Thirteenth century building in Wing cemetery

A thirteenth century building was excavated on the site of a Victorian school in what had been All Saint’s church cemetery in Wing in 1999. The area was going to be used for new houses. Many burials dating to the medieval period were dug up and in one corner of the cemetery, this small building was found, in an area that had never been fully used for burials.


The building had a rectangular hollow that would have been a sunken floor. It was just inside an earlier cemetery boundary ditch. It was 4.8m long and 2.8m wide. The hollow was 0.25m deep. A shallow hollow was dug at the southern end for use as a hearth. The hearth was made from red reused roof tiles and pieces of limestone set on edge in clay to make a flat and stable surface. The hollow was filled with ash and charcoal. There was also large amounts of charred wheat and smaller amounts of charred barley, oats, rye, peas and beans. One fishscale from a perch, quite an expensive fish in the medieval period, was found in the hearth. The hearth seems to have been cleaned out regularly during its use and the floor may have had only a straw covering. The earth at the bottom of the hollow was very discoloured, indicating intense burning. There were lots of burnt sheep bones in the hearth as well. All this evidence suggests the building burnt down.


There were a few roof tiles in the burnt layer and nine nails, but these were the only building materials. There is no burnt daub that would suggest the walls were made of wattle and daub. There were two small areas of stones that may have been used as post-pads, areas for upright posts to rest on. The building was probably a wooden hut or hovel, rather than a substantial building. Charred wheat and peas were found inside the building too, suggesting it was used for storage. Unburned animal bone from the building was mostly from cattle (74.1%) but there was also sheep (6.9%) and pig (19%). A fragment of a quern stone and an iron arrowhead was found inside the building.


There were a few small stake-holes and post-holes west and south of the building, but it is unclear what function they had. They may have formed a wall or fence. There were also pits to the north and west in an area devoid of graves. Some of these were probably rubbish pits and contained lots of medieval pottery, some of it from kilns in the Brill/Boarstall area and dated to the thirteenth century AD. One pit was filled with charcoal and charred pulses and grain, which was probably cleared out from the burnt building and dumped here as rubbish. One small pit was filled with roof tile. Part of an iron stirrup was found in another pit. There were also some marine and freshwater fish bones preserved in the pits and the hearth of the building, which may have been the remains of an inhabitant or from stored fish. Cod and herring were probably from salted fish imported from Scandinavia and formed a large part of a peasant’s diet. Eel was also a cheap fish and eel vertebrae were found in some of the pits. There was also a well nearby that was lined with limestone blocks. Because the water level had changed over time, organic materials had not survived. The well had been filled in in the thirteenth century.


Buildings in churchyards were not uncommon in the medieval period. They are sometimes used as houses for priests, bakeries or residences for religious people like hermits and anchorites. However, if the house was used for non-religious purposes, this is less common as this was seen as a problem in the medieval period and houses like this were not permitted, except in wartime, and had to be pulled down. This building was probably no more than a hearth to cook food or a store-house or workshop. Domestic housing may have been expanding into the cemetery area and the main settlement may be some distance away.


Please contact the Council Archaeology Service for the images to accompany this worksheet. Go back to find out more about Decay and destruction or Archaeological skills and concepts.