The redevelopment of the Memorial Hall in Newport, Pembrokeshire has been progressing steadily. The 1920’s building is the subject of a major lottery-funded project to bring it up to date. The unusual factor is that the basement space under the centre of the building is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. A large late medieval pottery kiln in remarkably good condition was found in 1921 and preserved under the stage floor. As part of the new project the kiln is being reexcavated and presented to the public and further archaeological work carried out in the areas of the site affected by the development.
Structural problems and flooding have slowed progress during the spring and the kiln has been boxed over to allow the insertion of a large viewing window opening and the adaptation of the basement space to make a suitable room to display the kiln. Externally the removal of a Edwardian landscaping beside the building has produced large quantities of redeposited medieval pottery waste. Below that a loosely built stone structure, seemingly contemporary with the kiln is the subject of much discussion.
Above: the kiln in the newly transformed basement, revealed from under the boxing that has protected it during the building work. Below: now that the excavation and cleaning of the interior is completed, the full height of the firebox is revealed along with the slate floor.
Bill Stebbing setting up the laser scanner to scan the flues and firebox.
Cleaning and excavating the firebox and flue interiors has made the internal structure clearer. Removal of modern debris and fill from the firebox and the area in front has revealed the lower 20cm or so of the front of the kiln and a huge piece of slate used to form the entire floor of the firebox. Finds included late 20th century electrical cable and below, fragments of rotting mid-century linoleum.
The second firebox of the kiln is unexcavated and hidden under the rear wall of the room, directly opposite the exposed one. It and its two flues are more of less clear of debris and sitting there quietly unseen. We have investigated by directing lights down the openings in the kiln floor and using an iPhone on a selfie-stick as a camera. The photo below is difficult to read but… The mass on the left is the drum supporting the kiln floor. The flues curve round it in a U shape meeting the firebox at the base of the U. The camera is in the left-hand arm of the U looking across to the right hand one (its outer wall lit by a torch). To the right of centre the shadowy form of the roof of the firebox can be seen extending off to the right. It was very exciting seeing these images for the first time. Disappointingly there do not appear to be any complete pots, gold coins or sarcophagi hidden inside.
Outside the NW corner of the building a fragment of loosely bonded masonry has caused some excitement, particularly given that a second kiln was found and demolished in 1921. Sadly it is not a kiln but it incorporates kiln waste and is likely to be part of a contemporary structure.
Archaeological watching brief, Nick Tavener (Nick Tavener Archaeological Services). Specialist evaluation, excavation and interpretation Oliver Kent and David Dawson/Bickley Ceramics Project with Nick Dawson of Archaeology South West. Laser scanning by Bill Stebbing of Scan to PLAN. Funded by CADW through the Newport Memorial Hall Medieval Kiln Project.
Feb 2016 The Newport Medieval Kiln, Pembrokeshire