City centre backyards
Two excavations have given us a glimpse of what went on behind street frontages in the past.
In Carrs Lane, behind the High Street, there were several pits dating from the 14th to the 18th centuries, separated by layers of soil dumped to level up the ground surface. The oldest pit was roughly circular and was covered by a layer containing medieval pottery. Following further dumping, two pits were dug which were both lined with clay to retain water. A later pit was also clay-lined and was covered by planks held in place by a jointed cross beam. The pits are likely to have been originally intended for an industrial process. Cattle horn cores show that leather tanning or horn working was taking place on the site and elderberry seed suggest that textiles were being dyed using this plant. The pits may have been used as cesspits when their industrial use ceased.
Excavations in Dean Street near the Markets revealed a former stream, probably the Dirtey Brook which is marked on historic maps. There was a wide expanse of river gravels and silts which would have been a marshy area, and in the 19th century attempts had been made to consolidate this with rubble. Timbers and wood fragments found lying on the surface of the silts may be part of a revetment along the stream. A pit partly lined with wooden planks and plant debris, including willow twigs, was dug into the made-ground. The pit may be one of the osier pits marked on a map of 1808, which were used to soak willows for basket making. Basket makers were working in this area between 1770 and 1830.
The Freeman Street area lies on the edge of the medieval town of Birmingham. It was within a medieval deer park which originally extended to High Street in the west and Digbeth in the south. Archaeological excavations as part of the Bullring development showed that the park had been reduced in size in the 13th century and Moor Street and Park Street had been built over its filled-in boundary ditch.
Freeman Street and the surrounding land was divided into plots for buildings between 1724 and 1725. One of the buildings constructed soon after this, the Fox and Grapes pub, still survives. Trenches were excavated across the site in advance of proposals for new development.
As expected there were cellars, wall footings and yard surfaces dating from the 18th century onwards, but there was also a surprising quantity of earlier remains. These consisted of two pits containing medieval pottery, a soil layer up to half a metre thick, and a line of sandstone bonded with clay, possibly part of a building.
The pits were in the most westerly trench and are likely to have been rubbish pits in the back yards of 13th or 14th-century houses fronting onto Moor Street.
The medieval pottery in the soil layer consisted of numerous small worn pieces suggesting that it might be derived from rubbish spread on cultivated land. It included misshapen pieces which had been spoilt during firing, indicating the proximity of a pottery kiln. Further more extensive archaeological excavation will take place before further development