window came

A single fragment of lead alloy window came (SF00804), into which window glass would have been set, was found in a Phase 11 deposit, but must be medieval in date. It presumably derives, like the roofing lead, from a local church (see above).

Window glass

In addition to fragments of modern window glass found in modern levels (SF00282, SF00285), two fragments of earlier plain window glass were identified. SF00409 is a dark green fragment; it has grozed edges and is likely to be medieval. SF01567 was recovered from a Phase 5 pit, but may be a fragment of Roman window glass.

Structural items and fittings of iron

SF00914 is an eyed bar; the tang would have been set in timber and the eye probably served to hold another object in place. SF00806 is a curious object, some 290mm long. It exists as a strip, pierced at one end, and becomes a large loop (diameter 115mm), the end of which is also pierced. The loop probably served to hold a timber of rounded cross-section.

SF01375 is a strap with a looped end which was probably a hinge. Other large straps which may have been part of hinges are SF00862, SF00916 and SF00971 which range in length from 70–120mm long. SF00589 was probably part of a small hinge strap. There are also three hinge pivots, SF01256, SF01388, SF00557, which were used for hanging doors. In addition there are two L-shaped wall hooks SF00821 and SF00972; the latter was found in an area of renovation at the eastern end of Building V. SF01051 may be a large (110mm long) U-shaped hook.

Fittings from furniture include SF00824, one half of a small pinned hinge fitting which is plated. SF01209 is an incomplete stapled hasp.

Miscellaneous iron fittings include SF01044, the only nail with plating, probably tin. It is also dome-headed and was probably used on a chest or casket.

There are four small U-shaped staples: SF00489 (or broken chain link), SF00950, SF01290 and SF01435. SF01577 is a chain link and SF01148 is a small ferrule which was probably set on the tip of a wooden pole. SF01369 is small pierced plate.

Copper alloy binding strip

A fragmentary decorated strip, SF01265 is perhaps part of a binding strip. The decoration of opposed animal heads in relief, with prominent ears and squared off snouts with dot nostrils, is very reminiscent of late 9th–early 10th century strap-ends. On a strap-end found at Coppergate, the squared snout was thought to be indicative of an Anglo-Scandinavian attribution (AY 17/14, 10423), and so, although recovered from a 14th century dump, it seems probable that SF01265 is residual from the Anglo-Scandinavian period.

Copper alloy ring

SF00877 is incomplete and its function is uncertain, but it may be part of a copper alloy ring or chain link.

Possible terminal

SF01470 is made of copper alloy and appears to be a terminal, although to what it would have been fitted is unknown. Of complicated construction, it has a triple-lobed upper end, and a central pin which runs the length of the terminal, projecting slightly below the base and beyond the top of the terminal.

Lighting

Lamp

A fragment of a Magnesian Limestone multiple-well lamp (SF01425) was found in a levelling deposit. Parts of two wells survive but it is unclear if other wells are also missing; a similar lamp, also of Magnesian Limestone, and also with at least two rectangular wells, was recovered from a mid-14th to early 15th century deposit at the College of Vicars Choral at Bedern (AY 17/15, 13475). More expensive than candles, these multiple-well lamps would have held oil, and are generally thought to have been particular to ecclesiastical sites (AY 17/15, p.2860). As with the lead roofing offcuts (see above), SF01425 may have been removed from a church in the area (see Architectural Fragments report), although whether it was used complete, or as useful rubble, is unknown.

Locks and keys

Padlock

SF01460 is an incomplete barrel padlock case of standard medieval type; the surviving end plate is recessed into the case and the free arm tube was welded directly on to it. These features suggest it is 12th–13th century rather than later. The object has decorative strips attached to it and was plated with brass. Part of the bolt survives in the case and the springs were clearly pinned to the spine.

Padlock key

SF01440 may be the broken stem of a padlock key.

Key for mounted lock

SF00865 is a fragmentary iron key for a mounted lock. Corroded to the key is a copper alloy chain of 19 links; it is unclear if the chain was originally attached to the key, but one end of the chain appears linked to an iron figure-of-eight shaped chain link which is currently attached to the key by corrosion. SF00865 is similar to keys found at Bedern, York, in 14th to 15th century deposits (AY 17/15, 14080–82), roughly contemporary with SF00865 in its context within Building S.


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Rotary quern fragment SF01412 showing grinding surface

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Mortar fragment SF00920
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Mortar fragment SF00920
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Mortar fragment SF00929a
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Mortar fragment SF00929b

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A Victorian mortar and pestle showing how these vessels could be set into a base (reproduced by permission of The National Trust, Cragside)

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X-ray of iron object SF00806

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Binding strip SF01265
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Binding strip SF01265

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Terminal SF01470
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Terminal SF01470

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Stone lamp fragment SF01425

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X-ray of barrel padlock SF01460

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Key and chain SF00865
© Copyright York Archaeological Trust 2003