1972:0003 - CARRICKFERGUS TOWN, Antrim

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Antrim Site name: CARRICKFERGUS TOWN

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number:

Author: Mr. T.G. Delaney, Dept of Antiquities, Ulster Museum

Site type: Medieval Town

ITM: E 741221m, N 887393m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.714767, -5.808160

The town of Carrickfergus is remarkable in Ulster for its continuous urban settlement from the thirteenth century. It is currently under—going massive redevelopment which will destroy much of the town centre. Accordingly the Historic Monuments Branch of the Ministry of Finance initiated a series of rescue excavations in July 1972. The writer was asked to direct the work on the Ministry’s behalf.

Site 1. Market Place

A shopping development here threatened a site adjacent to St. Nicholas’s Church. Trial trenches indicated that archaeological levels were present beneath a thick deposit of garden soil containing modern brick and pottery. Machinery was used to clear an area of c.200 square metres. The excavation of two—thirds of this area was almost complete when work ceased. The first post—clearance structures included a series of recent pits, and a stone pathway of 17th century date. Below this was found a sequence of property boundaries —stone wall—footings and a wooden fence running roughly N/S. A similar and parallel series of wall—footing was found 6 metres east of these. No other structures were found in the area so enclosed, which corresponded roughly with, the modern garden strip. It appeared to have been cultivated as a garden from at least the 14th century. The lowest level consisted of a cobbled yard with a pathway and drains for surface water. Iron working had been practiced on or near this area — large quantities of slag and furnace bottoms were found.

In an adjacent area a series of gulleys and pits were found, containing l3th/l4th century pottery. The tops of these features had been destroyed by a concrete floor. An interesting aspect of this site is that the hillside appears to have been terraced in the 13th century.

Finds included a series of coins of 14th – 17th century date; several thousand sherds of Medieval pottery including imports from Britain and S.W. France; knives, pins, jew’s harps and other objects of iron; and a bronze bracelet. From the topsoil was recovered a good series of post—Medieval pottery including ‘Cistercian’ wares, slipwares, and German, French and Spanish imports.

Site 2. Cheston Street

Shops and offices are planned for this corner site opposite the Castle. Excavation was hurried as destruction seemed imminent. Medieval material was recovered from stratified layers and a series of large pits. In the S.E. area of the site a large portion of a rectangular masonry structure was found, lm 60cm thick and standing up to lm above its boulder foundations. Pottery which appeared to be no later than the 14th century was found in its foundation trench, which was sealed by a layer containing a fine bronze ring brooch. The structure may be identified with the small tower house shown in this area on 16th century maps of the town.

Site 3. Joymount

This is the site of the Franciscan Friary and of Lord Chichester’s early 17th century ‘palace’ and gardens. Medieval material was recovered from a trial trench at the seaward end of the site. It is hoped that work will continue in 1973. During demolition of a 19th century building on the site, fragments of window mullions and jambs were found built into the walls. Three pieces of oak were also found, dated by M.G.L. Baillie, Dendrochronologist, Queen’s University, Belfast, to 1559 + 9, 1605 + 9, 1622 + 9. Both stone and timber would appear to have formed part of Chichester’ s house.