Pontefract & District Archaeology & History Society
Looking forward…to learning more about our past
St Richard’s Friary, 2011
Our excavation found the north wall of the Friary church nave. The wall is 75cm wide and set on a deep rock-cut foundation.
The wall was later buttressed to bear the weight of additions, possibly the construction of a nave clerestory (raised upper story above the nave with high windows to provide additional light into the church).
A view westwards along the north wall of the church
We also located the east wall of the nave north aisle, this too was later buttressed (twice) reusing a broken grave cover slab. Part of an altar base survives within the church against the whitewashed east wall. There would have been several altars in the church.
After the Dissolution, both of the walls indicate that the stone had been removed and sold, a process known as ‘robbing’. However, we did unearth multiple fragments and whole pieces of stone window tracery from one of the north wall gothic windows, the interior faces of which are also whitewashed. Fragments of painted window glass and the lead cames into which the glass was set have been found too.
The lay cemetery lay north and east of the church, and we found a particularly dense cluster of graves outside the east wall of the church while some  on the north side (e.g., that on the right) are almost touching the wall.
An important find was a rare Purbeck ‘marble’ sarcophagus, once set into a wall niche, later pulled out, broken open and ransacked, the bones of the occupant left scattered around it. Fragments of fine decorative stonework, probably from the tomb niche décor, were also found nearby. The tomb had once held a high status burial. The sarcophagus was imported, probably from Purbeck in Dorset via York.
A single burial had been cut into the demolition debris from the church;  this individual may have been a Civil War casualty from 1645-48. A 1.5m-deep cultivation soil covered the site of the former church; this soil was improved and manured with waste from the town and used for the cultivation of liquorice from the C18th to the C20th. The deep harvesting trenches can be seen in the soil section on the northern edge of our excavation shown on the right. We also found a significant amount of medieval pottery, painted window glass, clay pipes covering 400 years of history, metal objects, animal bones, oyster shells, etc.
Information from the 2011 excavations and from previous digs, has enabled Ron Wilson to draw a reconstruction of what we think the Friary site looked like in the C15th.
buttress base
buttress base
broken grave cover slab
interior of nave east wall
altar base
wall niche
north wall of nave
Pontefract & District Archaeology & History Society
Looking forward…to learning more about our past
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