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These are the finds which have really caught the eye of the Hungate archaeologists. All finds provide archaeologists with valuable information about the past, but the finds featured here are those which really stand out in the assemblage.

A Flush With The Past: The excavation of a mid 19th - early 20th century communal toilet block

The archaeologists of York Archaeological Trust have been uncovering startling details of what life must have been like for people living in the Hungate area during the19th and early 20th centuries, an area of York defined by B. Seebohm Rowntree in his 1901 book "Poverty: A Study of Town Life" as being in the poorest section of the city.

One of the most evocative discoveries from Block E has been that of a communal toilet that served part of the Hungate community up until the 1930s.

The toilet was located to the east of Lower Dundas Street, which no longer exists, within Dundas Court. YAT archaeologists of have discovered from records held in York City Archives that in 1907 this communal toilet served the five houses in Dundas Court and a further six houses that fronted on to Lower Dundas Street. Unbelievably this would have meant that eleven households shared this toilet block, which housed only five closets. Kurt Hunter-Mann, Field Officer in charge of this aspect of the excavations, described the uncovering of the communal toilet as "a unique insight into the living conditions of the urban poor, which persisted to within living memory".

Full excavation of the communal toilet block revealed that this toilet was a Duckett's tipper flush toilet, initially manufactured in Burnley before being brought to York and assembled in Dundas Court. The Duckett toilet appears to have replaced an earlier communal toilet, which was probably a dry pit toilet, which would have been only occasionally cleaned out.

The mechanics of the toilet would have meant that solid effluent would have collected in the bottom of each of the closet pipes, with rain water and dirty water accumulating in each of the tipper cisterns until the accumulation of the water was sufficient to turn over the tipper, discharging the water to wash away the solid effluent. The tipper flush cisterns were not plumbed into to any water source so without rain and the concerted effort to tip used water into them they would not have flushed.

Although the tipper flush toilet is an obvious indication of the investment in the sanitation and wellbeing of the tenants of these houses by the landlord, and was undoubtedly more sanitary than the non-drained former dry pit toilet, a book on sanitary engineering published in 1920 describes this style of tipper flush toilet or "Slop-water Closet" of being of a type that "should never be tolerated" and furthermore as "a direct violation of every principle of sanitary construction". Through further scientific analysis archaeologists at YAT hope to be able to reveal the unsanitary conditions that would have greeted each person as they used these toilets, conditions almost unimaginable in Britain in the 21st century.

This toilet would have undoubtedly helped spread disease and illness throughout this part of the Hungate area but it would also have been instrumental in spreading something a lot less tangible; rumour, gossip and tales. One can imagine that such a small toilet block with upwards of 50 people using it every day would create many a chance encounter where scurrilous rumours, tall tales and colourful stories were exchanged, and it would be no surprise if some of these stories were as filthy as the toilets themselves.

The Lord Mayor's Tipple

It is rare that archaeologists can tie artefacts to individuals, and even rarer to be able to link an artefact to a well-known character of some prominence in the city's past. An example of this is part of a bottle unearthed at Hungate with the seal marked 'John Kilby' who was Lord Mayor of York in 1804.

Mayor Kilby knew his drinks. For several decades he, and his father before him, ran a brewery in Tanner Row. While this bottle may have been one which was used in the business, it is perhaps more likely to be a wine bottle because of it shape.

Records show that in 1822 John Kilby had a house in Peaseholme Green, close to where the broken fragment was found, and this bottle may have originated in his personal cellar. If so, the bottle would have been one of a number made for him, with his personal seal, at the glasshouse. He would send these empty to the wine merchants to have them filled and corked with his favourite wines.


Part of the excavations at Hungate have allowed archaeologists to investigate the industrial history of the are, including Leetham's Flour Mill, which replaced the gasworks after its closure in the mid-19th century. Leetham's Flour Mill, in particular, is one of York's 'forgotten' contributers. By 1900, Leetham and Sons had expanded both within and beyond Hungate, with operations in Hull, Newcastle and Cardiff. Moreover, they were among the most influential firms at the heart of a national transformation of the British four-milling industry across the second half of the 19th century.

One of the former gasworks lots was re-developed as a flour mill and, as shown in Thomas Pickersgill's plans from 1851, showed a factory built around a central courtyard, with the mill located at the north-east part of the site, a sale-room and possible domestic accommodation. Four large millstones were arranged within the mill building, along with an engine house and boiler, indicating they were run with steam power. The initial developer of the flour mill is unknown, but by 1861, John Leetham is recorded as the owner.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the mill complex had extended beyond the small area of the original mill, and several new mill buildings had been constructed to the west of Hungate. A grain warehouse had also been built on Foss Islands, which was connected to the mainland by an extensive four-storey bridge. The Leetham family were in touch with new developments in flour milling technology and, from the 1880s onwards, had transformed the mill frm a small steam-driven millstone plant into a large roller mill. Steel rollers improved on the quality and quantity of flour produced. By 1900, Leethams was producing 112 sacks per hour, which indicated that is was a very large business.

Rocking the Boat: The excavation of a Viking building

At first sight, the plank-lined rectangular hold marking the sunken-floored building looked very similar to the majority of the type found at 16-22 Coppergate-a series of upright posts set into the base of the pit, with a set of horizontal boards between the posts ad the earth sides of the sunken area. The posts are made from trees which have been grown in Yorkshire, and the felling dates for the trees from the 960s.

When the flanks were exposed on site, it was obvious that there was something unusual about them. Some had holes in them which did not relate to the building. Upon closer inspection, they appeared to be boat planks. The planks were fastened together by wooden pegs, not nails. All of the planks seem to come from the starboard side of a boat.

Boat planks are a surprisingly rare find in York. A small section of 13th-century boat was used along the bank of the River Foss. This is also the first time re-used timbers have been found in the walls of a building of this period in York. And although this is a 'Viking-Age' structure, the planks are not from a Viking boat.

Most North European boats of this period are clinker-built (the planks that form the hull have partially overlapping edges). Scandinavian boats have clench-nails to fasten the planks together, but the boat found at Hungate uses wooden pegs. Only four other boat remains have been found with this type of construction: three from the London waterfront, and one from Sussex.  Our boat was probably built in the British Isles- probably the south-east during the 950s, but was broken up for re-use a maximum of twelve years later.

The Viking-Age building constructed with boat planks was set back from the main street. These structures would not have had a ground floor, like those found at Coppergate, so would never have been used as a house. It was a cellar like building, which would have had a relatively constant temperature, which would have been good for storing food and other perishable goods.


This corbel dates from the late 13th or early 14th century and is in the gothic style. Carved from magnesium lime, this corbel is a grotesque, an ugly or bizarre figure used in decoration. Its origin is a religious building from the area, but the archaeologists cannot determine if this is from the Carmelite Friary or St. John's, both of which stood in the Hungate area. The figure would have been decorated, as there is evidence or red paint in the nostrils and flecks of white or pale yellow on the face.

Although the corbel would have originally come from a religious institution, it has been re-used in the foundations of the Cordwainers' (shoemakers) Guild Hall. The hall was built around 1580, as text from the late 16th century indicate its existence. St. John's in the Marsh was dissolved in 1548 and the guild hall was built on the corner of the churchyard, with ready access to any available building materials.

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