5. Area Excavation

5.1 Summary

The fieldwork element of the excavation project at Wade Street was carried out throughout the whole of April, and into May of 2014. The excavation targeted three areas of the site, designated Area A, Area B and Area C, which were closely related but for logistical reasons were kept deliberately separated by baulks (Figure 3). Areas Area A and Area B were of approximately equal size (96 and 95m² respectively), whereas Area C, at the extreme north-western end of the site, was the smallest part excavated (44m²).

As expected from both the desk-based assessment and the earlier evaluation, excavation revealed a complex of walls of a wide range of construction types, surfaces of a variety of kinds from cobbles, complete with very fine pitched stone kerbing, and flags, to modern patterned engineering brick, at least one cellar with part of its brick vault collapsed, but in situ, and a range of deposits across the site. It quickly became apparent, from both butting relationships and the wide variety of different types of mortar, that the site supported numerous phases, although some may be very close together in time (this was certainly the case with the evaluation: Mason 2013, 6, para. 5.6). Area B and Area C very roughly coincided with the evaluation's Trenches 2 and 3 respectively, and common features can be identified, most notably what appears at present to be the site's primary construction phase represented by wall (1043) in the excavation (numbered 210 in the evaluation). Although the excavation did not pursue the evaluation's Trench 1, fronting on to Wade Street, as already noted it identified a second cellar, as the evaluation had done, making it considerably more likely that cellars in these buildings were, if not the norm, then at least not uncommon.

The excavation appeared to confirm what the evaluation had shown, that the basal phase on the site is likely to be represented by the redeposited and disturbed top of a natural Pleistocene alluvial or glacial deposit, a weakly gravelly sand that may perhaps betray the presence of a terrace of the River Frome. In Area A and Area B, for all those features and deposits where the relationship was clear, they lay above or were slightly cut into this layer - and this certainly seemed true of the very earliest, main spine wall on the site (1043). In Area C, however, a series of shallow, linear gullies that were clearly stratigraphically below everything else in that part of the site and, by extension, across the site generally, suggests activity prior to the commencement of the main phase of activity in this part of the site, but its exact date and nature are at present rather problematic: for example the base of a glass vessel apparently sealed in the fill of one of these features (cut 1180, fill 1181), was dated by the relevant specialist to the mid- to late 18th century (Appendix 4). It may therefore be that Area C is in a part of the site in which development lagged slightly behind that represented by the other two excavation areas, but this is problematic.

A large assemblage of ceramics was recovered, the overwhelming body of it being of 18th and 19th century date. The specialist assessment of that material is outlined in Appendix 2. In addition, there was a very small body of medieval and early post-medieval pottery recovered from the site's lower contexts, prompting the suspicion of at least low-level activity prior to the early 18th century. The exact nature of that activity is entirely unknown, but it seems unlikely that actual occupation, at least on any permanent basis, is indicated. The medieval ceramic material from Wade Street is more likely to represent the dumping of domestic midden material on open land to the north of Old Market/West Street, whether simply for convenience or perhaps as part of a deliberate 'manuring' regime of market gardening plots (cf. Jones 2004).

There was also, as of course would be expected of a site not far from the city centre, a good collection of clay tobacco pipes, but more might reasonably have been expected, and indeed Roger Price has identified what were effectively family dynasties of 19th-century pipe makers at 7, 15, 26, 27 and 45 Wade Street (Price 2014, passim). However, notwithstanding the rather modest corpus of pipe material actually recovered from the site, the detailed review of the census material, Price's meticulous but as yet unpublished work, and the analysis of the pipes from this site reported on here in Appendix 3, strongly reinforce the impression that Wade Street and its immediate environs were indeed a major centre of the tobacco pipe industry in Bristol during the 19th century.

As explained in Appendix 3, very little pipe material of later than mid-18th century date emerged from the excavation, and this from a site parts of which at least seem to have been continuously occupied from not long after 1700 to the early 1960s. Interestingly, just a little distance to the south-east, evaluation and a watching brief at 46 Wade Street together produced a pipe assemblage showing a very similar date range, although terminating at a slightly later date, in the late rather than the mid-18th century, but like the present site containing only a single fragment of 19th-century material (BHER 3609 and 24772 respectively). Subsequently, however, during the final, watching brief phase of the fieldwork, a dump of clay pipes of 19th century date was recorded.

There are other, coherent assemblages that pose questions of both provenance and date. Perhaps most notable is the very large (something around one hundred) group of modern, machine-made glass 'sauce' bottles that were found stacked neatly in the vaulted cellar, (1026), of one of the houses fronting Little Anne Street. Similarly, the site produced only a moderate assemblage of animal bone, of a volume perhaps rather lower than might have been expected of an urban site of its nature and date range (Appendix 5).

N.B. It should be stated that during the excavation, it was not possible to take bulk samples, as contamination on the site represented a significant health and safety constraint, and there was concern that these would have established an unsustainable contaminant pathway out of the site.


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