St Stephen's Lane, Ipswich - IAS3104

Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service, 2015

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Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service (2015) St Stephen's Lane, Ipswich - IAS3104 [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]

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St Stephen's Lane, Ipswich - IAS3104

Circumstances of excavation

The site was excavated prior to the Ipswich Central Area Shopping Scheme. This large development, by Legal and General Assurance Society Ltd, was mainly west of St Stephen’s Lane (IAS 3104) but included an area fronting the Buttermarket, east of the lane (IAS3201).

The site was excavated by the Suffolk Archaeological Unit between October 1987 and December 1988. The excavation was conducted in three main phases as buildings were removed: the middle of the site, followed by the St Stephen’s Lane frontage, and finally the whole northern section.

The only previous investigation of the site had been a watching brief, carried out by Miss Nina Layard in 1899 (Layard 1900), during an extension to the Cowell's premises fronting the Buttermarket.

Site constraints

Although the eastern half of the site was largely free of post medieval damage, the western half had been badly damaged by basements under the Cowell’s print works, fronting Falcon Street, and under Cowell’s Department Store, fronting Buttermarket, and a Second World War air-raid shelter. There was further damage in the northern central area of the site caused by the Post Office Sorting Office building and its underground petrol storage tanks.

Although the developers granted a time extension, there was insufficient time and resources to totally excavate the north-western corner of the site, below the Carmelite friary church. Added to this was a need, by the demolition contractor, to maintain a through road, which took in much of the eastern side of the cloister, and only a quickly machined trench through the roadway on the last few days of the excavation was possible.

Site summary


A localized spread of 11 sherds (50g) of Beaker pottery (3175), close to the east edge of the site, was recorded in a layer (3057) sandwiched between podsol layer 3232 and re-deposited sand/gravel layer 3026. There were two adjacent post holes (3058, 3068), also sealed below layer 3057. A single flint flake (0503/3104STF) was recovered from posthole 3068.

Early Middle Saxon (EMS: c.600-700)

A total of 67 certain inhumation burials, plus 7 possible graves, were excavated from across the site. Further burials were excavated on the site of the former ABC Cinema (IAS3201), lying to the east of St. Stephen’s Lane. The cemetery has been fully published. Five of the graves were surrounded by ring ditches and there were remnants of two other ring ditches with no associated burial.

High precision radiocarbon dating of a selected group of these burials dates the life of the cemetery to between c.610-635 and c.665-688. A penny of Offa (0103/3104N), originally identified as belonging to the assemblage of goods within grave 4152, and which would have extended the date of the cemetery to the 790s, was later discredited on the basis of conflicting radiocarbon results as intrusive or a mix up during excavation or finds processing.

Although burial appears to have been heaviest on the eastern half of the site, the west half of the site had been heavily truncated by the Late Medieval Carmelite friary, and Post Medieval disturbance and, originally, an even distribution is likely.

Middle Saxon (MS: c.700-850)

The area of the Early Middle Saxon cemetery was comprehensively redeveloped during the Middle Saxon period with two north-south roads, up to fourteen buildings, one well, and 51 pits, associated with craft production, including a pottery kiln, metal, bone and antler working . The large number of post holes recorded in the area fronting road 1825 was almost exclusively MS. All the buildings had Ipswich ware in their foundations suggesting that it had been deposited on the site area prior to any buildings being constructed. More detailed discussion of these features can be found in the Site Summary.

The stratigraphic evidence indicates at least three phases of building activity prior to 850, with the majority of occupation in phase 3. The life of timber buildings at this period, in London, Hedeby and Hamwic, unless cut short by fires, has been estimated between 5 and 50 years, but experimental reconstructions suggest the higher end is more likely, especially with oak construction and vigilant maintenance. Assuming 20-40 years for each of the phases on this site, and assuming continuous occupation, the following sequence can be modelled:

Phase Date Building Other
1 c.700-750 No occupation - casual rubbish disposal
2 c.750-790 5122
Road 1825
Southern pit group
3 c.790-820 5125
5126 (phase 1)
5127 (phase 1)
Road 1590 (hollow way)
Well 2117
Pathways: 5138/5139; 5134/5137; 5135/5140
Kiln 2062?
4 c.820-850 5126 (phase 2)
5127 (phase 2)
5 c.840-860 0434
Continue into ELS period
see the Site Summary for further details.

Early Late Saxon (ELS: c.850-900)

The two north-south roads continued in use throughout this period with four buildings, 81 pits and both iron and copper alloy working hearths. There were 21 coins dating to the period but only five were associated with ELS features, with the remainder being residual in later features. Three of the buildings were sunken featured, and the pottery assemblages in their pits indicate the date of their abandonment rather than construction. The high percentage of Ipswich ware in the sunken features implies abandonment very early in the Early Late Saxon period and the Ipswich ware only from the construction features implies a late Middle Saxon construction date.

Middle Late Saxon (MLS: c.900-1000)

Seven sunken featured buildings and 69 pits were attributed to the Middle Late Saxon period. Two buildings and a metalworking industry belonged to the first half of the tenth century and five buildings to the second half of the century. Roads 1825 and 1590 clearly continued in use throughout this period, although road 1590 was not re-metalled and was covered with occupation debris.

Phase 1 (c.900-950): one building (0643) lay 14m west of road 1590, and was associated with a metalworking complex (0362/0876) fronting the street. A second building (4081), which had burnt down, lay 13m west of road 1825, at the south end of the site. Up to three graves, two of which cut the west edge of road 1825, lay in an east-west line, 7m north of building 4081. Phase 2 (c.940-1000): four buildings were constructed west of road 1825, three of which were rebuilt in the Early Medieval period, and one building west of road 1590. Unphased features include 3 graves and 69 pits. For more detailed discussion, see the Site Summary.

Early Medieval (EMED: c.1000-1200)

Two phases of activity can be identified for the Early Medieval period (EMED).

In the first phase (c.1000-1200), four buildings fronted road 1825 but there were none fronting road 1590 and it appears to have gone of use. In the second phase (c.1100-1200), there were no buildings anywhere on the site and only pit digging is represented. For more details, see the Site Summary. All four of the EMED buildings belonged to the first phase of the period and had burnt down, presumably at the same time and all were cut by EMED pits of the second phase. Road 1590 had not been re-metalled in the MLS period and rubbish had accumulated upon it. It was cut by two EMED pits implying that it had gone out of use by the EMED period or was just a dirt track and property boundary.

In phase 2 (12th century) occupation of the site ceased apart from pit digging. It is likely that occupation during this period was concentrated on the more major streets in the town, such as Buttermarket. The pits east of building 0029 are not evenly distributed and they cluster in two east-west lines at right angles to the St Stephen's Lane frontage suggesting that they had been dug alongside tenement boundaries and that those tenement boundaries continued in use after there were no longer buildings within the tenements.

Late Medieval Phase 1 (c.1200-1278)

27 pits, all lying east of the Late Medieval phase 2 friary, were Late Medieval on the basis of their pottery assemblages, some of which were no doubt contemporary with the friary and others predated it. As Ipswich Glazed Ware was produced from c.1270-1325, its presence or absence can be used to distinguish between the two phases, 21 of the 27 Late Medieval pits probably belong to this period as they did not contain Ipswich Glazed Ware. Pit 0008, which was only excavated to a depth of 1m, was unusual being only 1m in diameter and filled with grey-green clay.

Late Medieval Phase 2 (c.1278-1450)/Late Medieval Transitional, Phase 1 (c.1450-1538)

During this period, the whole site was occupied by a Carmelite Friary, established in Ipswich in 1278, following a meeting of the Provincial Chapter in Norwich, and suppressed in November 1538. There is documentary evidence for a series of land acquisitions to expand the friary in the 14th century and for a rebuilding of the church towards the end of the 15th Century, with the new church being consecrated in 1477.

The only previous investigation of the site was a watching brief carried out by Miss Nina Layard in 1899, on the site of an extension to the Cowell's premises fronting the Buttermarket and east of Market Lane. The main features recorded were a stone wall running south from the Buttermarket and parallel to, and some 35m east of, Market Lane, and a number of skeletons between this wall and Market Lane, suggesting that this was the cemetery.

Financial, logistical and time constraints particularly affected the amount of excavation that could be undertaken on parts of the friary complex. This was also the area of widespread destruction caused by the late-Victorian basements. Inevitably, evidence for the development of the friary complex, most notably on the phasing of the church itself, its overall dimensions and internal features, including burials was partial. The friary complex is discussed in further detail in the Site Summary.

Although the development sequence of the individual friary buildings can be established, their relationship to each other is more difficult as most of the key relationships had been destroyed by later pits and basements. The following model can be suggested on the basis of the available evidence.

LMED pot in foundations
PhaseDateFriary featureStratigraphic evidenceArtefact evidence
11278-1300Great House Documentary
Choir (1)Earlier than nave
21300-1325Nave with aisles
East Range+Chapter House
Building 1769(1)
Soakaway 0280 Late 13th/early 14th c pot
31325-50South Range
West RangeButts on to nave buttress
Cloister walkwaysLean to rangesSmall floor tiles
Sacristy (1)Butts on to choir
East range floor lowered
Reredorter (1)Butts on to east range
41450-1477Transepts added and floor raised in naveCuts earlier nave walls and floorLMT pot in foundation
Choir extendedCuts Choir (1)LMT pot in foundation
East range floor raised inc Chapter house Larger tiles
East range extended south LMT pot in foundation
Sacristy (2)Cuts sacristy (1)Larger floor tile repairs
Reredorter (2) Cuts reredorter (1)LMT pot in foundation
Building 1769 (2)Cuts 1769 (1)LMT pot in foundation
Drain 1053Cuts south rangeLMT pot in trench

The only associated artefacts which can illuminate the absolute dating, other than pottery, are the moulded stone fragments and stained glass recovered. again, see the Site Summary for more detail.

Late Medieval Transition, Phase 2 (c.1538-1600)

The Friary was suppressed in 1538 and demolished soon after apart from the south and west ranges which were retained and put to alternate uses (see Post Medieval). The friary buildings were almost totally removed with only a few wall bases and areas of floor remaining in situ. Extensive areas of mortar, tile and rubble covered the demolished buildings. Rubble layer 0757 contained a penny of Edward VI (1550-61).The area of the buildings was covered with small pits associated with Late Medieval Transitional pottery. Pit 0204, cutting the demolished chapter house, had a coin of Elizabeth I (c.1578-80).

A clearly defined area, immediately east of the friary buildings, 12m east-west by 22m north-south, appears to have been used for gravel extraction contemporary with the friary demolition. A series of large overlapping pits (0011, 0033, 0413, 0435, 0463, 0464, 0468, 0494, 1229) filled the area. None of these pits was extensively excavated, but they had clearly been back-filled with demolition rubble from the Friary buildings. Pit 0468, which cut pit 0435, had a coin of Henry VIII (1526-44). Pit 0464, cutting pit 0073 but sealed below pit 0468, was a shallow depression filled with medieval stained glass and roof tiles. To the east of this area there was a scatter of smaller and larger pits. As the pottery doesn’t allow a close dating, many of these were probably later 16th century i.e. post Dissolution. Closely dateable coins were found in two of these pits: a penny of Philip and Mary (1554-61), from pit 0829, and a farthing of Henry VIII (1523-6), from pit 4194.

Post-Medieval (PMED: c.1600-1900)

The earliest map of Ipswich, by John Speede (1610), shows the frontages along the west side of St Stephen's Lane , the north side of Falcon Street and east side of Queens Street, had been developed with housing, and that a roadway (later known as Market Lane), had been cut diagonally across the site, from north to south.. A representation of the remaining friary ranges, wrongly identified as Black friers, is also shown to the west of that street. John Ogilby's map (1674), the first accurate map to scale, shows the same layout, but the open areas within the friary precinct had been turned over to garden, the largest of which is shown as Mr Danes Orchard. It also shows the surviving south and west ranges of the friary which he labels as The Sessions House. As much of these two ranges had been destroyed by Cowells's printing works, little evidence survived dating to this period.

A number of modifications to the south range related to this period as well as some alterations to the west range; for more details, see the Site Summary .

The Town Gaol/Sessions house had probably fallen out of use before 1700 as a new shire hall for the county sessions and assizes was built in 1698 on the old Blackfriars site, and the sessions had not met in Ipswich for some years before. In 1727, William Churchill, the then owner of the gaol site, applied for permission to move the southern end of Market Lane westward, diverting its course to a line which cut across the site of the old friary buildings, establishing Market Lane along the line that survived until its final closure in 1988. The large quantity of post-medieval artefacts within the south range confirmed an eighteenth century demolition date. New property boundaries were clearly established across the site during this period. A septaria wall running eastward from the north-east corner of the friary church marks a boundary shown on the Ogilby map. The wall incorporated a number of moulded limestone fragments (3424), many of which appear to predate the construction of the friary.

By Joseph Pennington's map (1778), the Town Gaol/Sessions House (south and west friary ranges) had been demolished and the south end of Market Lane (known as Old Gaol Lane at that time) had been moved westwards. The kink to the south at the east end of Falcon Street was straightened out c.1810, after the demolition of property in the way, creating an open area (now called the Old Cattle Market) which accommodated the move of the cattle market from the Corn Hill. By 1851, the site was too small and the cattle market moved to Portman Road. By 1883, the First Edition Ordnance Survey map shows the old garden areas, on the friary site, completely redeveloped including a Provision Market. The gardens plots of the 17th and 18th centuries and 19th century Provision Market left no traces in the excavated area.

Modern (MOD: c.1900 onwards)

The Provision Market made way for the Palace Electric Theatre in 1912 but this was demolished to make way for the Post Office sorting office in 1920. The deep concrete strip foundations (5029) and the associated petrol storage tanks of the vehicle garage, behind the sorting office, were a major intrusion on the excavated site.

Standing buildings within the development area were recorded prior to demolition. A photographic record was made of the facades of St Lawrence Hall and the Diocesan Hall, along St Stephen's Lane, the Methodist Chapel in Market Lane and 40-47 Old Cattle Market. Measured ground plans, sections and a photographic record were made of the Falcon Brewery (3-5 Falcon Street), prior to its partial demolition and extensive refurbishment. A full survey comprising ground plans, sections and elevations, and, where appropriate, recording of the timber framing was conducted on 2, 10-12 and 16 St Stephen's Lane, 7-9 Falcon Street and 40 Buttermarket. In addition, measured drawings and a photographic record were made of the timber frame of the former Beehive public house, which came to light during the demolition of the Cowells complex, fronting the Buttermarket.

Further information can be found in the Site Summary which can be accessed by selecting the 'Reports' tab on the 'Downloads' page.

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