SEE US IN A NEW LIGHT
Rediscovering the Past
Lindy Gilliland, the Cathedral’s Project Manager, writes…
Cathedral Archaeologist, Dave Heslop, has an important watching brief in the Cathedral’s capital works. He’s responsible for recording any architectural features, artefacts or human remains unearthed as contractors lift ledger stones, remove paving slabs and shift soil in the nave. To date, an oyster shell, a small piece of 19th century stained glass and some fragments of human bone have been discovered. The contractors have strict instructions not to disturb earlier archaeological layers – any unexpected discovery would require full excavation by Dave himself.
Dave uses traditional archaeological recording methods and cutting edge technology (photogrammetry) to record, measure and interpret the building. His plan (reproduced here) is work in progress as Dave has plotted around 30 newly discovered ledger stones which the Victorians covered with pews. Many are covered in plaster which makes it difficult to record their dimensions accurately. Once Dave’s work is finished, the new information will be added to the Cathedral’s master plan.
Dave follows in a long line of archaeologists, antiquarians and historians who wrote about and made records of St. Nicholas Church. Prominent amongst these is Eneas Mackenzie who wrote a Descriptive and Historical Account of the Town and County of Newcastle upon Tyne in 1827. You can read this online at www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/newcastle-historical-account and find fascinating information about all corners of our wonderful building as well as the wider historic quarter.
Another publication Dave has referred to recently is Archaeologia Aeliana, the journal of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne. In 2002, P.F. Ryder surveyed the Medieval cross slab grave covers in Newcastle and Northumberland. What a surprise when over fifteen pieces of medieval masonry were brought up from the south transept cellar by our contractor! They had been piled up inside the basement chute for safe keeping. You can see from the photographs that a number of them are indeed fragments of the 13th and 14th century grave slabs described and illustrated in Archaeologia Aeliana; some are carved with swords, some with foliage and some with the cross.
The masonry comprises the Cathedral’s most ancient artefacts along with the medieval stone font and knight effigy, which currently rests in the south transept. We don’t know whether the stone fragments originally came from St. Nicholas Church or whether they were gathered together by antiquarians but the opportunity to rediscover and view such archaeological remnants of the past is a real privilege. We’re looking forward to sharing such discoveries with visitors when the Cathedral re-opens after COVID-19. We’ll be organising some behind the scenes heritage events and archaeology updates as soon as we can.