Guildhall Feoffment School: an insight into medieval Bury St Edmunds

Suffolk Archaeology was commissioned to investigate the Guildhall Feoffment school site in Bury St Edmunds before building works began on a new classroom and kitchen. The school lies in the road system that was set up by Abbot Anselm in the 11th century, placing it firmly within the core of the old town. Bury had a large medieval market, and its Abbey was a famous pilgrimage site, making it an important and wealthy regional centre…

The dig uncovered a series of 12th-14th century pits, used to quarry chalk, which would then have been processed to extract lime for making mortar. The pits were backfilled with lots of domestic rubbish, including a gaming counter, worked bone and antler waste, pottery, a chain, a spindle whorl and roof tile fragments (and a little cess!). They also contained large quantities of animal bone (pigs, sheep/goats, cattle and fish bones), as well as oyster and mussel shells, giving a good indication of the diet of the medieval population.

The medieval building, thought to be a kitchen or cold store. With 2 metre long scales.

One of the more unexpected discoveries was the remains of a small 14th/15th century building (4.2m long x 3.4m wide), thought to possibly be a kitchen or cold store, built from flint and mortar. It is an unusual find in the town, as many contemporary structures had less substantial foundations and as a result have not survived. The building was positioned some distance from the street frontage, where the houses would have been sited, meaning that if any fires occurred during cooking then the main house would hopefully not be affected. Above ground, the structure would have almost certainly have been built of timber, with a tiled roof and floor.

Antler gaming piece with ring and dot motif. And here are some of the other finds from the site! A gaming piece, made from antler. It is decorated with two compass-drawn grooves and a repeating ring and dot motif. It has a central perforation which is worn on one side, suggesting that the gaming piece may have been held on string; 12th–14th century.

Medieval storage vessel.

Fragment of a storage vessel with strengthening applied strips and impressed decoration. The vessel would have had a lid originally. It is made in a sandy greyware which is probably locally made. Superficially it resembles Late Saxon Thetford-type ware, but it is later, belonging to the medieval period.

Pieces of bone, used to make buttons or beads.

Five fragments of late medieval bone button or bead making waste. The discs were drilled from both sides as the central ridge is visible inside in each hole.

Fragments of 13th-14th century jugs from Hedingham.

Fragments of medieval jugs from Hedingham in Essex, including a rim of a stamped strip jug. One is decorated in a combed or reeded style, whilst the others have applied roundels. 13th to early 14th century.

Spindle whorl of 13th-15th century date.

A complete, plano-convex spindle whorl for working wool into yarn. It is made from stone and has a central perforation. It dates to the 13th – 15th century.

Late medieval/early post-medieval copper alloy chain.

Copper alloy chain made up of twisted figure of eight wire links. One terminal ends in a simple hook, whereby the link has been left open rather than closed. It may be the chain for a chatelaine and is thought to date to the 15th-16th centuries.

Roof tile (left) and glazed floor tile (right).

Some of the many fragments of 13th-15th century roof peg tile and glazed floor tile.

Boy bishop token.

And finally, a lead boy bishop token dating to c.1470 - 1539. These were issued by a boy bishop (an elected choirboy) in the period between 6th and 28th December. The tokens could be spent or exchanged and whilst they are found further afield, their main centre of production seems to have been Bury St Edmunds. Obvs: Bishop’s mitre.Inscription reads SA[NC]T[US NIC]HOLAVS.O. Reverse shows a long cross with 3 pellets in each quarter. Inscription reads AVE/REX/GEN/TIS.