Sunday, 7 May 2017

Leicester produces yet more historical gems

I have lived in Leicester all my life and remember when an area known as Frog Island was buzzing with industry, filled with soot-grimed factories and belching chimneys. Now the factories have closed down and those businesses that have survived have moved to out-of-town units. Some of the old buildings have been demolished, others have become derelict resulting in inevitable fires and vandalism. There are plans to redevelop the entire area but before new foundations are dug the Leicester University team of archeologists led by Richard Buckley (the man who led the team that discovered Richard III) took over one section of land in search of historical gems and once again they were successful.

The area for the dig is just outside the water-bound triangle that forms Frog Island, between Great Central Street and Highcross Street, and was once the Stibbe factory. It is not far from the Jewry Wall Museum where a carefully preserved section of remains of a Roman building housing the old town's baths is open to the public. This is the oldest part of Leicester and so the discovery of remains was not a surprise. What has been spectacular though is the number of well-preserved finds.

First a memory of my own from the area. The entrance to the site is opposite what used to be Leicester's Great Central Railway Station. It was the station where Leicester holiday makers took a train to the nearest seaside resort of Skegness and holds fond memories for many of Leicester's older residents. Only the entrance to the Parcels Office remains (as shown below) but it is evocative of the style of the building which was closed down in 1969, one of the many victims of the Beeching Report.


As for the actual dig, the finds include two Roman Streets, a well preserved mosaic over a hypocaust (underground heating - they were sophisticated in Roman times or was it that they found England freezing cold compared to Italy?) and a variety of artefacts including coins, brooches, hair pins and games. This elaborate woven mosaic is said to be the finest example found in Leicester for more than 150 years.


If you'd like to read more about the archeological dig and findings the Leicester University has issued this statement: Largest archeological excavation in Leicester.

Which just leaves me with one of my favourite ruminations. How did old stuff get to be so low down in the ground. I will elaborate - if the floors from these Roman remains are beneath present day ground level, which they clearly are, then why is it that the nearby All Saints Church is at street level? The church was built not long after this period although the actual date of the build is unknown. It is believed to have been mentioned in the Doomsday Book. So did people climb up steps to access the church? I suppose we'll never know.


11 comments:

  1. Hope they keep the old buildings - even if they do open a Wetherspoons. So interesting what they find from other eras. Do I sense another book in the pipeline?

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    1. Hi L. Sadly the old buildings are being demolished. As for a book.... hmmmm.... you never know!

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  2. Hi Ros - what fun ... to be able to see what's going on and what is found ... the height thing is interesting isn't it - most of the finds are 'way down' ... but then your note about All Saints Church - maybe it's been built on a previous building? One day - they'll find out ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Hi Hilary, as a kid I never thought archeology could be this fascinating. Maybe I'll ask one of the archeologists about the height issue in relation to that church. It's an old stone one, good and solid.

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  3. Ooh, this looks amazing! How I'd love to come and have a peer at that! As for your rumination, it is puzzling, I agree. Maybe as you said, it had steps leading up to it originally, or as Hilary suggests, it was built on an already existing foundation. Has it not been rebuilt at all over the centuries?

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    1. Hi Val, it would be lovely if you did come and visit!! Re the church, it certainly has not been rebuilt but, as I said to Hilary, I may investigate further and find the answer from the people who know.

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  4. It is a treasure trove of history. Chance for another book? Keep educating the kids. Keep us posted on findings and thanks for sharing.

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  5. I went to see the archaeological remains,when open to the public for two days only. What a fascinating tour and much insight was given by one of the team from Leicester University Archaeology department. He told us that much of the stone used to construct later buildings:including All Saints Church was taken from the Roman villa! It was wonderful to see the mosaics "in situ" Most of the artefacts are on temporary display at the nearby Jewry Wall Museum. The mosaics will be moved soon. Petra.

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    1. Hi Petra, I knew that it was common practice to reuse stone but didn't know that some of that stone was used to construct All Saints Church. I don't suppose they gave any explanation for the fact that the church is at street level but the remains are not, did they?

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    2. Actually the archaeological remains were quite close to road level. No explanation was given about the church level but I estimate that the mosaics were only a few feet below current street level and therefore the stone walls of the Roman Villa might even have protruded-thus making it easy for the church builders to take the stone! Petra.

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