We are halfway through our dig at the Coventry Charterhouse, and despite some rather difficult weather conditions, fascinating new insights into this Carthusian monastery are being revealed. Read on to find out about the dig so far, or visit us this Saturday March 16, 12pm-4pm and find more out about the site at out open day.
The Carthusian Order, also called the Order of St Bruno, was founded in the Chartreuse Mountains by Bruno of Cologne in 1084. The Coventry Charterhouse was established in 1385 when King Richard II laid the first foundation stone. Since its dissolution in the mid-16th century, the site has been in private ownership and much of the standing stonework has been removed, leaving only the prior’s house and the refectory, which survived the dissolution intact and were turned over to residential use.
Our work involves excavating eleven trenches across the site of the priory’s cloister, as well as three test-pits along the medieval precinct wall. Three of our trenches are positioned to the south-east of the Great Cloister, investigating areas outside a historic 18th-century coach house. So far, two of these trenches have revealed post-medieval structures, one of which overlies earlier pits and linear features. Unfortunately rain has caused the trenches to repeatedly flood and their excavation is proving a challenge and requires a pump! Hopefully by the end of the dig we will have more to say about the archaeology here.
We have also had to move one trench near the Coach House from its planned location to avoid live services. However, the new location has uncovered a medieval wall. To the east of the wall are late medieval and early post-medieval layers overlying earlier medieval activity which may relate to the monks’ cells located on the west side of the Great Cloister.
Our other trenches are located on the south and east sides of the Great Cloister, and are revealing parts of the cloister and the cell’s surrounding it. The Carthusian Order combined elements of eremitical (secluded) and cenobitic (communal) monasticism. Their monasteries, known as charterhouses in Britain, were generally small communities of hermits living in ‘communal solitude’ – each monk had his own living space, called a cell, built around a shared cloister. The cells were effectively small dwellings, each with space for living, storage, study and prayer and a high walled garden where the monk could meditate, exercise and grow food and medicine. The monks were supported by lay brothers, who carried out most of the communal task in the priory, and had little to no contact with each other or the outside world.
Excavation in these areas is linking with earlier explorations and will greatly expand our knowledge of the monastery. Much of the stone from the south side of the cloister appears to have been removed in the 16th century, but wall lines can still be traced by the presence of the robbed-out foundation trenches and we have potentially identified two of the monks’ cells.
On the east side of the cloister, the archaeology is better preserved. Some stone walls still survive as foundations and the outline of further cells have been identified. Pieces of glazed floor tile have also been found in the cloister, and several trenches have extended beyond the rear wall of the cells into the private gardens beyond to investigate the types of activities that would have been carried out in these areas.
Excitingly, we have also uncovered a robbed-out wall for a potential structure inside the cloister, which has not been previously identified. Hopefully, we will learn more about this as the excavation progresses.
The work currently being performed at Coventry Charterhouse is greatly increasing our knowledge of the Carthusian monastery and the site’s use in the post-medieval period, join us at our Open Day on Saturday March 16 and find out more.
Open Day: Saturday March 16, 12pm – 4pm
Charterhouse Priory, London Road, Coventry, CV1 2JR
An opportunity to visit this medieval gem, tour the house and garden and find out more about the Historic Coventry Trust’s restoration project. You will also be able to meet members of our excavation team who will give tours of the trenches and answer questions about what has been revealed so far.
Refreshments available from The Little Vintage Cake Company.
You can also follow the progress of the project on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/ulasnews/