Archaeologists from the north’s largest post-medieval burial ground dig are using an innovative 21st century tool to reveal the fascinating finds of a Hull city centre site which was once the home of an 18th century jail.
During the pandemic, the archaeology and project teams behind National Highways’ £355m major improvement work to the A63 in Hull have been bringing intriguing discoveries of the city’s Trinity Burial Ground to homes around the country and overseas.
As well as providing regular insights via popular on-site webinars and online blogs, Oxford Archaeology, with support from Humber Field Archaeology, National Highways and principal contractors on the scheme, Balfour Beatty, have launched a virtual tour which provides visitors with an interactive 3D model of the current and concluding on-site phase of the archaeology work.
It focuses on a former jail – or the New Gaol as it was known then – and what the area to the north-east of the burial ground was used for throughout the years.
Fran Oliver, National Highways Project Manager of the A63 Castle Street improvements said:
“Since we’ve been on the ground, the wonderful archaeologists have yielded a wealth of information from the city’s past. We’ve endeavoured to bring the valuable findings and stories which have been uncovered to as many people as possible.
“We’ve had so much interest from local residents fascinated by the city’s history, archaeology students and people getting in touch from abroad, who have helped us piece together how society in Hull lived all those years ago.”
Archaeologists are currently excavating structures on site and comparing them to maps showing its changing use.
Evidence shows that the New Gaol closed in 1829 when a new, larger jail was built along Kingston Street. It housed men and women awaiting trial, debtors, those incarcerated for minor offences, and those due to be transported for more serious crimes.
The plot later became a timber yard in the mid-19th century, then a sawmill, processing the Baltic timbers that entered Hull’s docks. By the early 20th century, the eastern side of site was occupied by a brass and copper works, its western part by a lead plant.
Stephen Rowland, project manager for Oxford Archaeology North, added:
“We’re excavating this particular area in a series of smaller zones, partly to avoid services, and partly to maintain construction access. As we complete each area, we join together the records and compare them to historic records to create a coherent whole, a bit like doing a jigsaw in two halves. Except in this case there are several jigsaws on top of each other, some of the pieces are mixed up, and others are missing.
“The remains of the foundries, which form the uppermost ‘jigsaw’, are generally robust, comprising machine-moulded bricks and concrete. Lying between and beneath them are earlier structures made of thin handmade bricks, similar to those in the graveyard walls.
“These look to be the remains of the gaol’s foundations and its previously undocumented basement. We hope to reveal more of them to enhance our understanding of the construction and internal organisation of this unusual and short-lived place of incarceration.”
Evidence has found the eastern half of the site, occupied by Humber Brass and Copper Works from 1884, shows the brass foundry had a series of small-celled rooms with concrete floors, and a large brick-lined square pit, that may originally have held sand for casting. It is within those structures that the molten brass would have been poured into moulds to cast objects. The site of a separate coppersmith’s workshop, probably for more delicate work, also lay within the excavation area.
Archaeologists have discovered within the lead works, owned by Walkers, Parker and Co Ltd, built circa 1900, a large circular structure in the western half of the site, which looks likely to be the furnace from the lead foundry. It’s made of refractory bricks designed mainly to withstand high heat and encloses a series of channels that connected to a flue. Excavation of the northern part may reveal structures and features associated with finishing the metalwork.
On-site archaeology work is expected to be completed by the autumn.
Part of the Trinity Burial Ground will eventually form some of the new-look dual carriageway which is being lowered at the Mytongate junction, with a new road linking Ferensway and Commercial Road being built above it. Excavation work for the underpass is ongoing and began last month (August).
Explore the virtual tour by clicking here and you can find out more about the archaeology work as a whole by visiting: https://highwaysengland.co.uk/our-work/a63-castle-street-archaeology/