Archaeology South-East
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Lewes House Library, Lewes


Lewes House Library excavations

Project type: Excavation

The site of the new Lewes Library lies within the former lower garden of Lewes House (fronting School Hill), although prior to c. 1700 the freehold was held separately from what was the upper garden. More recently, the site became allotments and subsequently a car park. Evaluation trenching carried out within the site in 2000 indicated that medieval remains were present, sealed beneath garden soil. During stripping of the site it was revealed that most of the archaeological features were sealed beneath up to c. 2m of successive garden soils, although some remains were present directly below the car park formation layers where associated terracing had taken place.

A total of 228 cut features were recorded. Most of these were pits, but also includes other feature types, such as wall construction trenches, wells, possible areas of terracing and post-holes. Two masonry foundations were identified, located at the north east corner and running the length of the western side of the excavation area . The latter of these relates to a wall that once formed a division of early to mid 19th-century origin (according to cartographic sources) within the former gardens of Lewes House, and was demolished in February 2004 prior to the archaeological excavation.

There was a clear division between the northern half of the site, where pits are numerous, and the southern half of the site where far fewer features were encountered. The north-eastern quarter of the site had the densest concentration of features, many of which were intercutting.

The majority of features are medieval and largely grouped within a 12th- to 14th-century date range. The earliest pottery was recovered from a pit in the north-western corner of the site and dates to the 11th century. Stratigraphically earlier pits unfortunately did not contain any datable artefacts. A small amount of architectural medieval stonework was found discarded in two of the pits.

Pit feature on Lewes House Library Site Pit feature on Lewes House Library Site

A number of pits were in excess of 1m deep, and many of these contained multiple fills of cess and domestic refuse . Some features are likely to have originally functioned as wells, although were later used for waste disposal. These are primarily located within the southern half of the site , although such features are also represented to the north. Their depth meant that full excavation was not generally possible, but augering and selective machine excavation found some to be in excess of 4m deep. Most of the deeper deposits were below the level of the proposed groundworks and will thus still survive beneath the new library.

Very little evidence of buildings was located. A feature at the northern edge of the site may be a post-hole. A two-phase chalk rubble wall at the northeast of the site probably represents a revetment at the western edge of a terrace. This linear feature may have continued further south, although investigations in this area were limited as features here were to be preserved in situ. It seems likely, therefore, that the excavated area lies to the rear of tenements, fronting one of the adjacent roads or twittens

There is a dramatic decline in features post-dating the 14th century and this suggests that the site was largely abandoned at this time and corresponds to a general downturn in economic fortunes in the 14th century, both in Lewes and in a broader context, although it might also illustrate changing approaches to waste disposal.

A small number of post-medieval features were located. A large feature in the central-northern area of the site appears to relate to 17th-century extraction of clay for brick making. This feature measured some 20m x 9m and was partially backfilled by broken, unmortared bricks that are thought to be kiln wasters. It is likely that a temporary kiln is located nearby and was probably used in the construction of an adjacent building, possibly Lewes House itself. A ramp of unexcavated material curved upwards in an anti-clockwise direction around the edge of this feature, presumably to allow easy access/egress for the labourers. This feature was subsequently infilled with a variety of soily fills containing domestic waste, but included the articulated skeleton of a cow dumped onto the ramp at its western side. A pit with multiple fills, contained a significant assemblage of pottery and domestic refuse (i.e. animal bone, charcoal, ash, etc) that indicate a mid to late 18th-century date.

Post excavation work from this site and two adjacent sites (Lewes Residential and Baxters Printworks) is currently underway and it is envisaged that the results of all three projects will be published in a single monograph in due course.


Project Officer:
Neil Griffin
East Sussex County Council
Project type: Excavation



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