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Industries along the River Rea

Excavations near the River Rea in Digbeth and Deritend revealed remains of pottery making, metalworking, leather tanning and flax retting dating from the 13th to 18th centuries.

Behind the 15th century Old Crown, excavations revealed waste from the manufacture of cooking pots and jugs in the 13th century. Further up Heath Mill Lane, there was a 13th century boundary ditch and 13th and 14th century post holes, stake holes and pits. Fragments of iron slag were found in some of the post holes, which may have formed several temporary structures over blacksmiths’ hearths.

A selection pottery pieces


Over the road at Gibb Street, next to the Custard Factory 13th or 14th century layers contained waste from pottery manufacture and debris from smithing. Six large pits were probably dug in the 17th century to extract clay. They were later used for tanning or for the disposal of tanning waste, including horncores.

West of the river, at the South Birmingham College site in Floodgate Street, there were 12th and 13th century ditches, probably property boundaries, at right angles to High Street. A large manmade pool and sluices filling and draining it existed during the 16th century but may have been constructed earlier. Smithing is indicated by hearth bottoms and slag, and animal hair, cattle horncores, bark and lime pits indicate leather tanning. By the early 18th century the tanning complex was rebuilt in brick and included brick vats and wells. Waste pieces suggest that pottery was made on the site at this time.

Archaeological excavation site


At Digbeth Coach Station on the other side of High Street Deritend, waste from ivory working was found in a layer dating to the 17th and 18th century. In a later layer there was a pearl oyster shell, which had been used to make mother-of-pearl buttons.

Land on each side of the River Rea off Rea Street was still flooding up until the late 16th to 17th centuries. A group of pits was dug in the 17th and 18th centuries and a large north-south channel was constructed to divert the River Rea. One pit contained flax capsules and seeds. showing that flax plants were retted on the site by immersion in water to break down their fibres. Another pit contained crucibles used to melt brass and silver.

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