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Page last updated at 15:22 GMT, Thursday, 2 July 2009 16:22 UK
Journeying into Selby's lost past

By Graham Bruce
On-Site Archaeology Ltd

Map of Selby from 1792
Old maps have given archaeologists clues about the layout of old Selby

During this year work has been going on to redevelop parts of the centre of Selby to improve the local environment and help to support future investment in the town centre. This work requires the lifting of the existing stone, tarmac and concrete surfaces to be replaced with high quality stone surfaces.

The new surfaces needed stone foundations to be laid, and it is the excavation for these new foundations that has provided the opportunity to see if archaeological remains are present. Due to the possibility that archaeological remains might be disturbed during the redevelopment work, Selby District Council appointed On-Site Archaeology Ltd of York to monitor the work.

Remains of Selby Abbey gatehouse
Excavation work reveals the buildings lost beneath modern Selby

The history of Selby since the Norman Conquest is well documented, due to the foundation of the abbey around 1070. Although the location of the abbey's boundary wall is not certain early maps suggest that it would have crossed the Market Place, together with the main abbey gatehouse.

Selby Abbey was closed in 1539 as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII and the majority of the buildings have since been demolished. A map produced in the 1790s shows the "abbey gates" in the eastern part of the Market Place and drawings from the late 1770s show what the building looked liked. The gatehouse was demolished shortly after the production of the map to open up the market place.

Therefore, although we knew that the gatehouse had stood within the area occupied by the Market Place, it was unclear if any remains of the building survived below ground. It was possible that the gatehouse had been completely removed, including the robbing out of all of the foundations for re-use in other buildings elsewhere in the town.

Drawing of the Abbey Gatehouse dating from the 1770's
Old drawings show that buildings remained standing for many years

In the event, excavations showed that the remains of the gatehouse are well preserved. These remains include not only the foundations, but also the lowest courses of the walls themselves. From these walls it has now been possible to accurately locate the gatehouse for the first time in over 200 years, including details of the gate columns themselves and the line of the carriageway into the abbey precinct.

After recording the structures, they have been carefully covered over so that they will be preserved beneath the new market place. To minimise disruption to users of the Market Place the excavation work is being undertaken in a series of separate stages.

This should mean that more remains of the gatehouse and the abbey precinct wall will be discovered during the coming weeks. The construction work is planned in such a way so as to enable the contractors to continue their programme, even when archaeologists are on-site.




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