Digging up scandalous nuns' past

Oxford University vice chancellor Andrew Hamilton, left, with David Griffiths and a 700-year-old tile. Picture: OX55430 Antony Moore

A 4,000-year-old flint arrow head found at the dig

First published in News thisisoxfordshire: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Didcot and Wallingford. Call me on 01865 425425

UNCOVERING the history behind supposedly scandalous nuns has helped fuel interest in archaeology projects in Oxford.

About 500 volunteers from Archeox, the Archaeology of East Oxford Community Project, have been excavating a medieval nunnery at Minchery Farm Paddock, between Blackbird Leys and Littlemore.

The five-week dig finished on Friday when Oxford University Vice Chancellor Prof Andrew Hamilton paid a visit to see some of the historic finds.

Project director Dr David Griffiths, of Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, said the area explored was part of the site occupied by Littlemore Priory, a nunnery established in around AD1110.

It was closed down by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525 after accusations were made that the nuns were involved in scandalous practices, including sharing beds.

Dr Griffiths said: “Several of the nuns also had illegitimate children.”

Part of the nunnery buildings, dating back to the 1400s, later became a farmhouse and still stand as the Priory Pub, near Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium.

The 47-year-old from Headington said the wider £500,000 scheme, backed by the university and the Heritage Lottery Fund, was launched in 2010 and could run until 2014.

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He said: “Community archaeology is something fairly new but it has really taken off in East Oxford and we now have hundreds of people who are developing the skills and abilities to carry out the research themselves.

“We have been tackling part of the city which has been overlooked in archaeological and historical terms, and eventually there will be an exhibition to display the finds – I would love to see a museum in East Oxford one day.”

He said all the finds would be analysed to reveal more about the diet and lifestyle of the people who have lived there over the centuries.

He said: “Our excavations have revealed stone walls, floors and hearths, which show that the priory buildings were once much more extensive, and included domestic, kitchen and workshop areas.

“We have also found evidence of peat layers, which tell the story of the landscape over a much longer timescale.

“Finds dating to the period of the nunnery include a large amount of medieval pottery, and decorated glazed floor-tiles showing heraldic designs such as birds and griffins. Roman pottery suggests that the site was in use in earlier times.

“Perhaps the most exciting and surprising finds have been a small group of prehistoric worked flints, including a beautiful Bronze Age arrowhead dating to around 4,000 years ago.”

  • For further information on archaeology in Oxfrord visit archeox.net

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