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Evaluation of the former All Saints Brewery site, Highcross Street, Leicester

Evaluation of the former All Saints Brewery site, Highcross Street, Leicester

During the spring of 2012 an archaeological evaluation was undertaken on a c.6150 sq. m parcel of land in Leicester, on the north-east corner of Highcross Street and Vaughan Way (pictured). In all, seven c.30m by c.3m trenches were excavated across the site. The evaluation recorded significant survival of Roman archaeology across the site, including parts of a street, evidence of stone and timber buildings, a mosaic pavement, pits and yard surfaces. Medieval archaeology survived to a lesser extent, predominantly in the form of pits and garden soils with only Trench 5 on the Highcross Street frontage exposing structural evidence.

Image of the site, looking down from the John Lewis car park

Image of the results of the evaluation, showing the principal Roman discoveries

Roman archaeology was present across the site in all of the trenches except Trench 6, with features ranging in date from the late 1st century AD through to the 4th century. Along the northern side of the site, compacted gravel street metalling for the east-west Roman street running between Insulae IV and X was recorded in the western half of Trench 1 and the northern end of Trench 7. Early Roman features either pre-dating this street or contemporary with its early use were found in Trenches 1 and 4. These appear to date to the late 1st century or possibly the early 2nd century AD. In Trench 1 a beam-slot/gully appeared to be at right-angles to the street; whilst in Trench 4 early occupational trample and yard surfaces were of broadly contemporary date.

Image of the Roman street and roadside wall found in Trench 7Later Roman activity next to the street was recorded in Trench 7. Here a narrow gully running parallel with the street, post-holes and the robber trench for a roadside wall were all dug into soil containing mid-late 2nd century pottery. Activity continued into the 3rd century and a substantial concrete floor was also present lying on soil containing mid-late 3rd century pottery. The noticeable absence of Roman roof tiles in this trench may suggest that the floor was some sort of heavy-duty external surface and the wall a boundary wall surrounding a property rather than part of a building.

Further south, set back in the centre of Insula X, was evidence for timber and masonry buildings. The timber buildings, found in Trenches 2 and 5, survived as beam-slots and floor surfaces. These were a mixture of earth and concrete, each floor often separated by a layer of made-ground containing pottery dating to the latter half of the 2nd century AD, redeposited roof tiles and painted wall plaster. Little can be said of either building’s plan or appearance at this stage. Robbed wall footings for masonry walls were found in Trenches 2, 3, 4 and possibly 5. As with the timber buildings, little can be said about the plan or the appearance of these masonry buildings. In Trench 3, the corner of a building was present; whilst in Trench 4 in-situ floors and robbed walls suggest a sizeable Roman building in the vicinity. Further west, closer to line of the north-south street leading to the town’s north gate, the remains of the early timber building in Trench 5 were sealed beneath a substantial mortar and stone floor. It remains unclear whether this was part of a later building.

Perhaps the best evidence for an important Roman building was a mosaic pavement found in Trench 2. This is the largest fragment of tessellated pavement found in Leicester in recent years. The panel, of which approximately a quarter survives, measures c.3.2m by c.2.6m. Its pattern, picked out in red and grey tesserae, includes a hexafoil central motif surrounded by an octagonal band, heart-shaped leaves and swastika-meander. The pavement may well be part of the same building as a robber trench and floor make-up in the same trench. The robber trench, which was on the same orientation as the mosaic and the town’s street grid, appeared to be an external wall with yard surfaces present beyond it to the east. The floor make-up contained early 4th century pottery, suggesting the building was late Roman in date. Several Roman pits were also sample excavated in Trenches 3 and 5. These contained late 2nd century to late 3rd century material.

Image of the mosaic found in Trench 2Image of the mosaic found in Trench 2

No Anglo-Saxon or Saxo-Norman occupation was found on site, but 10th and 11th century pottery was present in later medieval features, particularly in Trench 5 close to Highcross Street. The few medieval pits and robber trenches excavated dated to the 12th or 13th century and the only post-Roman feature of note was a substantial masonry wall found at right-angles to Highcross Street in Trench 5. This may be part of St John’s Hospital or the Town Gaol which replaced it in 1614. The wall was demolished and rebuilt in the 18th century or later.

Mathew Morris

ULAS

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UPDATED: 11th April 2014
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