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Changing Times | Building’s demolition allowed large excavation

At the far end of East Street, at the junction of East Walls, lie the remains of an imposing building, highly familiar to many local residents.


The site, now housing New Look, used to be the factory of the well-known and loved local company, Shippams. The premises were purchased in 1783 and were used by Shippams to produce meat and fish pastes, until 2002 when the company was bought out by Princes, and production was moved to new premises on Terminus Road.


In July, 2005, demolition of the East Walls factory began. The factory façade, clock and silver wishbone, however, were retained and can still be seen in East Street to this day.


This presented an opportunity for one of the largest excavations undertaken in Chichester’s city centre, and the first time a major excavation could take place on one of the main central streets.


A number of phases of evaluation and watching briefs took place between 2004 and 2005, with full-scale excavations taking place between January and July, 2006, and December, 2006 to January, 2007. Excavations took place on the site of the former Shippams factory and the former Shippams social club, and were conducted by Pre-Construct Archaeology.


The excavations gave a remarkable insight into a part of the Roman town that was away from the main streets, where ordinary people lived and worked.


Although evidence of occupation before the Romans was minimal, a large north-south oriented ditch which ran underneath the East Walls may have formed part of the late Iron Age Chichester entrenchments, a series of banks and ditches that indicated settlements.


During the 1st century BC, the frontage of the street was developed, and evidence of charred grain and a bell suggest that animal husbandry and grain processing took place there.


The excavations showed that development of the site began shortly after the Roman invasion of 43AD with evidence of an early Roman street which crossed east-west across the central area of the site having been constructed around 50AD.


Evidence of a sewer ran alongside the northern side of the east-west street, and timber constructed buildings ran along its southern side. One of those timber buildings had a domed oven or furnace, and significant amounts of hammer scale, which indicates that it was possibly used as a site for metal-working.


The remains of a building, with a threshold and a floor, were found to the west of the site. It was probably built on a north-south facing street, as part of the Roman city centre grid pattern. Another oven was found alongside a metal-worker’s basket, indication that it was a metal workshop.


It seems that other occupations of the site include the processing and cooking of meat and the baking of bread in large ovens. Evidence of ritual activity was also common.


During the abandonment of the site, and the city itself, during the 3rd century BC, two coin hoards were deposited. The area never seemed to have achieved any great prosperity. By around 350AD, the area had been virtually abandoned.


Re-occupation of the site occurred during the middle/late Saxon period, evidenced by the postholes and pits of a possible sunken building. During the Late Saxo-Norman period, there are numerous cesspits which contain a large amount of pottery fragments.


Although no archaeological evidence was found of the building for the East Walls Brewhouse, there were a number of pits and soakaways that indicated the presence of the building.


Also discovered were a number of horse burials. Analysis of the bones showed the horses stood between 1.44m and 1.64m, which is consistent with cart horses of the time. It is thought they are the dray horses from the brewhouse.


Artefacts recovered from the excavations were deposited at the Novium Museum in 2015, and some of the finds, including one of the coin hoards, are now on display in the Roman Gallery.


By Portia Tremlett, public programme engagement officer at the Novium Museum

Posted in Lifestyle.