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St John’s Walk: What lies beneath?

Jo Catling with finds 2Ongoing restoration work to St John’s Walk is adding important insights into the history of Hereford Cathedral. Archaeological remains appeared as the builders lifted parts of the existing floor of the walk ahead of laying new stone slabs. Under the supervision of the Cathedral Archaeologist, Richard Morriss, the area was thoroughly investigated and a number of finds were recovered, which included human and animal bones, pieces of clay pipe, pottery and oyster shells.

‘They do reveal some tantalising clues to the past lives of the Vicars Choral for whom St John’s Walk was originally built,’ said Richard “Unfortunately it appears that the finds are mixed up from different periods of history, so dating many of them will be impossible.”

He added, “Some things have already proved fascinating, such as the copper stylus for marking parchment, and the fragment of a large tankard, suggestive of ale-drinking, which I am sure the vicars choral who lived in the cloisters would have enjoyed!”

At the southern end of St John’s Walk, nearest the Vicars’ Choral College and the river, archaeologists uncovered evidence of an earlier structure. Foundations of a wall dating from the 1400s and large pieces of decorated daub may have come from a high status building demolished to make way for the College, which was built around 1470. Evidence of industrial activity has also been recovered from this area hinting at yet more uses of the site. This links to similar discoveries made during archaeological work undertaken by Headland Archaeology as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded restoration of the Cathedral Close (2009 – 2011), and presented in the book Death in the Close: a Medieval Mystery published earlier this year.

The new slabs are now in place and analysis of the finds has begun, after which all the human bone uncovered will be re-interred. The work to St John’s Walk continues to reveal insights into its history and talks are being planned so that the public can learn more. These will culminate in an exhibition and conference at Hereford Cathedral in autumn 2016.

The restoration of St John’s Walk is the core of a wider project which, as well as conserving the building and illuminating the beautiful carved timbers of the roof, will enable visitors of all ages to learn about the history of this fascinating place.

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