Digging into monks' past at archaeological site

DISCOVERY: Andrew Weale of Thames Valley Archaeology with a floor tile on the surface of the church floor in Bicester Old Place Yard

DISCOVERY: Andrew Weale of Thames Valley Archaeology with a floor tile on the surface of the church floor in Bicester Old Place Yard

First published in News by

DRINKING 10 pints of beer a week may be frowned upon these days, but to the medie-val monks of Bicester it was a lifeline.

The holy men went to an ancient brew house for a daily tipple to kill off bacteria and now archaeologists believe they may have found the spot under a former social services office.

The site of the former care home St Edburg’s House, social services offices and Bicester Library, have been surveyed over the past fortnight. Archaeologists have found five different types of tile and pottery as well as what m ay be the brewhouse. Some of the buildings are due to be demolished to make way for housing, but a full archaeological dig is expected to take place on the site of the former Bicester Priory before building begins.

Andrew Weale believes his team has also found the choir and transept parts of the former priory, and its cloisters – the monks’ accommodation area.

There is also evidence of a “warming house”, where people would warm their hands before giving readings in the priory.

Land under St Edburg’s House was the former priory, while land near the library would have been used for agriculture. The remains of a large building with an oven may have been a brewhouse.

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Mr Weale, manager of Thames Valley Archaeology, said: “Monks would get eight to 10 pints of ale a week. It had a small amount of alcohol that killed bacteria – it was safer than drinking the water.

“Up to the 18th/19th century, part of your salary would be in beer.”

The priory was destroyed by Henry VIII as part of the dissolution of monasteries from 1538.

Mr Weale said: “They used it as a quarry – most of the old buildings in and around Bicester are made from re-used stone of the abbey.”

He said the county archaeologist had visited the site and is expected to put an “excavation condition” on development, which would require a full dig before building could begin.

Any future dig is likely to involve the community, local history society and individuals with metal detectors as well as open days for schools and the public.

The findings come two years after archaeologists believed they had found Bicester’s patron saint, St Edburg, under a former block of flats off nearby Chapel Street. But specialist carbon dating proved the bones were “medieval fakes”. The real ones were moved and others swapped in their place.

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