2003:1239 - Lakelands Dairy, Drogheda, Louth

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Louth Site name: Lakelands Dairy, Drogheda

Sites and Monuments Record No.: SMR 24:41 Licence number: 03E0688

Author: Thaddeus C. Breen, 13 Wainsfort Crescent, Dublin 6W, for Valerie J. Keeley Ltd.

Site type: Urban medieval

ITM: E 708504m, N 775497m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.717856, -6.356099

Between May and December 2003, investigations were carried out on a large site in the centre of Drogheda as part of the planning conditions for a mixed-use development. The site consisted of the former Campbell's, Lakelands Dairy, and McGowan's Engineering properties and included a short street called Graves' Lane. It was situated on the south bank of the River Boyne to the east of South Quay, between the river and Marsh Road. The development was to have piled foundations, which would leave much of the archaeology of the site undisturbed. For the most part, therefore, only the areas to be disturbed were investigated. The one exception was the town wall.

The excavation was carried out as a joint venture between V.J. Keeley Ltd and ADCO. Niall Brady, on behalf of the latter company, which undertook the underwater component of the work, had carried out previous work on the site (Excavations 2001, No. 848, 01D077). Because previous investigations on the site by Billy Quinn had shown that a substantial length of the town wall appeared to be present (Excavations 2001, No. 846, 01E0337), Dúchas requested that the full extent of the remains should be established by exposing the wall for its entire length, investigating at intervals the depth of the surviving wall and the stratigraphy on either side.

The total length of the wall within the site was 72m. Of this, a 17m stretch lay under modern grain silos and had not yet become accessible by the end of the year. However, it was obvious that the foundations of the silos would have destroyed most of the wall. The remainder was intact and, for the most part, in good condition. Over most of the site it survived to within 0.5m of the surface. It ranged in thickness from 1.8m at the northern end to 1.4m at the south.

The wall was built of limestone, roughly squared on the faces, with unshaped rubble within the core. Most of the fabric was bonded with a yellowish-white mortar containing shell fragments, but the lower courses were bonded with sticky orange clay. For most of its length, only the upper courses were exposed, but, where the depth was investigated, the wall was found to survive to a height of 1.8m above its base.

The ground surface on which the wall was built varied. Near its southern end, it was built directly on bedrock; in the middle of the site, it was built on stony clay; near the river, it appeared to have been dug into the river silt. At another point, also in the middle of the site, it was built on a wide footing of loose rubble revetted by timber.

Surviving stretches of wall elsewhere in the town have a walkway on the inner face carried on arches supported by buttresses. The bases of similar buttresses were found in an earlier excavation to the south of the present site. With the exception of one buttress found near the southern edge (1.3m square), there was no trace of this internal arcading on the Lakeland site. However, the ground on either side was not dug to its full depth, except in a few locations. Over much of the site the material on either side had suffered recent disturbance, with a preponderance of slag and other foundry waste near the river. Where medieval layers were found, they were 1.25m below the top of the surviving wall. A number of brick culverts were found, some of which crossed the wall. Channels had also been cut through the top of the wall for iron pipes and plastic conduits carrying electrical cables.

At the northern end of the wall, where it met the river, the base of a circular tower was found. It was slightly over 4.5m in diameter. It was not centrally placed on the wall but extended to the east (outside) of it. The east face of the wall proper continued within the masonry of the tower, suggesting that the latter was a later addition. The northern side of the tower had been truncated and a rough straight face had been left in the masonry. A stone wall ran northwards from this, joining it to the present quay wall.

The previous excavations to the south of the site had suggested the presence of a rock-cut fosse outside the wall. A deep cutting near this area showed that, while the wall was built on bedrock, which was only about 2m below the surface in this area, on the east side of the wall the bedrock formed a narrow shelf, 1.6m wide, beyond which was an abrupt drop of over 4m. The area immediately east of the wall at this point was the mouth of a deep valley called The Dale. The Dale Stream, which flowed at the foot of this, may have cut into the rock here, but the size and width of the cutting suggest that it was used as a quarry, probably when the wall was being built. It was filled with a thick black deposit containing organic debris, leather, textile and pottery of 13th-century type, so it appears to have been used as a dump for town refuse from an early period.

Two features of medieval date were found adjoining the wall: an area of cobbling and a small structure of unknown use. The cobbling consisted of two levels, of which the lower, earlier, one was of better quality, with a straight edge or kerb along one side. An area 2m by 2.3m was exposed.

The other feature was a small subrectangular structure, 3.7m by 2m, oriented north-south, abutting the town wall. It was divided into two smaller chambers. The town wall served as the eastern wall; the remaining walls were 0.22-0.38m thick, of rubble masonry which was mostly clay-bonded but with mortar pointing used in places. The walls sloped inwards towards the base at an angle of up to 22¡. The chambers were floored with flat stone flags. They filled up with water at high tide, and the fill suggested that they had gradually silted up. In the upper fill of the southern chamber, a human burial was found. It had been disturbed by later building, but the presence of post-medieval pottery and animal bones, above 0.7m of fill, suggests that it was an unofficial and perhaps clandestine burial which took place when the structure had long gone out of use.

At the western end of the site, between Graves' Lane and South Quay, the remains of a medieval house were excavated. The exterior of this building had been identified in the course of the previous ADCO intertidal survey. The northern wall of this house was on the edge of the river and had survived to a height of 1.68m above ground level as part of the river wall. A central round-headed doorway gave access to the river. At either end of this wall was a garderobe in a curved alcove. When the south wall of the house was excavated, a garderobe chute, perhaps from an upper floor, was found, discharging into a lintelled drain which sloped down to meet one of the garderobe chutes in the north wall. The west wall had been subjected to numerous alterations and repairs, but patches of original masonry survived above ground level, including three chamfered stones which probably originally formed the side of a window.

The overall dimensions of the house were c. 20.5m by 7.5m. A number of putlog holes were visible, and one of the stone corbels which would have held the soleplates for the first floor survived. The foundations of two walls aligned with either side of the central doorway were found, and in places there were remains of a floor consisting of cobbles with a thin plaster or mortar layer over it; this appeared to be contemporary with the doorway. Behind this house were the remains of a later stone extension and some more recent brick structures, including brick floors with a thick layer of coal dust.

To the south of this house, further inland from the present river edge, a post-and-wattle fence was found, forming a revetment behind which was a thick deposit of black organic soil containing wood chips and fragments of rope, textile, leather and pottery. To the north of the revetment was grey silt mixed with black organic material alternating with layers of pure silt. This revetment was not found in another trial-trench to the west, where the ground level was higher, so it must have been a small local feature straightening irregularities in the riverbank.

In the area between the town wall and Graves' Lane, fourteen trial-pits were dug on the proposed locations of pile caps. Stone walls of probable medieval date were found in three (two were probably related); an area of paving was found in another. Small patches of wicker matting and timber were found in further pits. Some engineer's trial-pits dug in this area uncovered the pre-1870 stone quay wall, 7m back from the modern equivalent.

At the eastern end of the site, outside the town wall, three large trial-trenches were mechanically excavated. A number of engineer's trial-pits and boreholes dug in the area between this and the town wall were monitored. The foundations of some demolished portions of the 19th-century brewery were found, and the uppermost deposits consisted of recent rubble. Below this were layers of silt and mud deposited by the river. There was little archaeological material in these, apart from occasional random sherds of medieval and post-medieval pottery.

A series of slot-trenches across the Marsh Road were monitored, but they revealed only recent pipes and cables.