Walk south from the Hive towards the river, and you will come across an island surrounded by a busy one-way road system, the modern Point Severn apartments at its centre. If you were to go back in time to the late 16th and early 17th centuries, though, the scene would look very different. Houses and other buildings lined Newport Street and Dolday. The frontages were shops and residential houses, while the backyards teamed with all manner of industrial life. There were workshops, stables, malthouses, bakehouses, cornlofts, a hemp house, domestic kitchens: humble abodes and more high status houses jostling for space; cobblers, brewers, clothiers, weavers, distillers, living cheek by jowl with wealthier cloth merchants.
We know this from the hoard of documents and drawings which exist in our archives at the Hive. Nevertheless, our ‘Treasures from the Past’ for today, grains of paradise and black pepper, add some important detail to the scene described above. They are two closely linked items of exotic food remains recovered from cess pits excavated on the site in 2005. They both look fairly similar (one could be mistaken for the other if in poor condition) but they also both provide a link from the busy life in the backyards of Newport Street, down the River Severn, through Bristol and out into larger world.
Cess pits (or privies), despite their unpleasant connotations of the more unsavoury side of life can be an archaeologist’s gold mine. All sorts of waste can end up here: food waste from faecal remains, kitchen waste, broken crockery, pests and parasites. Two cess pits (one stone-lined) looked promising on site, but they more than produced the goods in this case.
Excavating a 17th century cess pit
For more information on Archaeological excavations at Newport Street, Worcester, read our press release. A joint Worcestershire Archaeology and Cotswold Archaeology publication on the excavations (in Cotwold Archaeology Monograph Series) is also being prepared. For more information on the history of Worcester, read Pat Hughes and Annette Leech’s The story of Worcester.