Initial Survey
The funded Historic Kidderminster Project 2006-2008 included provision for a radar survey of the churchyard of our historic St Mary's church. This was the beginning of a search for evidence concerning the location of a Saxon monastery or minster church which gave the town the "minster" part of its name. To our delight the survey revealed strong evidence of a buried structure, several feet underground a few yards from the north side of the church which could not be identified from recent historical records. 

Monastery or Minste

The “minster” part of the town’s name means a Saxon church or monastery. A Saxon deed of 736 refers to a monastery to be built in an area which most scholars now believe to be Kidderminster. Below is a translation of this deed taken from Translation (taken from “A Forgotten Worcestershire Monastery” by W. H. Duignan – 1910).

The 19th century historian of the town, Rev J. Burton, believed that the minster/monastery was destroyed by the Danish Vikings on their way up the Severn valley to Bridgnorth.

Please click here for article on monastery or minster history by Nigel Gilbert.

Initial high hopes of finding a structure
“Kidderminster has a fantastic history,” said Project Leader, Nigel Gilbert, who wrote a history of the town published in 2004. “If a dig uncovers a medieval chapel or – dare we hope it? – a Saxon monastery or minster, then it will add greatly to the ability of the town to attract visitors.”

Kidderminster Civic Society was awarded nearly £50,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund for an archaeological dig in St Mary’s churchyard. This was the second stage in the Society’s Historic Kidderminster Project, and in August and September 2013 volunteers enjoyed a rare opportunity to help professionals investigate what we hoped were buried structural remains.  Could these be remains of a Saxon monastery or church believed to have been in Kidderminster.

The project had the enthusiastic support of the church. “I have long been fascinated by the mystery of the location of the Saxon minster,” commented Rev Owain Bell. “I am delighted to be working with the Civic Society on this project.”

Starting on August 27th, the dig was undertaken by the County Council’s Worcestershire Archaeology led by Tom Vaughan, and took place for four weeks. The field work was under the leadership of Richard Bradley. Worcestershire Archaeology has been in operation for over 30 years, undertaking professional archaeological projects across the region and beyond. Their work encompasses all aspects of archaeology, from open area excavation to historic building survey. “Although most of our work is within the planning system, we also take part in a great many community projects,” said Mr Vaughan. “We give talks, have open days and we work frequently with local groups.”

Conclusions and the Archaeologists' Report

The findings of archaeologists concerning the churchyard dig were reported to a public meeting at St Mary’s Chantry on Friday 31st January attended by 60 people.

At the meeting staff from Worcestershire Archaeology commented that the dig was probably the most successful community project they had worked with in terms of the enthusiasm generated. However, the predictions of the ground survey proved incorrect when bedrock was reached with out any sign of the anticipated building structure. It is now clear that the anomalies noted in the radar pictures originated from different features found in natural geological strata.

Nevertheless, interesting artefacts were found. The photograph to the right shows a group of dig volunteers shortly after a brick structure had been revealed in a trench extending east from the main excavation.

This substantial piece of archaeology was an 18thC brick vaulted tomb uncovered  The entrance had been repeatedly opened and rebuilt and it is likely that it had received numerous internments before being sealed permanently. It has not yet proved possible to identify the family associated with this tomb because of a lack of surviving records, but it is reasonable to suppose it was one of high status in the town.

A small disc of lead with a star design is thought by many of us to be our ‘star’ find. It is a cloth seal.These were introduced during the medieval period as a means of crown regulation of the quality of cloth manufacture. The seals were attached to cloths by crown officials known as ‘alnagers’ as a guarantee that the cloth was of a certain size and quality and also that the correct amount of tax had been paid. The motif on the seal could identify the area of manufacture, the type of material and the date of production. Other seals identifying Kidderminster produced cloth are known and tend to date to the later 17th century. However, this seal is thought to be medieval. The cloth industry in Kidderminster is documented as early as 1333. This seal could go back to that period. 

Please read a copy of the archaeologists' report for more information about this and other finds.

“The findings are some compensation for not finding any building buried in the churchyard,” said Nigel Gilbert, leader of the Historic Kidderminster project.

He referred back to the radar survey of the churchyard in 2006 which had apparently revealed, with some certainty, that there was a structure lying hidden underground in the churchyard. “I’m afraid those solid radar images are now being interpreted simply as solid pristine bedrock sand,” commented Mr Gilbert. “Despite this disappointment, St Mary’s remains a possible site for the Saxon minster.”

The archaeologist’s report also contains a good deal of intriguing information about the management of the churchyard during the past two centuries.

Richard Bradley presented the report for Worcestershire Archaeology. Nigel Gilbert spoke about the implications for future research into the Saxon minster.

Mr Alan Taylor attended, representing the Heritage Lottery Fund, and his speech was much appreciated by the audience. He referred to the enthusiastic public response, and he encouraged us not to rule out a further application to HLF, providing of course that it is well founded.

See also below.

Blog:                            http://digminster.blogspot.co.uk/

Twitter:                        https://twitter.com/worcsdigs

Photographs:              https://www.flickr.com/photos/98663984@N05

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