Tyne and Wear HER(13528): Newcastle, two possible Early Medieval churches - Details
Newcastle, two possible Early Medieval churches
Religious Ritual and Funerary
Place of Worship
Fragmentary foundations were found of two possible churches, along with the foundations of a further stone building, excavated in 1977 and laid out for display in one of the railway arches, which may have been a Saxon church tower. Building B may represent the first stone structure within the Anglo Saxon cemetery, possibly a church or chapel. Part of a clay-and-rubble foundation was found north of the Castle keep, edged with roughly squared sandstone blocks (probably reused Roman masonry). Only one corner survived, the south-east, but from this the course of the south wall could be traced towards the west. The wall overlay the northern sleeper wall of the Roman east granary and was disturbed by burials and a Civil War robber trench. A deposit of clay-bonded rubble on the north side may have represented the corresponding wall foundation on this side. A foundation raft beneath comprised of dark clay and sandstone rubble, and tooled stonework (from the outer north wall of the Roman east granary?). The foundation raft overlay a shallow spit of cemetery soil and at least two graves. The building may have been destablised by grave-digging or may have been deliberately demolished. It was then overlain by building A. This is thought to represent a substantial rebuilding of a church or chapel. The evidence lay in a robber trench probably cut during the Civil War in order to find stone for the artillery bastion. Two courses of the footings of the southern wall were found at the bottom of a robber trench in railway arch 27. A further robber trench was found butted up against the north face of the northernmost sleeper wall of the Roman east granary. Tooled facing stones of a wall on a rubble foundation were recorded, and possibly some evidence for a sequence of renewed floors. Parts of the structure were cut by a foundation associated with the construction of the 1168 Castle keep. Building 68 has been interpreted as a tower or porch belonging to the church or chapel (building A). A small but substantial stone building stood to the west of building A. Its foundations were 2.10m wide and made of sandstone rubble and cobbles capped with clay. The foundations were dug to a depth of 1m through burials and into the Roman layers beneath. No burials cut or overlay this structure, so it concluded that the building represents the latest pre-1080 structural event in this part of the Anglo Saxon cemetery. Above the footings was a plinth course of very large sandstone blocks. Above this was a second course of dressed sandstone (likely to be reused Roman material). An opening in the western wall suggested by a through-stone chamfered on the west and south sides, between 0.99m and 1.33m wide, has been compared with the doorway openings in Saxon church towers given in Taylor (1978, p 187). A short south-west return wall at the eastern end of the north wall may represent an opening leading from the tower into the nave of a church. The floor was probably robbed out. It seems feasible to interpret building B as a simple rectangular stone church or chapel, built to provide the cemetery with a place of worship. Nolan et al (2010, p 256-8) suggest a 10th century date for the structure. If buildings A and 68 represent a chapel, it is significant that a path, which was metalled in the late Roman or Anglo Saxon periods, is respected by early burials and leads towards the north-west end of the postulated nave, where one would expect a door.
D.H. Heslop, 2009, Newcastle and Gateshead before AD 1080, in Diana Newton and AJ Pollard (eds), 2009, Newcastle and Gateshead before 1700, pages 21-22; John Nolan with Barbara Harbottle and Jenny Vaughan, 2010, The Early Medieval cemetery at the castle, Newcastle upon Tyne, Archaeologia Aeliana, Fifth Series, Vol XXXIX, pp 147-287; C.P Graves and D.H. Heslop, 2013, Newcastle upon Tyne - The Eye of the North, An Archaeological Assessment, pp 82-84; H.M Taylor, 1978, Anglo Saxon Architecture, Vol 3, p 187