All About... Suffolk Record Office and The Hold

As ‘The Hold’ takes shape, traces of medieval Ipswich are revealed!

The construction of the new building for ‘The Hold’ is progressing very well; thank you to everyone living and working close to the site for your patience!  I’m pleased to say the piling work is complete and so the noisiest part of the job is over. 

The groundwork gave us an opportunity to learn more about the use and nature of the site in years gone by.  To this end, the team at Suffolk Archaeology worked hard to identify and record the archaeological remains that the work uncovered. We expect a full report soon, but in the meantime,  we thought Waterfront Life readers might like a summary of what was discovered!

Most of the archaeological features uncovered were medieval and early post-medieval pits, which would have been located in yards behind houses on the frontage of Fore Street, for disposing of domestic waste. 

The pottery from these pits suggests a large proportion, perhaps as many as thirty, dated to the 12th to 14th centuries. These pits were very deep, some exceeding 2.5m, and were grouped together in clusters, which may suggest that they were located within burgage plots fronting the medieval line of Fore Street. A ‘burgage’ was a rental property in a town, often long and narrow in nature, with the house at the front end.

A series of contemporary ditches, running parallel with Fore Street, may have marked the northern boundary of these burgage plots. 

Section Through the Medieval Ditches

The presence of the rubbish pits suggests that houses occupied the north side of this part of Fore Street from the 12th to 14th centuries, roughly contemporary with the eastward expansion of Ipswich’s medieval quay front, detected during earlier excavations on the south side of Fore Street, just opposite The Hold to the south-west.

Bottle of Sloan’s Liniment found on site

A smaller number of later domestic waste pits, some dated to the 16th century, lay further back from the street front. One of these contained a large amount of pottery, including pipkins (cook pots) and ceramics of possible Iberian origin, whilst another contained animal bones. 

A possible beam slot found at the southern end of the site might be the remains of a building associated with these later pits. A house still standing on Fore Street next to the south-west edge of the site contains the remains of a 16th century L-shaped merchant’s house at its core, whilst 17th to 19th century maps of the site show a similar L-shaped building in the location of this beam slot. This may suggest that the early post-medieval pits excavated at The Hold belonged to a row of Tudor merchants’ houses.

Here’s one of my favourite finds – a bottle of ‘Sloan’s Liniment’ (think old-timey ‘Deep Heat’ rub), complete with lid and some liniment still inside!  It was in some spoil towards the rear of Sorrel Horse Mews.  As older residents can attest, a large sorrel horse was kept in the yard there, when it was a pub.  Perhaps the liniment was for the horse? Or perhaps just for someone with a bad back…..

Ipswich Waterfront