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HER Number:MDV58915
Name:Medieval Courtyard, Rackfield Lane, Barnstaple


Medieval courtyard and other features excavated within the presumed precinct of St. Mary Magdelene's Priory in Rackfield Lane.


Grid Reference:SS 557 335
Map Sheet:SS53SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBarnstaple
DistrictNorth Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishBARNSTAPLE

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS53SE/156/6

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • COURTYARD (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD (Between))

Full description

Lovatt, A. M. + Lee, E. S., 1990, Excavations at Rackfield Lane, Barnstaple, 1987 (Report - Excavation). SDV76387.

Excavations in 1987 within the presumed precinct of the Priory revealed a medieval courtyard on the south bank of the mill leat. The earliest feature was a spread of rough cobbling which formed a substantial courtyard. To the north of this was a length of stone wall footing running approximately east to west, parallel to the modern course of the leat, and circa 5 metres to the south. Some 7 metres of the wall was exposed, although it presumably continued east beyond the site limit. Along most of its length it was circa 0.7 metres wide, faced on both sides and infilled with angular rubble. It survived to 2 or 3 courses. At its west end was a large butress at which point it may have terminated. It may however have originally continued further west, as this area was heavily cut by later features. Due to later disturbance no direct stratigraphic link was established between the wall and the cobbling, but the similarity in level between the courtyard and the demolition rubble from the wall suggests that they are contemporary. The cobbling mostly consisted of a single layer of small randomly laid stone, however, at the south end of the site was an area of more regular cobbling, using longer thinner stones aligned with their long axes lying north to south. These formed a ridge some 15-20 centimetres above the surrounding cobbles. Lying on top of the cobbles in several places was a discontinuous layer of angular stone rubble. This was most apparent to north of the line formed by the pits and in the vicinity of the raised area of cobbling.
Cut into the courtyard were 2 steep-sided, sub-circular flat bottomed pits, and a further shallow cut. One pit may have originally had a clay lining. Both probably served as tanks or baths, possibly associated with the tanyard. They were cut from the surface of the cobbles the backfill of the shallow cut contained fragments of decorated floor tile. It was cut through the first layer above the cobbles of the courtyard.
Buildings at north and south ends of the courtyard remained in use and were possibly incorporated into later buildings, until clearance for road construction in ?1980s. At the south end were 3 walls of irregular stone construction, with a possible stub of the remaining wall. The shallow foundations of this building contrasted with the substantial buttress or piles provided for the building at north end of site, cut into the upper fills of pits. A sequence of mortared stone-lined drain trenches (one containing a token dated '166?')seem to have been provided at this stage. The space between the 2 buildings may have been open courtyard. A line of postholes may have been part of the boundary of the southern building. This phase may represent the buildings recorded on Wood's map of 1843. Boggis writing in the 19th century suggested the northern building may predate this.
The stone lined well may once have had an associated shelter. It had been capped and the shaft filled with a plug of yellow shillet. This may have been subsequent to the abandonment of the feature, though an alternative possibility is that this arrangement was part of the original design, with water being raised from the well via a hand pump rather than a bucket. Exact location unknown.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV76387Report - Excavation: Lovatt, A. M. + Lee, E. S.. 1990. Excavations at Rackfield Lane, Barnstaple, 1987. North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. [Mapped feature: #96226 ]

Associated Monuments

MDV4488Related to: Priory of St Mary Magdalene, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV58919Related to: Ropewalk, Rackfield Lane (Monument)

Associated Finds

  • FDV1344 - POT (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)
  • FDV1346 - TILE (Medieval - 1066 AD to 1539 AD)

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:Nov 22 2012 1:34PM