Stained and Painted Glass

A few blogs have mentioned the pieces of stained glass that came up in the excavations. By the end of the Middle Ages, almost every window in the church would have been filled with stained glass, but now the vast majority of glass is either clear, or Victorian. In the mid-18th century, the Dean and Chapter ordered that ‘the old painted glass scattered in the several windows be taken out and collected together and placed in the several windows over the Communion Table’, and this must be why Peterborough Cathedral’s medieval glass is almost entirely in the windows round the apse, at the east end, at gallery level and at clerestory level. There are no complete medieval images; it is all muddled up, with a roundel here, a head there, a pair of eyes or decorative detail over there. We don’t yet know how the three pieces (‘quarries’) made it over to Garden House, but they were probably left over from this 18th-century re-leading exercise. One of the quarries has a beautifully painted leaf, which can be matched very closely with examples in the apse; one looks like the top of a pinnacle, which I haven’t yet been able to find a match for; and the last is too dirty or decayed to tell without conservation work. The latter, though, is of interest for still being enclosed within the lead cames that held the glass in place, along with cames for the adjacent, but missing, quarries.

Jackie Hall, Cathedral Archaeologist



Example of a medieval leaf from the apse windows



Excavated painted glass, with leaf



Excavated painted glass, with possible architectural detail



Excavated glass, with lead cames

Archaeology in the Precincts: Day 12

While there is a final day of digging, recording, and refilling to be done at the trenches in the precincts, today marks the final day of the community dig. Around 170 volunteers over the course of two weeks lent their hands and minds to the task of helping us learn more about the area surrounding the cathedral. The generous and enthusiastic help of so many volunteers was critical to the success of the past 12 days. Under the expert guidance of the archaeologists from Access Cambridge Archaeology, Peterborough Cathedral, and the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, we gained a better understanding of the manmade features in the area stretching all the way back to the medieval era.


Volunteers get one last summary of their hard work on the site, and what it has revealed.

We started the day with a quick tour of the site for everyone involved, to review everything that has been accomplished over the past two weeks. The final day of work solidified some of the information we have been theorizing about for the past several days.
Trench 6, for instance, has reached below the 17th century layer of a few days ago, to an in situ medieval wooden post. This is in a deposit of dark organic matter and possibly alongside a former River. If it has woven wattle around it, its river placement can be proven, giving us a better idea of the geography of the area at the time. In the meantime, ACA hopes to date the wood using dendrochronology.


Medieval wooden post in situ in trench 6.

The layers in trench 6 have truly told an entire narrative pf the use of the garden, from dump fill to the discarded remains of 17th century pipes and oysters, down to the remains of a medieval post and, on the same level, cow vertebrae.

Trenches 3, 4, and 9 never found the eastern edge of the medieval fish pond, despite efforts to locate it. Still, the fact that even trench 9 didn’t hit the edge of the pond suggests that it is even farther east, giving a better idea of where future excavations could look. Still, the fact that both trenches 4 and 3 found the water table and pond fill gives an idea of where the pond was located, likely used to cultivate fish for meals after its construction.

trench 1 recording

Volunteers record the contexts in Trench 1.

At Trench 1, multiple boundaries were solidified in the old layout of the site. The northmost portion of trench 1, with its dark black humid soil, contrasts with the bottom of the southern portion of the same trench. With the information from previous archaeological work at the site we know that the black humid soil was north of the old burh wall. However, the wall itself was not located today. The three options, originally, regarding the burh wall were that it’s gone, it is in the area they were digging down into, or it was in there but too deep to see. Given that the volunteers found no wall, but a distinct difference in soil, option one is most likely.The change in soil, then, signifies the northern edge of the pond.

Below, see a 3D modeled version of trench 1, courtesy of Jacob Scott, Heritage 4D.

The hard work everyone put in over the past 12 days allows us to know that the burh wall was destroyed to make way for the medieval fish pond, and may be present at other areas of the site.  After processing all the finds and data from the site, ACA and CAU will also publish work based on what has been found at the cathedral precincts.

Archaeology in the Precints: Day 11

This weekend we are part of the heritage festival and we are right next to all the reenactors and the market. We heard metal clanking and kids practicing their war cries with roman or ww2 soldiers the whole day, and most of us of course went out to explore during break and lunch.

With the festival came loads of curious people to see what we have been doing in our corner of the cathedral area. The constant flow of guided tours and the many good questions in the finds tent shows that there is a lot of interest in and around Peterborough. It has been amazing to be part of this whole community, and see how differently history and archaeology is being used for different purposes. For example, I do not think we will be having shows in the arena area any time soon. We happily leave that to the flashier people.


The finds tent with the highlights from the dig and an incredibly knowledgable pottery specialist answering questions.


Archaeologists kept behind fences. Getting deeper and deeper in trench 9. The edge of the pond should be close.


Our youngest guide mesmerizing the audience with his knowledge on stained glass and pottery.

Even with all this exciting stuff going on around us we have continued to make progress. In trench 5 and 6 they have gotten down to a well preserved layer which has not been touched by oxygen for a long time. This means that it smells a little bit weird when first exposing it to the air, but mainly it means that things that normally rots and deteriorates can still be found intact. In this case patches of straw and twigs have survived.


Said patch of preserved twigs.


Trench 1. The hunt for the burh wall.

Only one more day to dig. It will definitely be another good one!

Archaeology in the Precincts: Day 10

As we near the end of the excavation, many volunteers have finished their final days at the site. New trenches have been started while old ones have been abandoned. With the end in sight, and heritage weekend right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to review the progress so far, and what it means for our knowledge of the history of the precincts as a whole.
Broadly, the excavation area has revealed three different spaces, the garden space near trenches 5 and 6, the old pond space near trenches 3 and 4, and something entirely different near trenches 1 and 2.
One new trench, in the very front corner of the garden, has recently turned up layers and layers of garden. These layers continue to stretch down, and are expected to correspond with what has been found nearby, in what began as trenches 5 and 6.
5 and 6 give a long history of garden as well, but in some test pits material from the late 1600’s is now consistently turning up. The layers leading to this began with a dump of early 20th century material in the garden, but reach down through garden layers until the soil goes very dark. Here, volunteers found a coin from the rein of William and Mary around 1690-1702, helping to date the context. Below that level everything is consistently 17th century.

finding the pottery

The 17th century pottery, a highlight of the day, is uncovered.

Among the most notable finds in the 17th century layer, a slip ware pot with dark glaze and yellow decoration came up today. While it was found in pieces, the pieces are fairly large, and much of the pot has been found. According to Access Cambridge Archaeologist Allison Dickens, a piece of pottery of this type would have been important in the household in the era. The pottery, like much of the other material in the same context, hasn’t been disturbed or turned around. This suggests that this particular area of the garden saw dumps of material in the 17th century, but that not much else happened to it.
In the same area, volunteers also found three big fragments of clay tobacco pipe from the late 1600’s-1690. After further analysis is conducted, it may be possible to date these pipes, for instance if they commemorate a wedding, christening, or similar event and therefore bear a date.


The 17th century pottery with yellow design on black glaze.

Trench 5 has provided much of the medieval window glass and pottery during the dig. Some roman potsherds have even been found in the trench. In general, the presence of so much medieval material shows that the test pits in this trench have dropped below the garden area and into consistently earlier material. The activity being uncovered in this area is activity that went on in the garden possibly before the deans garden, that is also unaffected by the pond. In the earlier days, this buildup might have been much more consistent and slow building.


Clay pipes found in the 17th century context.

The pond archaeology is relatively finished at this point, though trench 9 continues in the hopes of finding the edge of the pond. On Monday, when only the Cambridge teams are left on the site, they are going to look for the base of the pond when the machines are available. However, little more can be done with human hands in the pond area in the time that is left.
The trench that has been consistently different, neither garden nor pond, is trench 1. In order to better interpret what is happening in this trench, Allison Dickens and Peterborough Cathedral Archaeologist Jackie Hall have been going through the earlier records of an excavation done in the adjacent carpark in 1984. Trying to match what they are now seeing here, things are starting to make some sense. Trench 1’s original intent was to try and catch the north end of the pond and maybe the older precinct wall or burh wall, likely very deep below ground. Today, the archaeologists compared their findings so far to an excavation done by archaeologist Don Mackreth in 1984. Like him, they encountered a deposit of  black and humid, claylike material with roman pottery and animal bone throughout. Mackreth knew, however, that this deposit was on the north side of the burh wall. Meanwhile a second test pit in trench 1 just south of the black clay pit lacks the humid black material. This suggests that either the burh wall is between the two pits, or we’ve lost the burh wall because of the late medieval pond taking it out. In the next two days, volunteers will prioritize cutting out the bulk between the pits to look for the wall. If it’s not there, it’s been cut out. The presence or absence of the wall will tell us if the black clay material is either fill of an east west ditch or pond, or the low lying boggy area north of the buhh wall that Mackreth mentioned. The question is, is it inside or outside the manmade feature? While we look for the answer we are still pulling bone and pot and ceramics out of it. Do, it is clear the deposit was human affected, but was it human made? The hardworking volunteers and archaeologists at the precincts have two days to find out.

dickens trench 1

Allison Dickens stands atop the earth that may hold the burh wall. To her left, the north trench 1 test pit with the dark black clay material can be seen.

Everything we have done has added to the story of the precinct, but trench 1 is the one that links with previous archaeology done in the area, so it’s going to see targeted effort in the future.

Archaeology in the Precincts: Day 8

With the start of the second week we are slowly nearing the end of our time at the site. But there is still lots to do. Due to the water found in trench 3 and 4 work could not continue in these and they have therefore been completed or soon to be completed. Time to move on to other projects such as the previously measured out new trench.


Work on the newly opened trench 9. Unfotunately we did not have a digger to remove the topsoil this time.

The good thing about this trench is that the nearby trees give shelter from the rain. Especially valuable on a day like this. People still soldiered on in most of the trenches with rain ponchos and muddy shoes, but eventually the rain made the ground too slippery and useless to work with.

Instead of pushing the water around we got a guided tour of the cathedral, to put the excavation in a greater context. It really helps to get the interesting parts pointed out and dated by a knowledgeable guide to get a fuller picture of how the area has developed and changed over time. The exhibition also helps a lot with drawings of the abbey buildings and the area around Peterborough at different periods.

Peterborough cathedral gallery.png

Guided tour of the Cathedral Galleries. Our muddy shoes were left at the entrance and we continued on our socks to not make a mess. We were probably the sneakiest group to ever get a tour.

One of the mysteries of the excavation is where all of the backfill has come from. Is it locally from the cathedral area? From Peterborough in general? While walking around it was easy to picture some of our finds having originally been in the cathedral.


Close up of stained glass window in the Cathedral.


Find from trench 5 and 6.

While inside the rain had continued to fall and the remaining people had taken an early leave to recharge their batteries for a, hopefully, drier tomorrow.

Things still happened in the other trenches this day, but pictures and info on that in the next update.

Archaeology in the Precincts: Day 7

Work proceeded as usual today in the precincts, with volunteers settling comfortably back into their trenches. Many of the trenches on the site continue to expand as we further explore the area. A new pit is being added near trench 6, for instance, as medieval material continues to turn up in trenches 5 and 6 especially.

Many visitors besides the normal volunteers were around the site today. A group of children from the All Saints’ Primary School learned about various elements of the archaeological process, from physically digging into test pits to washing and categorizing finds. In the title image you can see adult volunteers and primary school students learning near Trench 5 and the find washing station. Along with the primary school group, the site also welcomed BBC reporters for a small story on the community efforts in the area.

trench 3 recording

An Archaeologist and university volunteer map out contexts in Trench 3.

Trench 3, like Trench 4 the day before, had to be recorded after digging uncovered the water table yesterday. Contexts, essentially the layers of deposited material visible in changes in dirt consistency and texture, were organized and assigned numbers. Materials found in previous days were bagged and labeled based on where they were found.

trench 3 section drawing

An early stage in the Trench 3 recording process. Here a north facing section of the western part of Trench 3 is mapped at 1:10 scale.


Material recovered from trench 3 with the corresponding context number. This material will be placed in bags labeled with the context it came from, sorted by type of material, and placed with the rest of the material from the same trench.

Volunteers in each of the trenches continue to put in hard work, and it is starting to really pay off. Check back for updates on new material daily, or look back into our blog posts for information on some of the highlights so far, from encaustic medieval floor tiles to stained glass still in its lead framework.

Archaeology in the Precincts: Day 6

We’re already halfway through the volunteer excavations in the precincts, and as we move forward and downward each day more knowledge about the site emerges.

Today trenches 5 and 6 continued to be of particular interest. In Trench 5, the test pits now reach from medieval through to post medieval layers. Intact late medieval finds were unearthed throughout the day, mainly in the form of pottery and animal bone. Some medieval glass was also found. This comes just two days after encaustic medieval floor tiles were unearthed in trench 3.

trench 5 finds bagged.JPG

Bagged material found in trench 5. Keeping the many potsherds and bones organized is integral to learning from the site.

After hitting water yesterday, volunteers in trench 4 spent the day mapping out the contexts of different layers of the test pit.

trench 4 section drawing

A portion of the drawings mapping the contexts present in trench 4. Work in trench 4 today primarily involved recording and sorting material.

At the beginning of the day we continued digging down into the rubble filled test pit at the eastern end of trench 3. We soon hit water. Much like volunteers in trench 4 yesterday, we attempted to reach further to determine what, if anything, lay beneath the water seeping up towards us. So far, the answer appears to be more mud, and trench 3 will follow trench 4’s lead to be cleaned and charted tomorrow. Hitting the water table in both trenches means that we have still been unable to find the edge of the pond that was in the garden area.

trench 3 at depth

The test pit in trench 3, with water seeping to the surface where volunteers hit the water table.

There was some excitement at the prospect of a grave shaped feature in trench 2 early in the day. Unfortunately, the shape turned out not to be a grave, but instead is a random feature in the victorian backfill that has been so common throughout the site.

trench 2 organizing

Volunteers measure out trench 2.

Archaeology in the Precincts: Day 5

Day 5 proceeded much like the previous four, with volunteers of varying ages and experience levels collaborating to make more progress on the trenches. Test pits in each trench were given more attention, cleaned up in areas, and further divided as we descended. New items turned up from the soil, including pieces of pottery, mortar, and glassware. Highlights from day to day jump from trench to trench, but each area is starting to have its own challenges and rewards.

trenbch 5 6 work day 5

Volunteers expand trenches 5 and 6 along the preexisting wall.

In trenches 5 and 6, expansion has continued along the line of the preexisting stonewalls. At the same time, this area has yielded a large number of 19th century items. Much of this material is in the form of whole bottles and jugs, though animal bones, pieces of china, and various other objects also appeared in fragments.

trench 5:6 bottles

Whole jars and bottles found in trenches 5 and 6, rinsed and scrubbed.

In trench 1, where the burh wall is expected to be if it exists, volunteers and archaeologists found that deposits go down to at least 3 meters. They have augured to depth at this point, and are now working on trying to reach down even further.

Similar to trench 1, trench 4 reached a depth of 2 meters today. Those assigned to trench 4 also used the augers, finding when they did so that water began to seep to the surface at the bottom of their test pit. Having hit the water table, the archaeologists on site suggested we may have found the former location of the pond on the property.

finding the pond

Archaeologists and volunteers watch water seep up into trench 4’s test pit.


Aside from their intense activity in each of the preexisting trenches, volunteers devoted work to a new trench near trenches 3 and 4. The object of digging here, near the fence that surrounds the garden, is to determine where the pond suggested by trench 4 ends. In the days to come this trench will hopefully tell us where the pond was, and give us a better idea of what to expect of the archaeology in that area of the site.

beginning a new trench

A new trench is mapped out.

Check back with us daily for updates from various volunteers. If you’re in the area and want to learn more about new developments or visit your old trench, the excavation offers sit tours at 3pm daily!

Archaeology in the Precincts: Day 4

Part of what the trenches are placed to find is a medieval pond, which could hold interesting layers and artifacts at its bottom. We are still quite far away, since it is thought to be about 8 feet deep. What we do know is that the pond was filled up and leveled out during the 1820’s, which shows up in the form of loads of Georgian glaced plates, glass and more. To fill up a whole pond takes a lot of spoil and all of it has to have come from somewhere. But from where? That is the question we hope to shine some light upon.

Today was the best finds day so far. Here are a few examples:


Two pieces of decorated copper alloy. Probably part of a book frame.


Stained glass still attached to the lead framing.


Jeton made in Nuremberg, Germany by a Hans Schultes around 1600.

Token 2

“Good fortune comes from God.”


Two fragments of encaustic floor tiles. Popular during two periods, 13th-16th c. and Gothic 18th-19th c. revival. Once these fragments have been cleaned they will be taken to the cathedral and compared to similar pieces that are still present in the church.

We are starting to get a better understanding of the site but so far we are just scratching the surface.


Archaeology in the Presincts: Day 3

Greeted by the sun from the start the digging continued. Sunscreen was even needed in the less tree covered trenches while the rest of us enjoyed the warmth from the shade. No major eureka moments were had this day but a lot of progress was made. There was earth to be troweled, sections to be drawn, metal to be detected, photos to be taken, tea to be had and finds to be cleaned, sorted and stored.


Probably the deepest trench and definitely the most accessible one. Just look at those well maintained steps!

Some afternoon rain hit us, but luckily the team was there to help each other out.


Section drawing and team spirit.


Overview of some of the trenches and the huge spoil heaps that quickly accumulates.

Most of the volunteers are digging for three days in total, some have their days spread out over the two weeks and some in consecutive days. This means that we already had to say good bye to a few who had completed their time with us. Thanks to all of you for the hard work! We hope that you have enjoyed your time with us and that you will come back to see what will happen during the rest of the dig! For the rest of us the work continues while we welcome new people to the site.

Remember that there are daily tours at 3 pm for anyone who is curious and for those who want an update on the work in your (previous) trench.