the Trust excavates medieval kiln at Colchester
The Trust has been conducting a large area excavation at Mile End, to the north of Colchester town centre, ahead of the redevelopment of the site as a residential area (‘Chesterwell’). The excavation is finishing tomorrow (14th March). The site is in an area of known medieval pottery kilns and it also includes two kiln sites and a field known as ‘Kiln Field’. The excavation site has been producing very large quantitities of fragments and vessels of medieval pottery and fragments of tile for our team of archaeology volunteers to process back here at the Trust’s HQ… The pottery material all represents ‘kiln waste’, ie vessels which were defective in some way and which would have been dumped ‘on site’ and not transported off the site for sale. Last week, the Trust’s excavation team excavated the remains of a medieval tile kiln, which is an important and very interesting find. Colchester Borough Council’s Archaeological Advisor Dr Jess Tipper visited the site last week with some Borough councillors to look at the remains of the kiln, and Trust members of staff also visited the site last week on a field trip to see the remains of the kiln!
In 2011, the Trust conducted an evaluation on the site by fieldwalking, geophysical survey and trial-trenching (see CAT Report 627). The remains of the tile kiln represent the medieval ‘Mile End pottery industry’. The site was discovered and partially excavated in 1973, when four large pits and a number of post-holes were interpreted as evidence of a complex of kilns (‘Medieval potteries at Mile End and Great Horkesley, near Colchester’, by P J Drury and M R Petchey, in TEAS 7, 1975): ‘… The potters, attracted to the site by the combination of clay, water and scrub for fuel, together with the proximity of a market in Colchester, may well have cleared the surrounding area of scrub …’. We now know that this site was a medieval industrial site where people made pottery and tiles from the clay here, as well as chimney-pots. The pottery and tiles would have been fired in pottery kilns and tile kilns respectively. The tiles would have been used for the roofing and flooring of buildings in the town. A burnt area on the site may represent a pottery kiln. A lot of the pottery in use in medieval Colchester would have been made here. This local pottery is called ‘Colchester ware’ (see Colchester Archaeological Report 7: Post-Roman pottery from excavations in Colchester, 1971-85). It was produced from the late 12th to the early 16th century. The pottery wasters from the site look as though they date from the late 14th to the early 16th century.
The Trust excavated the remains of up to nine early medieval pottery kilns on our site at Middleborough in Colchester in 1979 (see Colchester Archaeological Report 3: Excavations at Lion Walk, Balkerne Lane, and Middleborough, Colchester, Essex). These kilns were dated to the 12th century, except for one which was contemporary with the medieval pottery kilns excavated at Mile End. The tile kiln which we excavated last week has been given a preliminary date of about the 15th-16th century. The structural remains of the kiln consist of its well-preserved base, ie the arches which supported the floor, built of roofing peg-tiles and some floor-tiles, with an under-floor of smashed pottery and tiles. It was a rectangular kiln with a double flue. We don’t know whether the large quantity of tile fragments from the site represent the remains of destroyed kilns or are kiln wasters. The discovery of the tile kiln is important because it is on this medieval industrial site where Colchester ware pottery was produced. It is the first tile kiln which the Trust has excavated. It is also our first archaeological feature to be 3d modelled!
Note: an item on the tile kiln was posted today (14th March) on the Colchester Daily Gazette web-site. We will be posting an item about the pottery material from the site on this web-site on Friday. You can read all the Trust’s fieldwork reports in our online archive at http://cat.essex.ac.uk/ .
Trust archaeologist Nigel Rayner is supervising the excavation, assisted by members of the Trust’s excavation team.
The excavation is being funded by Mersea Homes. Mersea Homes are a regular client of the Trust. (In the past couple of years, for example, they have funded our evaluation and excavation on a site at Stanway near Colchester, not far from the site of the famous Stanway élite Iron Age burials. On the Mersea Homes site at Stanway, we investigated the site of two Iron Age enclosures which were associated with those of the élite Iron Age burials.) Visit their web-site at www.merseahomes.co.uk/ .
The images show a view of the site in February; Trust excavator Sarah Carter recording the remains of the kiln; the remains of the kiln; a 3d-modelled image of the kiln by Trust excavator Alec Wade (overhead view); and a group of exposed pottery vessels in feature F21. You can view and navigate Alec’s 3d modelling of the kiln online, at https://sketchfab.com/models/d55e1e28707f4ff9b61d203e3eb25834/embed : with many thanks to Alec.