Dig unearths more about the lifestyle of medieval monks

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More evidence of the lives of Morpeth’s Newminster monks has been unearthed. Members of Coquetdale Community Archaeology (CCA) found traces of a medieval mill connected to the Morpeth abbey when they were digging at Barrowburn, on the River Coquet, last year. 

Coquetdale Community Archaeology’s dig at the medieval fulling mill at Barrowburn [Credit: Morpeth Herald]

A wheel pit, constructed from high-quality masonry, was found in the river so this year the team returned to see what else they could discover. And they were not disappointed. 

A large trench uncovered a cobbled area some way from the river’s edge, which was initially thought to be the remains of an old road. However, after careful work with trowels, two 13th Century coins were found, one a silver penny from the reign of Edward I, dated to around 1280, which indicated that the surface was contemporary with the mill. It is now thought that the cobbles could have formed a yard on a terrace. 

Pieces of medieval pottery were found and nearer the river the soil was increasingly impregnated with charcoal. Eventually, the probable source was identified when a very dense area, about a metre down, was discovered, near where the wheel shaft would have entered the building. 

On the final day of digging, pieces of heavily-corroded metal, a large nail and badly decomposed wood were found. Conditions were difficult as the soil was waterlogged and had to be constantly drained with a sponge so a decision was made to stop work, protect the area, and make a plan to return at a later date. 

In the meantime, experts will examine the charcoal to see if it can be carbon dated and find out whether it is linked to the demise of the mill. 

Richard Carlton, of the Archaeological Practice that directed the dig, said: “This could be a highly significant find. 

“No medieval mill of this sort has ever been excavated in the north of England and evidence about how they were constructed would be very significant. This is an important addition to the ground-breaking work the group carried out last year.” 

Around 40 people took part in the dig, which has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage. 

CCA Chairman Chris Butterworth said: “This project is a real demonstration of the contribution community archaeology groups can make. 

“After the first few days we lost count of the number of visitors who came to see us at work.” 

The remains of the medieval fulling mill were found last year and records show that monks from Newminster Abbey built a mill along that stretch of river in the 13th century. 

The discovery of a five metre-long masonry wheel pit and large wooden structure on the river bed was particularly significant as it showed that the pit was built to hold a type of wheel that was only thought to have appeared in Europe some 300 years later. 

Source: Morpeth Herald [August 19, 2012]

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