1990:112 - The Watch Tower, Railway Square, Manor Street, Ward of Mount Sion, Waterford, Waterford

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Waterford Site name: The Watch Tower, Railway Square, Manor Street, Ward of Mount Sion, Waterford

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

Author: Ben Murtagh, City Engineer's Dept., The Mall, Waterford.

Site type: City wall and tower

ITM: E 660637m, N 619951m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 52.327827, -7.110399

In January 1990, Waterford Corporation commissioned a second season of excavation to commence, for a period of seven weeks, on a portion of the City Wall that is located to the east of Manor Street, at the junction with Railway Square (see figure). The first season of work was conducted on this site for a period of three months from April to July 1985. It was part of a series of excavations that was conducted between 1984 and 1990, under the direction of the writer, on the most southerly portion of the city’s medieval defences (Excavations 1985, 39-40; 1986, 36). The purpose of this work has been to facilitate the conservation and restoration of the well-preserved section of wall between Manor Street and John’s River.

On the Railway Square/Manor Street site, (also known as Site A), stands the cylindrical Watch Tower with two adjoining portions of city wall. Apart from Reginald’s Tower, it is the best preserved of the city’s mural towers. The 1985 season of work involved the excavation of the interior (Trench J), as well as a limited excavation of the area to the north of the tower – within the walls -(Trenches K & L).

In the winter of 1988/89 the Watch Tower was restored by Waterford Corporation. Subsequently, as part of a scheme to landscape the surrounding area, it was decided that a second season of excavation would be required on Site A. In addition, to facilitate proposed roadworks, it was decided to extend the area of the excavation out into the middle of Manor Street, with a view to locating the wall there (see figure).

A total of eight levels were recorded on the site, beginning with the construction of the tower and the adjoining walls in the late middle ages.

Level 1. The Tower, which is located in the centre of the site, is built on a foundation of rough unmortared masonry, 1.4m in depth. It cut through naturally deposited esturine silt to overlie the glacially deposited boulder clay at 0.7m over datum. At the north side of the tower, inside the walls, there is a centrally placed entrance doorway which is 0.2m above the footing.

The well preserved section of adjoining city wall that runs north-east from the tower, survives to the height of its parapet. This continues for a distance of 1l.8m before it turns to the south-east (see figure). In Trench K, the inner face was excavated for a distance of 4m from the tower, down to a depth of 2.lm below the modern ground surface. Here an extensive area of metalled surfacing was revealed, that could be traced as far as Manor Street. This was the late medieval ground surface inside the wall. The latter at this level was l.1m in thickness and 0.35m below the level of the metalled surface. The outer face of the wall overlay a rough footing, which was built on naturally deposited esturine silt that sloped towards John’s River to the east.

The adjoining section of the city wall that runs northwest from the tower survived above modern ground level for a distance of only 4.25m. The excavation revealed a further 17.25m surviving immediately below the modern ground surface, terminating just beyond the kerb of the footpath in Manor Street (see figure), giving a total length of 21.5m for this wall. It stood on a rough foundation of angular hammer-dressed masonry that was unmortared, was one course in height and overlay glacially deposited boulder clay. The latter sloped gradually in a south-east direction from Manor Street, underneath the Watch Tower, to John’s River. The foundation slopes with this gradient.

Above the foundation, the newly exposed section of wall survived to an average of three courses in height. The masonry consisted of local sandstone, conglomerate, and green slate. Small stones, particularly green slate, were used as spalls between the larger ones. The mortar was white in colour, containing sea sand and crushed shells. Beyond the kerb, the excavation was extended out into the centre of Manor Street in the hope of finding evidence of the Close Gate of St John’s Priory. However, no evidence of the gateway, demolished c. 1832, was found, as modern service trenches cut deep into the boulder clay.

Extending some 8.25m south-east of the kerb at Manor Street, a ditch was excavated outside the city wall. The outer edge was not exposed. It was 1.05m in depth and was cut into the boulder clay. To the south-east the ditch had been destroyed by foundations of 19th-century buildings.

Level 2 saw the accumulation of organic deposits in both the ditch and overlying the metalled surface inside the city wall. This was followed by Level 3, which involved the construction of three abutments inside the wall between the Watch Tower and Manor Street (see figure), probably with a view to strengthening the defences against artillery. This was accompanied by a cobbled pathway running along the inside of the wall, which sloped into an open drain which ran from the street in a south-east direction, circumventing the north side of the tower and making an exit through an opening in the north-east section of the city wall.

Levels 4-6 involved the gradual accumulation of organic and esturine deposits inside of the walls from the mid 17th into the 18th century. Level 7, which dates to the 18th century, is represented by an extensive series of deposits, up to 1.4m in depth, which raised the ground level on the site almost to that of the present. By this time the wall had ceased to have a defensive function. Level 8 involved the construction of terraced houses and other buildings on the site from the 18th century onwards. Most of these fronted onto Railway Square and Manor Street.