Sacristy uncovered at Westminster Abbey

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Recent excavation of the North Green at Westminster Abbey has revealed the remains of the 13th-century Great Sacristy. The work was carried out for the Abbey by Pre-Construct Archaeology Ltd.

The sacristy was built in the 1250s on the orders of Henry III, as part of his complete reconstruction of Edward the Confessor’s 11th-century church. It was used to store vestments, altar linens, and other items until the Dissolution, after which it was used as a house. It was demolished in the 1740s, by which time it had fallen into disrepair and hindered access for repairing the nave and North Transept.

The recent excavation on the North Green of Westminster Abbey revealed the L-shaped foundations of the Great Sacristy, demolished in the 1740s. CREDIT: Pre-Construct Archaeology

Pre-Construct Archaeology have now uncovered the sacristy’s L-shaped foundations, which connected to the main structure of the abbey via a door from the North Transept, as well as via the extant North Door into the Abbey’s nave. The inner wall of the building – which would have fronted on to an open yard area – was much narrower than the external northern wall foundations, and the project team thinks that this may indicate that the southern wall was half-timbered, requiring much less substantial foundations. The thicker northern wall was probably built entirely of stone.

Some of the masonry elements discovered during the excavation appear to have been reused from the 11th-century church. One of these features was a fragment of an upturned stoup, originally a basin holding holy water at the entrance to Edward the Confessor’s church. Many fragments of medieval wall plaster were also recovered, indicating that the inside of the sacristy was at one time decorated with hand-painted red, white, and black flowers.

In addition to the remains of the sacristy, the team also uncovered numerous burials. Many of these are believed to be the remains of monks, as this area was used as the church cemetery before the 13th century. More recent burials, dating from the 18th century, were also present, as the North Green was again used as a burial ground for St Margaret’s Church during this time.

We will bring you the full story of this intriguing excavation in a future issue of CA – watch this space.

This news article appears in issue 368 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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