Katie Keefe from On Site Archaeology, city archaeologist John Oxley and Cllr Sonja Crisp in King's Square. Photographs: Richard McDougall
Katie Keefe from On Site Archaeology, city archaeologist John Oxley and Cllr Sonja Crisp in King’s Square. Photographs: Richard McDougall

Scratch the surface of York and who knows what you’ll find?

In the case of King’s Square, the footprint of a Victorian church, most likely built on the foundations of a medieval church.

Work by City of York Council to refurbish the square began at the start of the month. The council commissioned On Site Archaeology to oversee the work, and barely had the first flagstones been removed that the square began to reveal its secrets.

“We’re talking about a very gentle operation, scratching the surface,” said John Oxley, city archaeologist. But only a matter of inches below the flags was the square of blocks which once held the tower of Holy Trinity Church – just in front of York Chocolate Story – and its nave, going towards Shambles.

This church was built in place of a medieval predecessor, first mentioned in 1268 and demolished about 600 years later.

“The church was rebuilt in 1861, and it’s highly likely that it was rebuilt on the foundation walls of the medieval church,” said Katie Keefe, of On Site Archaeology.

A stone block, thought to be medieval, with the Victorian brickwork behind
A stone block, thought to be medieval, with the Victorian brickwork behind
The trench leading towards Shambles
The trench leading towards Shambles
A panorama of the site
A panorama of the site
Katie Keefe, Cllr Crisp and John Oxley examine the church's remains
Katie Keefe, Cllr Crisp and John Oxley examine the church’s remains
An archaeologist at work
An archaeologist at work
Holy Trinity Church, King's Square, pictured in about 1910. Photograph: Imagine York
Holy Trinity Church, King’s Square, pictured in about 1910. Photograph: Imagine York

The Victorian Holy Trinity was latterly the Butchers’ Guild chapel, serving the traders on nearby Shambles. By 1896 it housed a small flock of sheep.

John Oxley has been city archaeologist since 1989, but has never lost his enthusiasm for discoveries like this, even in history-saturated York.

“What gets me out of bed in the morning is the fact that with a piece of work like this, you are never really sure what it is you are going to find,” he said.

“This site could have been trashed. The church was demolished in 1937, the square was re-paved in 1971.”

What won’t be discovered is what lies beneath. Phase I of the work is set to be completed before St Nicholas Fayre opens on November 28. “That’s an unmovable date,” said Coun Dave Merrett, the council’s cabinet member for planning.

So the archaeologists will clean and record the remains of the church, before the new surface is laid and King’s Square is again reinvented.

 


 

3 comments on “Pictured: Old church discovered in King’s Square

  1. What’s underneath it is far more interesting than what they’re planning to place on top of it, so I hope they carry on excavating for as long as possible, and let everyone have a look. Perhaps this will also give enough time for everyone to realise that removing a healthy tree for ‘aesthetic’ reasons is crazy, as is removing the handsome and functional paving of the cart tracks and setts.

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