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Medieval dig uncovers remains of Northampton’s oldest brewery

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Northampton brewers have taken special interest in a medieval ‘malting’ oven found at the site of an archaeological dig in the town centre, possibly indicating the town’s first brewery.

Directors from Phipps Brewery and Carlsberg came to visit the large stone pit, still showing scorch marks from flames, which would have been used to roast barley and turn its starch into sugar, one of the main ingredients of beer at the time.

The remains were found at a dig on a former car park off St John’s Street as archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) prepare the site for the building of new Northamptonshire County Council headquarters.

Phipps director and assistant brewer, Roy Crutchley, said: “To find out that we are part of something that goes back 800 years really makes us feel like part of the local heritage.

“It’s fascinating to see how well planned the process was. This oven on the site would have produced about a tonne of barley maltings at a time which could then be taken somewhere nearby to turn into beer.

“It would have tasted very different back then, probably a lot stronger but, no doubt, safer to drink than the local water.”

As well as the oven, the dig has uncovered the remains of a whole series of 13th century workshops, including a bakery, tanning shop, and a possible domestic property.

Channel 4’s Time Team programme’s post-Roman pottery expert, Paul Blinkhorn, attended two open days at site and exhibited pieces of jewellery and pottery that had been found.

Mr Blinkhorn, who lives in Abington and used to work on archaeology projects in Northampton, said: “It’s early days to say exactly what we have here, but we have uncovered boxes and boxes of pieces and I will be looking at each individually to find patterns of change to help date the site.

MOLA senior project manager, Jim Brown, said: “We expected to find a series of medieval building plots as, towards the end of the 13th Century, the town was in its heyday with industry and investment flooding in after King John said he wanted to make it the capital town of England.

“In getting to this level, 2.5m below ground, we’ve also come across remains of Victorian workshop cellars and, when we have finished on the medieval site, we will see if there is anything deeper before finishing completely in September.”

 

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