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HER Number:MDV43952
Name:Rackfield, Barnstaple

Summary

The Rackfield area of Barnstaple was probably once used for drying woollen cloth following the fulling process whereby the newly woven cloth was cleansed of oil and impurities and thickened. The name is suggestive of a fulling mill in the area. The large number of human bones recovered from George Street prior to 1915 has led to the suggestion that there was a plague cemetery here or that it was the site of a leper hospital.

Location

Grid Reference:SS 559 335
Map Sheet:SS53SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBarnstaple
DistrictNorth Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishBARNSTAPLE

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS53SE/520

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • TENTER GROUND (Early Medieval to Post Medieval - 1066 AD to 1750 AD (Between))

Full description

Watts, S., 05/04/2013, Rackfield/Rack Park (Personal Comment). SDV351046.

Rackfield is a name often given to the area where fulled woollen cloth was stretched upon wooden frames to dry. The wooden frames are known as racks or tenters and the cloth was attached to them with tenterhooks. Fulling is the process by which newly woven woollen cloth was cleansed of oil and dirt and thickened by pounding it in water mixed with urine or, later, fuller's earth. This was originally done by hand but in the medieval period fulling mills came into use. The field name, Rackfield, is indicative, therefore, of a fulling mill in the vicinity.

Gribble, J. B., 1830, Barnstaple (Cartographic). SDV357319.

The map in Gribble's 'Memorials of Barnstaple' shows Rack Field adjacent to Boutport Street.

Gribble, J. B., 1830, Memorials of Barnstaple, 31 (Monograph). SDV342187.

Devon County Council, 1838-1848, Tithe Mosaic, approximately 1838-1848 (Cartographic). SDV349431.

Field named as Rackfield (Plot 154) on Tithe Map and apportionment. The Tithe Map shows development around the edges of the field.

Griffiths, D. M., 1984, An Archaeological Assessment of the Proposed Route of the Barnstaple Urban Relief Road Stages II and III (Report - Assessment). SDV74017.

The place name Rack Street first appears in 1549 and Rack Close in 1657, the name implying the racking or stretching of cloth on the site.

Orme, N. + Webster, M., 1995, The English Hospital 1070-1570, 215 (Monograph). SDV350213.

Henderson, C. G., 1997, Archaeological Assessment of a Development Site at Rackfield, Barnstaple (Report - Assessment). SDV78641.

Rackfield once extended from the priory mill leat (the course of which is now marked by the urban relief road) to Vicarage Lane, behind the tenements lining the north-east side of Boutport Street. This ground remained undeveloped well into the 19th century and had probably been open land belonging to the priory in the medieval period. It appears to have been among the last parts of the priory estate to have been sold off in 1831. The Tithe Apportionment of 10 years later records it as under pasture. Serious development of the field seems to have been delayed until the 20th century, which saw the construction of Coronation Street, King Edward Street, George Street and Charles Street. The first two names suggest a date of around 1901 and the 1904 Ordnance Survey map shows the streets to have been laid out. Prior to 1915, a large number of human bones were recovered from 'the middle of George Street'. While it was traditional for monks to be buried within the precinct, Barnstaple Priory appears to have been a very small establishment, numbered in single figures. This has led to the suggestion that Rackfield was used as a cemetery for plague victins, the town suffered from a particularly severed outbreak in 1646. An alternative possibility is that it included the site of Barnstaple's leper hospital.

Collings, A. G., 1998, Archaeological Assessment of a Proposed Development at Boutport Street, Barnstaple, 6 (Report - Assessment). SDV336400.

Rackfield or Rack Close once extended from the priory mill leat to Vicarage Lane, behind the tenements lining the north-east side of Boutport Street. The area remained undeveloped well into the 19th century and had probably been open land belonging to the priory in medieval period. It has been suggested that rackfield may have been used as a plague cemetery or that it included the site of the leper hospital.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV336400Report - Assessment: Collings, A. G.. 1998. Archaeological Assessment of a Proposed Development at Boutport Street, Barnstaple. Exeter Archaeology Report. 98.54. A4 Stapled + Digital. 6.
SDV342187Monograph: Gribble, J. B.. 1830. Memorials of Barnstaple. Memorials of Barnstaple. Unknown. 31.
SDV349431Cartographic: Devon County Council. 1838-1848. Tithe Mosaic, approximately 1838-1848. Digitised Tithe Map. Digital. [Mapped feature: #92030 ]
SDV350213Monograph: Orme, N. + Webster, M.. 1995. The English Hospital 1070-1570. The English Hospital 1070-1570. Unknown. 215.
SDV351046Personal Comment: Watts, S.. 05/04/2013. Rackfield/Rack Park. Not Applicable.
SDV357319Cartographic: Gribble, J. B.. 1830. Barnstaple. Frontispiece to Memorials of Barnstaple. a4 single Sheet + Digital.
SDV74017Report - Assessment: Griffiths, D. M.. 1984. An Archaeological Assessment of the Proposed Route of the Barnstaple Urban Relief Road Stages II and III. Devon County Council Report. A4 + Digital.
SDV78641Report - Assessment: Henderson, C. G.. 1997. Archaeological Assessment of a Development Site at Rackfield, Barnstaple. Exeter Archaeology Report. 97.16. A4 Stapled + Digital.

Associated Monuments: none recorded

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV8187 - Archaeological assessment of proposed route of the Barnstaple Relief Road, Stages II and III

Date Last Edited:Nov 13 2019 10:54AM