Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Chelmsford: Essex Archaeological News, Autumn 1973

Essex Archaeological News, Autumn 1973 (No 44)


Chelmsford Excavation Committee have one more important find to their credit. The identification of the position of the Dominican Priory Church, in 1969/70, and the assembling of other evidence of wall foundations under the Rural District Offices on New London Road, led to an estimate of the extent and position of the Priory buildings.

The recent destruction of the Electricity Showrooms gave an opportunity to test the extent of these buildings since this site was thought to have the North East corner of the buildings under the foundations.

Paul Drury put in a clearance of available ground by machine, there being cellars, an air raid shelter and many pipes and cables on the site. The result has been more than satisfactory since the excavation has found the reredorter, or latrines of the Priory.

In common with most religious houses of the time the brethren were well served by their architect. A conduit led water through the reredorter wall, along a channel running the length of the building and then through the wall again.

The conduit is built of close packed tiles and faced Caen stone, and the archway through the wall is most impressive, since it is all made of well carved stone and includes the groove for a sluice gate.

There was probably a similar arch at the other end of the building, but the carved stone arch was destroyed during the building of the air raid shelter, needless to say, the destruction of such a peculiar find was not recorded.

The conduit was probably fed from a leat running parallel to the building, and made to flow over a weir.

Such an arrangement would give a channel full of water which could be released to flow through the latrine channel when the sluice gate was lifted. The latrine channel itself appears to have had a depth of some ten centimetres of water standing in it when the sluice was not operating, and this water would be swept out to the lower level of the leat and then to the river.

The close parallel to the modern flushing water closet is remarkable, when one considers the date, the turn of the fourteenth century, and the conditions in most other circles which did not reach the flushing stage until the mid nineteenth.

The excavation has side benefits in that the latrine channel was later used as a midden, and several late medieval pots have been recovered in -a broken state, and one ewer complete.

The excavation has been the chance for publicity on the part of the Excavation Committee, having been given up to full page treatment in the local papers.

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