Archaeology Warwickshire, a Warwickshire County Council managed team, oversaw the 10-month restoration work on West Gate by Croft Restoration Builders because of the historical significance of West Gate and the Chantry Chapel of St James in the Lord Leycester above it.
The Chantry Chapel of St James – built in 1126 – is the oldest Lord Leycester Hospital building and one of the oldest in Warwick.
The archaeologists found 86 artefacts, most dating from the early 18th century, beneath the floor of the chapel including; animal bones – notably pig trotters, a wine bottle with cork intact and broken pottery. The archaeologists believe the artefacts were found within ‘levelling deposits’ used to keep the floor even.
A stand-out find was a floor tile with fleur-de-lys design believed to be from the medieval era and is believed to be the oldest find.
A clay smoking pipe that says, “Will Morris” was also found. In the 19th century William Morris designed a stained-glass window that survives in the Lord Leycester chapel today.
The archaeology was conducted during the West Gate restoration, which is Grade I- listed that originally formed part of Warwick’s historic town wall. There was contour scaling erosion that mostly affected the 14th century sandstone blocks on the exterior wall and the vaulted section of the archway, beneath the chapel’s tower.
The first phase of work – completed in December 2018 – involved replacing and re-facing more than 400 stone blocks, repointing, improving the drainage and rebuilding the parapets.
The second phase involved reconstructing a stone tierceron vaulted ceiling beneath the chapel’s bell tower. The original arched stone ribs were so eroded there was a risk they could no longer support the adjacent stone slabs and the floor above.
The decision to reconstruct the vault was taken on the advice of the project’s engineers and historic buildings architect, Mark Evans, and was supported by Warwick’s conservation officer and Historic England. Each of the stone ribs and slabs is slightly different and each one has been hand-carved by the stonemasons at Croft Building and Conservation.
All that remains of the vault’s original stonework is the keystone with its coat of arms which was in a better condition than the other stonework and was retained.
Before the chapel floor above West Gate was sealed up, pupils from Westgate Primary School, the team at the Lord Leycester Hospital and Warwick County Council contributed items for a time capsule.
Heidi Meyer, Master of the Lord Leycester Hospital, said: “The next time the floor is repaired our future townsfolk will uncover the buried time capsule giving them wonderful insights into Warwick town life in 2019 and what a wonderful gift exchange – we have been given a treasure trove of artefacts from the past and in return we offer a time capsule to the future.”