Andrew McLeish, a Senior Supervisor at the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, has been a visitor to Coventry all his life, but didn’t know about medieval Charterhouse until it became part of his job, working on excavations of Charterhouse as part of its restoration.
‘Charterhouse has had various archaeological excavations done since the 1960s,’ he said, ‘and a lot of what we’re doing now is assessing the condition of the archaeological remains and verifying the work that had been done back in the 1980s.’
Andrew talking to visitors about his work at last year’s ‘Charterhouse Reveals’ event.
Andrew has worked at sites around the globe, digging up artefacts from various periods of history, and has even done work underwater as a trained scuba diver in marine archaeology. But there’s something special at every site, and Charterhouse is no exception.
‘Archaeology is like doing a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle when you only have a few hundred pieces and none of them are edges or corners.’ – Andrew
When an archaeology team comes in to start a project, they begin by assessing the site, looking at historical records and the geophysics specialists scan the area to see what might lie below. Then the digging begins.
The Charterhouse site was one of only nine Carthusian monasteries in England, and is one of the best preserved. The Prior’s House still stands, as well as parts of its inner and outer precinct walls. In 1542, after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the site was sold to speculators and the lead in the roof was melted down and recast into ingots. Part of the structure was even used as a pigsty at one time.
Andrew and his team are working to establish the layout of what would have been monks’ cells. Along the way, they’re discovering clues to the many layers of history represented at the site. One unusual discovery is a tile with a badger’s paw print. As the tiles were created, they were laid out to dry for a few days before use. During this time, various animals could land on the still-soft tiles, leaving footprints.
‘I’ve seen a lot of prints on tiles over the years, including birds, mice, even children,’ Andrew notes. ‘But this is the first badger print!’
The tile was broken at some point, and the thrifty monks re-used the piece in the garden of the eastern cloister. Another interesting find was a decorative copper clasp from a medieval bookbinding. For Andrew and his team, these are exciting pieces of the puzzle.