Suspected medieval alehouse unearthed in east Yorkshire

Archaeologists believe they may have found the remains of a medieval alehouse or inn on a dig uncovering what could be one of the UK’s best-preserved deserted medieval villages.

The archaeological work at a field in High Hunsley, near Beverley in east Yorkshire, is a dig with a difference in that a key motivation of organisers has been to get new people involved in heritage projects.

But they also want to find things, and that has happened in abundance, say organisers.

Volunteers spent three weeks excavating a field which, surveys have shown, contains more than a dozen buried dwellings.

Emma Samuel, of Ethos Heritage, the assistant site manager at the dig, said deserted medieval villages were still poorly understood.

“There’s a lot of them on the [Yorkshire] Wolds but to find one that has not been ploughed out is quite rare,” she said. “It gives us the perfect opportunity to investigate an almost pristine archaeological site.

“To be able to actually walk up the main street of a deserted medieval village that has not been excavated is a rarity. It is incredibly well preserved. It still has a lot to tell us, we still have a lot of investigation to do.”

Local children were among the 150 volunteers who took part in the dig
Local children were among the 150 volunteers who took part in the dig. Photograph: Ethos Heritage

One theory about a large building the archaeologists worked on is that it was an alehouse or inn. “The pottery we were getting didn’t seem to fit a purely domestic dwelling,” said Samuel. “We were getting a lot of jug handles.”

They also found window lead, roof tile, floor tile and some worked stone. “We can say it was a significant building. One of the possibilities is that it was a place where people were staying … it is something we will have to look more deeply into in the future.”

Samuel said volunteers also found a surprising number of knives, lots of pottery dating from the 12th to 15th centuries, several pins, numerous animal bones and a good number of objects they do not yet have much idea about.

Images of many of these have been posted on social media. “You will normally find someone saying ‘oh yes, I dug one of those up back in 1993’.”

Samuel said the landowner had always been aware there was something different about the field and was keen to have it investigated. But she also had specific ideas about the sort of project she wanted, including the involvement of young people.

That was music to the ears of Ethos Heritage, whose main aim, said Samuel, is to encourage the involvement of people who have not previously engaged with archaeology and heritage.

Samuel estimated that of the 150 volunteers who took part, about 90% had never been on an excavation.

A survey image of the site near Beverley in east Yorkshire
A survey image of the site near Beverley in east Yorkshire. Photograph: Ethos Heritage

Among those getting involved were pupils from a special educational needs school and local Brownies and Rainbows, who earned their archaeology badges on site.

The project, a collaboration with the charity Humber Timelines, also aimed to help tackle the isolation many still feel after lockdowns.

“Most of the people on site had never done any archaeology before,” Samuel said. “Many came not knowing what to expect, but they said they’d have a go and ended up staying two weeks.

“That was the joy of it, people were becoming invested in it, they were making friends and they were making connections. It was a very joyful experience.”

The field is the perfect spot for a settlement with its views up to Flamborough and Filey, across the Holderness coast and down to the Humber.

“It is a significant place in the landscape and has probably been in use throughout human habitation,” said Samuel. “It is an interesting spot and it probably has a very deep history and we are at the moment just scratching the surface of that. It is a very magical place, there is something about it.”

The Guardian