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New archaeological discovery at site of City Campus in Gloucester

A section of an 18th century church’s external wall and porch have been uncovered for the first time by archaeologists carrying out an excavation of the site of University of Gloucestershire’s new City Campus development in Gloucester.

The University commissioned Cotswold Archaeology to carry out an excavation at the location of the former Debenhams building – an essential part of the planning process – as work continues to transform it into a modern centre for teaching, learning and community partnerships.

Cotswold Archaeology’s latest excavation of the site is taking place in an area between Eastgate Street and Northgate Street in what centuries ago would have been the north-eastern quadrant of a Roman town.

During these investigations, Cotswold Archaeology experts discovered an eight-metre-long footing of the Western elevation and porch of the post-medieval St Aldate’s Church, built in around 1750.

Thought to be named after a bishop of Gloucester who died in battle in 577, the post-medieval church replaced a medieval church of the same name that may have pre-dated the Norman Conquest. Historians believe the medieval St Aldate’s Church was demolished in the mid-17th century after it sustained damage during the English Civil War (1642-1652).

Cotswold Archaeology were commissioned by the University to carry out an excavation of the City Campus location

Cliff Bateman, Cotswold Archaeology’s senior project officer at the City Campus site, said: “The footing we have discovered is only 20cm to 30cm below the current ground surface and it has survived very well.

“It’s an interesting discovery in that, although the post-medieval St Aldate’s Church was built in the mid-18th century, photographs taken in later years very clearly show that it was brick church, almost neoclassical in its design.

“The footing is made up entirely of very well-dressed limestone blocks, some of which I presume may have come from the earlier medieval church and possibly from the nearby Roman and medieval defensive town wall that was razed after the Civil War.

“We don’t know the location of the site of the medieval church yet because we can’t be certain that the mid-18th century church, which was demolished in 1960, used the footprint of its predecessor.

“The discovery of the mid-18th century church is extremely interesting itself, because it will enable us to start determining the whereabouts of the church burial ground.

“But it would take our work up to a whole new level if discovering part of the mid-18th century church led to us finding the location of the medieval church. There is a chance we might find the location of the medieval church when we carry out work further into the site.

“The site as a whole has the potential to increase public knowledge of the Roman, medieval and post-medieval development of this part of Gloucester.”

Within the same location, Cotswold Archaeology have discovered 12 burials, the vast majority associated with the medieval St Aldate’s Church. All the remains are being sensitively and respectfully transferred for historical analysis by Cotswold Archaeology for research purposes, before being reinterred.

Born and bred in Gloucester, Cliff Bateman said the city was among the most pre-eminent locations in the UK for archaeological research.

Roman activity within Gloucester began in the late AD40s with the construction of a legionary fortress at Kingsholm, about 900 metres from the City Campus site, before being replaced in the AD 60s by a further fort, located on what is now the modern city centre. This second fort was itself replaced by a new settlement for retired Roman soldiers.

In evidence of this Roman activity, discoveries within the basement of the former Debenhams building included the remains of Roman buildings and associated mosaics, and the Roman street just below the basement floor level.

Cliff Bateman, who has been employed by Cotswold Archaelogy since 1990, said: “Gloucester is such a significant place in terms of archaeological study – it’s unbelievable.

“Underneath where we’ve found the 18th century church and medieval and post-medieval burials, there will be Roman buildings in situ. Every time we work in Gloucester, we make new discoveries – it’s a massively important place.”

You can read the latest project news on the University’s City Campus webpage

Main image: Cliff Bateman, Cotswold Archaeology’s senior project officer at the City Campus site, working an a section of an 18th century church’s external wall and porch uncovered for the first time