1991:005 - Carrickfergus, Antrim

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Antrim Site name: Carrickfergus

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

Author: Ruairí Ó Baoill, c/o Historic Monuments and Buildings Branch, DOE(NI).

Site type: Medieval town

ITM: E 741321m, N 887193m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 54.712944, -5.806707

Between 27 June-20 December 1991 three sites were excavated in Carrickfergus town, Co. Antrim (see below, no. 10). The excavations were directed by the writer on behalf of the DOE Environment Service in close co-operation with the Carrickfergus Project Development Office. The excavations were in advance of redevelopment within the historic town.

Carrickfergus 18
Carrickfergus 18 was a raised mound, revetted with a single course of mortared and cemented stone The mound abutted the curved gable end of the 19th-century Y.M.C.A. school on a vacant plot that fronted onto Albert Road, Cork Hill. It was speculated that this mound might have been the remains of a circular bastion shown on 16th-century illustrations of the town defences. However, both it and the revetting wall proved to be of a considerably more recent vintage. No medieval or post-medieval structures were discovered and the shallow stratigraphy on the mound showed signs of much disturbance.

Outside the mound, subsoil (Keuper Marl) lay directly below topsoil. The stratigraphy of the mound itself was of such a nature that it seems certain that most of it had been brought in from elsewhere in Carrickfergus and redeposited to artificially raise the mound, perhaps in the late 19th or early 20th century.

The earliest undisturbed features seem to be a shallow gully, cut into subsoil, in the south of the mound and a steep cut in the subsoil in its northern half. Both features ran under the footings of the schoolyard wall and their function is, as yet, unclear. A couple of small pits cut into the subsoil in the middle of the mound yielded medieval pottery. There were several layers (redeposited?) which yielded undisturbed post-medieval artifacts, but the bulk of the finds were of a mixed post-medieval and modern date.

Later structural remains on the mound included a red brick foundation plinth and a rough un-mortared basalt wall.

Most of the 1,500 finds recovered were either clay pipes or pottery. The pottery was mostly post-medieval or modern, but some 80+ sherds of medieval pottery were also found. Two 17th-century coins were recovered from the post-medieval deposits along with a piece of decorated bone, The most curious discovery was, however, a deposit of interwoven butchered cattle horn stretching, in a line, for a distance of two metres. This occurred in a disturbed context, not far below topsoil, and is of uncertain function,

Carrickfergus 19
The Carrickfergus 19 site was an enclosed courtyard behind buildings fronting no. 25 West Street. A 4m x 4.5m trench was excavated to give an archaeological profile of the stratigraphy between the West Street and Lancasterian Street areas. The earliest feature discovered was the remains of a post and wattle rubbish pit filled with large amounts of organic material. The pit ran north-south down the middle of the trench and was oval shaped, approximately 1 .8m x 1.2m. The posts, roughly 0.3m high and 0.04m in diameter, were set 0.25m-0.4m apart and had several courses of silver birch wattles woven (simply) between them. The pit was cut just above, but not into, subsoil (Keuper Marl). A line of posts running north-south in the east of the site, and cut into redeposited subsoil at a higher level than the pit, probably represents a medieval property boundary.

The organic deposits that fill up the pit also fill up the whole trench to a maximum height of 0.8m. These deposits yielded a large number of artifacts which include vast quantities of leather heels and soles of shoes, a stitched purse, three knife scabbards (one decorated with lightly incised lines), and various off-cuts. Metal artifacts included two knife blades, a bent gilded dress pin and a simple ring of twisted gilded metal. From the vast quantities of organic remains sampled we recovered the stem of a rose. About twenty sherds of medieval pottery, both glazed and unglazed, were recovered tentatively dating this period of usage as a rubbish dump to between the 14th and 16th centuries.

On either side of the pit, and cut into subsoil through the organic deposits, were the remains of three wall foundations. Two of these were 17th-century, the third 18th-century. The remains of a corner belonging to one of the 17th-century walls lay close to the western side of the post and wattle pit. This wall was constructed of roughly faced and mortared, medium-sized basalt stones with a dry stone rubble core. It ran off westwards into the section. Found in association with this wall were sherds of 17th-century pottery, roof tiles and clay pipes.

The second 17th-century wall was of similar construction to the first but occurred in the east of the trench. It was abutted to the south by a later 18th-century wall. This wall was constructed of heavily mortared basalt stones with a high redbrick content. Found in the fabric of this wall were sherds of pottery and bottle glass.

More recent features discovered during the excavation were a cobbled drain and a later, 19th-century, slate-lined ceramic drain on the same alignment (running north-south down the middle of the trench). In the last century there seems to have been a deliberate raising and levelling of the ground surface to facilitate the cobbling of the area, the latest of three horizons being the most impressive.

There was approximately 1.5m of stratigraphy.

Carrickfergus 20
The Carrickfergus 20 excavation took place on the site of the old cinema at the corner of West Street and Essex Street. We opened a 9m x 6m trench across the foundations of the cinema, which was built in the 1930s. The excavation was an attempt to locate the 16th-century town wall noted by Tom Delaney during the construction work at the cinema in the mid 1970s.

The earliest deposits encountered were medieval occupation layers and also a defensive ditch cut into subsoil (raised beach and gravels). The western edge and part of the bottom of the ditch survived. The maximum dimensions of the medieval ditch surviving were 5m wide and 2m deep. All the medieval artifacts, except for one piece of iron, one piece of worked bone and a couple of fragments of leather, are ceramic. Most of 400+ medieval sherds recovered are of local origin (though not the type known as ‘Carrickfergus Kilnware’). Amongst the imports were sherds of Saintonge and Stamford wares.

Cut through the medieval deposits, on the same north-south alignment but at a slightly higher level, was the late 16th-century ditch. This ditch was roughly 4m wide and 1.3m deep. Like the earlier, medieval ditch only the western edge and bottom of the 16th-century ditch survived the construction of the late 16th-century town wall, discovered at the eastern limit of the trench. The building of this wall and the early 17th-century town wall west of the site made the ditch obsolete and it was backfilled soon afterwards. Among the various fills were sandy, silty, highly organic, waterlogged and gravelly deposits.

Finds from the ditch were abundant. From the lowest fills of the ditch were recovered 21 coins, all but 6 from the same layer. Twenty of these coins are base copper Elizabethan pennies or half pennies. All were in an excellent state of preservation and were clearly stamped 1601 or 1602. The other coin was a Philip and Mary groat from the mid-l550s. From the lower fills of the ditch were also recovered several bronze belt buckles, dozens of dress pins of various sizes, lead musket balls and numerous bronze offcuts. In the later organic ditch fills were discovered several complete leather shoes, many complete soles and a large quantity of leather offcuts. We also found several lathe-turned wooden objects.

Built about 1596 the town wall is slightly later than the post-medieval ditch. We discovered the outer face of this wall intact, a few centimetres below the modern surface of Essex Street. The wall consists of an external face of roughly cut and heavily mortared basalt stones. It was constructed in very definable courses, surviving to a height of 2.5m, the bottom 0.8m being a slightly offset plinth (0.16m-0.28m).

This plinth is of a rougher build than the rest of the wall and is founded, not, as would be expected, on subsoil, but on a bank of clay 0.3m above subsoil.

The course of the wall follows precisely the line of Essex Street and runs the whole 6m, north-south across the eastern limit of the site.

The latest archaeological deposits surviving above the ditch yielded a variety of finds dating up to the mid-17th century. The main feature of this period was a large 17th-century pit cut into medieval layers in the north-west of the site.

Finds from the later layers were mostly pottery and clay pipes (both fired and unfired). They amount to several thousand artifacts. As expected we discovered large quantities of North Devon Gravel Tempered, Gravel Free and Sgraffito wares. Continental imports included much Portuguese and lesser amounts of German, Dutch, Italian and French pottery. From these layers, and also from the backfill of the 16th-century ditch, were retrieved vast numbers of glass fragments; bowls, stems and bases of goblets, bottle and window glass (in one case with fragments still in situ in their lead channelling).

Other special finds from the mid- 17th century included two bronze coins, lead musket balls and part of a double-sided wooden comb.

Thousands of animal bones and dozens of organic samples were also recovered from the site.

Archaeological deposits did not survive beyond the mid-17th century. There were various modern redbrick plinths and fragments of walls surviving, truncated, at foundation level above these undisturbed deposits and just below the concrete floor of the cinema – evidence of the continued occupation of this site in the last few centuries.