Secrets of Priory uncovered

Experts hope historic finds dug up in Bicester town centre may one day acts as inspiration to young minds.

Over the last two weeks archaeologists have been carrying out survey work ahead of the redevelopment of Old Place Yard.

Bicester archaeological dig by Thames Valley Archaeological Services.'130809M-B707

Bicester archaeological dig by Thames Valley Archaeological Services.'130809M-B707

Before any redevelopment takes place the Thames Valley Archaeological Service (TVAS) was sent in by Cherwell District Council to survey the remains of an Augustinian Priory.

The land includes the vacant St Edburg’s House care homes and former social services offices. The work which was started on Monday, August 5 and will finish on Tuesday, August 14.

Andy Weale, regional branch manager for TVAS said much of what they have found dates back from between the 12th and 14th centuries.

Cherwell District Council is in the process of purchasing land at Old Place Yard from Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) with a view to using the site to provide housing.

Bicester archaeological dig by Thames Valley Archaeological Services. Priory.'130809M-B713

Bicester archaeological dig by Thames Valley Archaeological Services. Priory.'130809M-B713

Evaluation of the site in has uncovered a series of walls and demolition layers relating to the former priory buildings as well as related graves, evidence of outbuildings including walls and a possible oven. A small number of burials have also been recorded.

It is hoped the find will eventually be displayed in north Oxon museums, and Mr Weale said the finds would be the ideal subject for school projects.

He said lots of people have stopped to view the dig and added: “It has been fantastic project and I am so grateful for everyone being so hospitable.”

After being shown around the site last Friday, councillor Debbie Pickford, member of housing for CDC said it had being fascinating and added: “I’m so glad CDC have done their due diligence before the planning and we hope to look after these important parts for the future.”

The priory, linked to St Edburg’s Church was founded by Gilbert Basset betwen 1182 and 1186 replacing a Saxon church and was dissolved in 1536 by Henry VIII.

Among the features which have been discovered by the archaeologists are a series of walls thought to relate to the main Priory buildings itself, as well as walls relating to outbuildings and a small square building thought to be the remains of a cess pit. The possible remains of a bread oven have also been recovered. Although this phase of trenching is now mostly complete further analysis of the finds will continue which will provide valuable dating evidence for the features.

In addition to the features and finds the site contains a grade II listed Old Dovecote and stone boundary wall which will need to be preserved during any future development.

Mr Weale added: “We have also teamed up with Bicester Archaeological Society who have joined us on site as we continue to uncover the history of this site.”

Once the evaluation has been completed the information will be used by the county council’s historic environment team to advise Cherwell’s planning officers how best to develop the site. More details will be released in due course.