19th December 2012:
In September and early October, a small team from OA North excavated several trial trenches at various points in Carlisle Cathedral’s historic precinct. The present cathedral church was founded in 1122, originally as the church of the Augustinian Priory of St Mary, but became a cathedral with the establishment of the diocese of Carlisle in 1133.
Although only vestiges survive, the precinct would have sported many of the buildings typical of medieval religious institutions. Most of our works were undertaken in the cloister, which was bounded by the cathedral to the north, the remains of the 13th-century Dorter(dormitory) range to the east, and, to the south, the Fratry.
The Fratry is fantastically well preserved, with 13th-century elements, a basement undercroft that dates to c 1300, and two above-ground storeys that were largely reconstructed in the 15th century. Clearly the importance of the building (it was the medieval refectory and, indeed, still retains a similar function, albeit to the public) meant that it survived the post-Civil War reorganisation of the precinct, which stripped away many of the claustral buildings and much of the cathedral nave.
Demolition material (including some nice dressed and moulded stonework and some glazed tiles) resulting from that activity were apparent in each of the trenches, but several did reach medieval deposits, including the foundations of the Fratry itself, evidence of the cloister walks, and the footings for the southern cloister arcade.
We were somewhat disappointed to find little in the way of human remains, and no articulated burials. The latter is perhaps unsurprising: the main cemetery is known to lie to the north of the cathedral, while the medieval ground surface would have lain up to a metre below the modern level; early medieval burials documented at the site lie even deeper.
A proportion of our finds, including a very effective ear scoop, belonged to Roman activity on the site. Such material must have been disturbed in antiquity, as the Roman strata, relating to buildings and roads in the civilian settlement, are known to lie between depths of 2m and 4m, sadly well below the proposed impact depth for the extension to the Fratry.
Although we would have liked to have found more medieval remains, the local people were certainly interested by our findings, which were viewed by the public on a weekly basis.