Archaeological Excavation, Hereford

The excavations undertaken by Border Archaeology at Aubrey Street have revealed significant evidence of occupation and industrial activity, such as tanning and metalworking, dating back to the 10th-11th centuries AD. 

In Brief

Client: National Construction Company Sector: Construction Services:

Archaeological Excavation

Location: Hereford

Key Points

  • Hereford is classified as an unsurveyed urban area by the Soil Survey of England and Wales (SSEW 1983). However, previous studies within the urban area have observed gravels occurring relatively close to the surface in the centre of the city (Shoesmith, 1982).
  • The site lies within the vicinity of the ‘King’s Ditch’ a natural defile running north-south to the W of Broad Street which was considered by the noted Herefordshire antiquary Alfred Watkins to mark the western boundary of an early enclosure whose opposite side lay along the eastern side of the Cathedral Close.


The site lies within the vicinity of the ‘King’s Ditch’, presumed to be a disused watercourse which is shown on recent aerial (LIDAR) images to comprise a shallow defile running N-S roughly along the line of present-day Aubrey Street and continuing southwards across King Street towards the River Wye.

Two of the earliest pits [118] and [208] identified, probably datable to the 10th-late 11th centuries AD, produced environmental evidence indicating the presence of marshland, with areas of slow/stagnant water and marginal woodland and scrub lying either within or in immediate proximity to the pits. Although lying within the medieval town defences, this area nevertheless appears to have been marginal and used as a dumping place for domestic rubbish and ordure, as well as a convenient location for industrial practices that would normally have been on the periphery of urban settlement.

Archaeological evidence indicates that, from the from the late Saxon period through to the 13th century, the site was intensively used for dumping domestic waste, some of which may have been produced as a result of small-scale tanning activity.

There appear to have been two distinct phases of intensive pit-digging, the first possibly dated to the 10th-late 11th centuries, while a subsequent phase of activity continued through to the 13th century, based on the pottery evidence. A clearance or dumping layer (205) separating the two phases of activity may possibly be dated to the late 11th/early 12th century. Significant quantities of metallurgical debris was recovered from several of the pits indicative of metalworking on or in very close proximity to the site, possibly extending from the late Saxon period through to the 13th century.

There also appears to have been a marked cessation of occupation on the site for a prolonged period, which may have extended from the 14th century through to the 17th, or possibly later, indicated by the presence of a series of tipping or landscaping deposits.

Evidence for later 18th -century building activity, possibly identifiable with a row of cottages shown on Taylor’s 1757 map of Hereford in the approximate location of the site (on the east side of Aubrey Street), was represented by several stone walls interpreted as building foundations associated with the 18th -century street frontage, together with a cobbled surface, which probably served as an entrance or alley between two adjacent properties.


Essentially the programme of archaeological excavations at Aubrey Street has revealed evidence of four principal phases of activity, extending from the 10th century through to the late 19th century (modern demolition and landscaping deposits (001)-(003) being excluded from consideration). These phases of activity can be broadly categorised as follows:

  • Phase 1: Late Saxon-early Norman (late 9th/early 10th–mid to late 11th century)
  • Phase 2: Early Medieval (late 11th /early C12th -13th century)
  • Phase 3: Later Medieval (14th -17th century)
  • Phase 4: Post-medieval (17th -19th century)
  • Phase 1 (late 9th/early 10th-mid/late 11th century)

It was difficult to determine whether any of the pits within Trench 1 could be assigned to this phase of activity, due to the limited nature of the ceramic assemblage from these pits. It appears likely that the large, roughly rectangular pit [118] in Trench 1 represents the earliest feature in this part of the site and could be of pre-Conquest date, although only two undiagnostic fragments of fired clay were recovered from the tertiary fill of the pit. Pit [117], which partially truncated [118], may also be assigned to Phase 1, based on the occurrence of sherds of Stafford ware (Fabric type G1) and Cotswold cooking-pot ware (Fabric type D1) which have been found on several other sites in central Hereford in contexts broadly dated to the late 9th/early 10th- mid/late 11th centuries (Vince 1985).

Within Trench 2, significant evidence of Phase 1 activity was identified, represented by up to 11 pits – [208], [215], [232], [243], [245], [252], [258], [266] and [268] – which were sealed by trench-wide deposit (205). It is likely that several of the features assigned to Phase 1 in this trench represent a distinct sub-phase of activity; for instance, pit [215] was truncated by [208], which in turn was truncated by pits [243] and [249], while pits [245], [266] and [268] represent successive re-cuts of the large sub-ovoid rubbish pit [232]; however, the pottery found in these re-cut features indicates that they also probably belonged to the late Saxon- early Norman period. Pottery recovered from the primary and secondary fills of several of these pits in Trench 2 suggests that they may be dated approximately to the late Saxon-early Norman period, indicated by the preponderance of Stafford ware (Fabric type G1) and Cotswold cooking pot ware (Fabric type D1) together with occasional sherds of late 11th-12th century Cotswold cooking pot/pitcher ware (Fabric type D2).