Excavate Stage Right!
Archaeologists from York Archaeological Trust are excavating underneath the stage at York Theatre Royal as part of the Theatre’s £4.1 million major redevelopment.
There has been a theatre on the current site since 1744 and lies within the former St Leonard’s Hospital precinct. So far archaeologists have excavated through the accumulated dust beneath the stage, finding leather spats, a moth-eaten flat cap, cigarette packets and an abundance of sequins. Beneath this, removal of a demolition layer full of limestone, brick and tile revealed a post-medieval cobbled yard surface and a well thought to have been contemporary with the hospital but seemingly still in use until the theatre was built on this spot in the 1760s.
At the back of the stage, an 18th-century stone structure believed to be a gateway was unearthed thought to be the entrance to the first theatre building on the site.
Ground works by the main contractor, William Birch and Son, began last week in the auditorium under archaeological monitoring and since then the archaeologists have made new and important discoveries. The team have uncovered the limestone foundations of the north wall of one of the 13th century hospital buildings and a number of the plinths and pillar bases for the rib-vaulted ground floor. Within the building are mortar floors overlaid by thin layers of occupation deposits, evidence of activity within the building. The works provide an exceptionally rare opportunity to unpick, excavate and sample the deposits within the rooms and hopefully to understand both the layout and potentially the use of the building interior.
Ben Reeves, Project Officer for York Archaeological Trust, comments, “It is amazing that, considering all the alterations to the theatre since 1764, so much of the medieval hospital has survived under the stalls and elsewhere within the building. The remains are an exciting and important discovery for both archaeologists and the public, offering an opportunity to investigate and understand more about one of the City’s most fascinating and little understood sites.”
For more information on York Theatre Royal’s redevelopment, visit their website.