Archaeology South-East
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Ropetackle, Shoreham-by-Sea

Ropetackle excavations

Project type: Evaluation, Excavation

The Ropetackle site at Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex lies at the western end of the High Street on the banks of the River Adur (NGR TQ 2120 0510). After a long-running series of failed development plans, a mixed development was planned for the site. Owing to the position of the site within the area of a documented Norman new town and busy medieval port, and hence the high potential for the survival of archaeological remains, an evaluation was carried out in October 2000. The excavation of trial trenches uncovered a number of medieval and post-medieval features containing large assemblages of pottery, animal bone, building material and clay pipes. These results confirmed the significance of the site, and underlined the need for more archaeological work.

Detailed large-scale excavation and recording at the site began in January 2003 in advance of the much-heralded development and continued until the end of May of that year. Following the mechanical removal of deep deposits of modern material, two large areas either side of Little High Street were investigated. A range of archaeological features were discovered including post-holes, ditches, gullies, wells, pits and cess-pits, as well as limited evidence of building activity. Provisional dating of the recovered pottery suggests the following phases of activity at the site:

Prehistoric and Romano-British Remains
A background scatter of struck flint and fire-cracked flint recovered from later deposits suggests prehistoric activity in the vicinity. One potentially Late Bronze Age pit was also uncovered, but it contained only one tiny sherd of pottery. However, there was undeniable evidence of Late Iron Age/Romano-British activity at the site, with a ditch and a number of small pits containing sherds of Late Iron Age/Romano-British pottery, concentrated to the north of Little High Street. Residual pottery from the period was also found in a number of later features.

Medieval Remains
The vast majority of the excavated features date from the medieval period with large assemblages of pottery recovered from deep rubbish pits and cess-pits. Significant quantities of animal and fish bone were also retrieved, in addition to shell, metalwork, building materials (including an interesting group of chimney pots), and a variety of small finds, including a number of well-preserved buckles. Provisional dating suggests that the vast majority of the material dates from the 13th and 14th century.

Of particular interest was a large collection of artefacts and well-preserved environmental evidence from a well located to the south of Little High Street. The impressive pottery assemblage including an almost complete aquamanile, or water jug used for hand washing before meals, only the third known example of this type of artefact to be found in Sussex. The green-glazed jug was in the shape of a ram, complete with face, eyes, horns, legs, body and a tail. One of the legs had been snapped off in antiquity, but was recovered from further down in the well itself, leaving the jug complete except for part of one of the horns (see picture : taken before the leg was reunited) Again, initial analysis suggests a 13th to 14th century date.

A small number of other near-complete medieval vessels were found including fine green-glazed jugs, (including French imports) and coarser cooking pots and storage jars discarded into rubbish pits. Heavier domestic objects such as quernstones (including imported German lava examples) and pieces of at least one stone mortar were also recovered. Other items highlighted Shoreham's status us as an important medieval port, such as fish hooks, stone anchor weights and bone needles for sewing nets.

Post-Medieval Remains
The site produced a range of post-medieval remains including large assemblages of post-medieval pottery, a particularly eye-catching collection of clay pipes and other artefacts recovered from wells, pits and a row of privies located in the former back yards of houses fronting onto the north side of Little High Street. An unexpected bonus was the presence of reused finely-worked medieval masonry in one of these structures. The pottery and clay pipe assemblages span the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

The surviving remains of a number of demolished post-medieval buildings were also recorded on both sides of the road. Away from the street frontage, a buried timber structure provisionally identified as a saw pit was excavated and recorded, with samples taken for dating by dendrochronology, although initial examination of associated pottery suggests an 18th century date. Other post-medieval remains included the reinforced concrete walls of a large World War II air raid shelter and part of a contemporary gas mask.

Post-Excavation Work
A programme of post-excavation analysis is currently being undertaken, leading to the eventual publication of the site. Particular attention will be paid to the huge assemblage of pottery from the site (more than 18,000 sherds were recovered during the evaluation and excavation phases combined), and on the unusually fine group of clay pipes, as well as to the fine collection of animal and fish bone and other artefacts and ecofacts.


Project Officer:
Simon Stevens
Clients: CGMS Consulting & SEEDA
Project type: Excavation



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