Holme Cultram Abbey Excavations 2014

We have finished our 2014 excavation at Abbeytown and would like to say a big thank you to all the volunteers who helped us out on both sites, even turning up when it got very wet!

Our aim for this excavation was to further our knowledge of the site and find evidence for the Abbey kitchen and the refectory. From the first day of digging, we found walls and drains quite close to the surface. Compared to past work carried put in the same field, the walls and drains were quite well preserved. As the weeks passed, we were confident that we had indeed found the kitchen and refectory, along with their associated drains. In the trench with the refectory in it, we uncovered a drain that had been extended re-using other stonework, such as column bases for drain capping stones, to meet the refectory wall. The area also had middens full of shells and bone, which once, analysed, will tell us what the monks were eating. Whilst working in the refectory area, one of our volunteers found a little chess piece. Though there is still debate as to what the piece was – rook, pawn or queen are the current suggestions- it has been preliminary dated to the 15th Century.

We were expecting (with crossed fingers) the kitchen and refectory areas and the drains, as drains had been recorded in past work. We were, however, surprised by the discovery of a vaulted cistern that was attached to the main drain. As the digger cleared away the topsoil next to the cistern, we were further surprised by foundations appearing built very close to the main drain. This new building was possibly the infirmary building. In this infirmary building, we uncovered foundation layers of walls and what appears to be a toilet area, which had an inlet leading into the main drain.

When we were excavating the main drain, it became apparent that there had been sluice gate arrangements. Excavation of the cistern itself revealed the inlets for the cistern, so the monks were able to flus out the main drain when they needed to.

Although the site was rich in various bones and shells, it wasn’t very rich in other types of finds, but we have enough dating evidence from some pottery. We had a few nice finds, including a piece from a possible horse harness and the little chess piece.

Our other site was located in Friar’s Garth. We were re-visiting an area where, a couple of years previously, we had uncovered what looked to be an old pond area where we found half a wooden bowl. We were able to bring this bowl to site during the AONB conference for everyone to see, alongside previous years finds. Although during this excavation we didn’t find the other half, we did find lots of preserved wood and leather in the trenches, including the sole of a shoe. In another part of the field, we also found a cobbled surface and a couple of ditches, but again, the site was not as finds rich as precious excavations.

We will update this page as more information comes in. The gallery below shows the work we did.

Towards the end of 2014, we sent out leather and wood to Durham University to be conserved. The reports are available to download at the top of the page.

The final report for this season is also available to download at the top of this page.