Archaeology dig starts on Newcastle Quayside development site

Search for medieval remains on Newcastle riverside site

Archaeologists work in one of the trenches on the site of the new Live Theatre Building
Archaeologists work in one of the trenches on the site of the new Live Theatre Building

The search is on for evidence of medieval life in Newcastle on a site earmarked for development.

The land is the last vacant site on the city’s East Quayside.

Planning permission was granted last week for nearby Live Theatre to develop a commercial office space, public park and performance space and a children and young people’s writing centre.

A dig has already uncovered medieval remains in what was a bustling area of the town.

It is known that the site was fully developed in the mid and late 19th Century, while an indoor market stood on the site in the modern era.

But there has been a gap in the Quayside frontage since the building which housed a market was demolished some years ago.

Archaeologists from Pre-Construct Archaeology Limited, appointed by Live Theatre, have started excavations in two trenches on the plot of land, which had formerly been a car park with a pocket park on the Quayside front.

Archaeologist Robin-Taylor Wilson works in one of the trenches on the site of the new Live Theatre Building
Archaeologist Robin-Taylor Wilson works in one of the trenches on the site of the new Live Theatre Building

Jim Beirne, Chief Executive, Live Theatre said: “We are delighted that planners had given approval to LiveWorks scheme and are excited to move the project through the archaeological survey and then onto the next phase of design and build. The development will create new commercial offices, a public park and writing centre for young people. Once complete LiveWorks will provide many future opportunities for businesses, artists, children and young people. The project will also help to secure an income for the core work of Live Theatre into the future.”

The plot lies within the medieval town walls of Newcastle, in an area which was reclaimed from the River Tyne by 1400. The original north bank of the Tyne lay approximately 60m north of the site below Dog Bank and All Saints Church.

The river now lies 25m further south of the site’s street frontage.

As revealed by previous digs in the area, land on the edge of the Tyne west of Lort Burn was gradually reclaimed from the river during the 13th-14th Centuries with a series of piers and stone and wicker revetments and terraces, supported on dumps of waste material several metres deep.

As the land was reclaimed, a thick sequence of ballast deposits from ships raised the land higher than the river to allow development. This process has been further confirmed by the discovery on the site of man-made structures and deposits which had been added to create successive new river frontages pushing the river back. With the land won from the river, Newcastle’s Town Wall had been built along the Quayside by 1400.

A series of narrow lanes called chares, running north-south and providing access to the riverfront were laid out on this new land.

Many of the chares remain today, with the two still edging the site, - Trinity Chare to the west and part of Three Indian Kings Court to the east.

Chief Executive of the Live Theatre Jim Beirne, and Chairman Paul Callaghan, on the site of the new Live Theatre Building
Chief Executive of the Live Theatre Jim Beirne, and Chairman Paul Callaghan, on the site of the new Live Theatre Building

By the mid-19th Century properties on the site housed offices of firms relating to shipping and trade.

A trade directory of 1858 lists the vice consuls of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Greece and the USA, amongst other countries, all with offices on Three Indian Kings Court or Trinity Chare.

Scandinavia provided much timber to the expanding North East coal trade in this period, with much wood required for pit props, while Denmark was the source of foodstuffs such as bacon and dairy produce for the rapidly growing population.

Towards the street frontage the archaeologists have discovered well-preserved cellars of post-medieval date, which possibly incorporated some earlier potentially medieval fabric.

To the rear of the plot, they have uncovered a substantial north-south sandstone medieval wall which may have been a property boundary or a pier constructed as the land was being reclaimed. Excavation is currently underway of medieval industrial waste deposits to the west of the wall and land reclamation deposits to the east.

Pottery from the late 14th to early 15th Century has been recovered, much of it with a distinctive green glaze, typical of the period, created by adding copper to a basic lead glaze.

 

Click here to view our community standards

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer