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Friary history revealed at dig

Pontefract Friary Action Group start a ten-week excavation at a site where it is believed a Dominican Friary once stood after a campaign to stop demolition at Pontefract Hospital

Pontefract Friary Action Group start a ten-week excavation at a site where it is believed a Dominican Friary once stood after a campaign to stop demolition at Pontefract Hospital

VOLUNTEERS have unearthed history during a dig at the site of a former friary near Pontefract Hospital.

Members of Pontefract and District Archaeological Society (PDAS) are almost halfway through a ten-week excavation at St Richard’s Dominican Friary – and have already discovered what may have been the north wall of the church.

They have also found human remains thought to date back to the third siege of Pontefract in 1648, during the English Civil War.

Simon Tomson, site director, said: “Within the rubble we have recovered architectural carved stone, a collonete [a small column] section, whitewashed wall stone and stone mouldings, probably from windows.

“We have also found plain and painted window glass, a number of glazed floor tile fragments of both black and white finish.

“It is tempting to imagine a chequerboard black and white church floor reflecting the black and white habit and cowl worn by the Blackfriars.

‘We have also identified local sandstone and imported limestone roofing slabs, all drilled for fixing pegs.”

At its peak, the 13th century establishment housed 40 friars. The original friary buildings were probably made of wood, but archaeological digs in 1963 suggest that by the middle of the 14th century some had been reconstructed in stone with a roof of stone slabs fixed with iron nails.

The friary was dissolved by order of Henry VIII in 1538, the buildings demolished and the land sold.

Around 17 volunteers have been working at the dig every day.

They have found remnants of 18th and 19th century liquorice cultivation and artifacts from everyday life in the town, including pipe bowls.

A spokesman for Pontefract Civic Society said: “As the excavation progresses Simon believes we may well have identified a substantial robbed out wall.

“Its orientation northward suggests that this may be the north wall of the church.

“Given its proximity to the back street which is now Southgate this is entirely likely as it gives access for the public to attend friary services.”

The dig – sparked by a campaign by the Pontefract Friary Action Group earlier this year – will continue for another five weeks.

The trenches will then be refilled and seeded over to preserve the remains for future generations.

 

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