The Charterhouse Project: Some final discoveries

Work at Charterhouse is now finished and analysis of the results is underway. The large quantities of artefacts we recovered are being cleaned and examined by experts at the University of Leicester and the results from the trenches are being investigated. The excavation has shed light on the functioning of the Carthusian monastery and revealed important new evidence about how it was built. Site Director Richard Huxley reflects on some of the final discoveries…

Our trench close to the historic 18thcentury coach house revealed a well preserved medieval wall (left) with a garden soil next to it. Building rubble was found covering the wall, which likely comes from the dismantling of the monastery during the Dissolution and later (1539-c.1640). The south-west corner of the site appears to have been covered in clay during the early post-medieval period which may have helped level the ground for later activities after the monastery was demolished.

The flooded trenches to the south were pumped out and cleaned up to reveal numerous horticulture trenches. These likely relate to when John Whittingham owned the site during the mid-18th century and used it as a nursery for growing fruit trees, which he supplied to stately homes. A brick structure was also found but no medieval remains were identified.

Inside the Great Cloister the numerous horticulture trenches and layers of clay made excavation challenging. Medieval walls and surfaces were found at much deeper levels than had previously been seen within the monastery complex. Because of this, however, these trenches contained some of the best preserved medieval remains on the site and part of a monk’s cell was identified during the excavation.

A large rectangular trench was found to have been dug through the later post-medieval layers and a medieval wall was found at its base. This is possibly an antiquary’s trench and evidence of earlier archaeological investigations that were not recorded.

Remains of a medieval wall found at the bottom of an unknown antiquary’s excavation trench.

The Great Cloister appears to have been surrounded by a roofed walkway or pentice, the remains of which were identified for the first time on the site. The outer edge was marked by a line of stone slabs covered with fallen roof tiles. These likely came from the roof when it was dismantled. Some of the monastery’s walls survived initial dismantlement during the Dissolution and later activity continued to respect them, including a new structure in the cloister.

Stone slabs and broken roof tiles mark the edge of the cloister’s pentice.

On the eastern side of the cloister a thick layer of building rubble covered the remains of the monks cells. Clues to the building’s decorative features were found within the rubble, including fragments of cream or white painted wall plaster and numerous broken glazed floor tiles. One structure, situated at the back of a garden area associated with a monk’s cell, still had part of an intact tile floor, re-using encaustic patterned tiles.

A structure at the back of one of the monks’ gardens still had part of an in-situ tiled floor.
The tiled floor was made using a mixture of medieval plain-glazed and encaustic patterned tiles.

The work at Charterhouse has revealed many new and exciting aspects about the character of the Carthusian monastery. The work carried out by the University of Leicester will join with earlier investigations and together will provide a fuller understanding of the daily functioning of the monastery and the lives of the monks.

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