Remains of a "substantial" and previously unknown medieval building have been discovered beneath the Newton’s Place museum and community space project in Wolborough Street, Newton Abbot.
The time tunnel opened up as workmen began digging a lift shaft that will make the former St Leonard’s Church fully accessible. No sooner had the excavation got underway when a previously hidden internal floor, possibly 500-years-old or more, began to emerge. Then the remains of whitewashed and plastered stone walls up to 70cm thick started to appear. One contained what is believed to be a bay window or door threshold.
With the finds mounting, archaeologists Stuart Randall and Silvia Criado were called in and the cobbled surface of a long-forgotten passageway or courtyard was unveiled.
All the remains had been damaged by the construction of St Leonard’s in the 1830s although enough evidence survives to show the building appears to have projected further into the street than the former church and was on the same alignment as the centuries-old Turk’s Head pub which sat next door until demolition in 2010.
The thickness of the walls suggests it was a public place rather than a private residence.
The site’s location at the heart of medieval Newton Abbot means the latest discoveries will help develop a better understanding of the town’s development since the granting of a Royal Charter in 1269.
"We’ve certainly got a building here that’s older than the church," said Mr Randall. "The cobbled surface seems to be contemporary with one of the walls which the later church seems to have cut through. It would have been quite common [to have walls this thick] if this was a public building like a church or something similar, it’s certainly a substantial building of some kind, it’s certainly of significance. It raises lots of questions which we can now dive into the historical and archaeological records to try and find a bit more about."
Val Harrison, who officially observed the shaft-dig and alerted the authorities when the archaeology emerged, said: "It’s exciting to think what other things may yet lie underneath."
Archaeologists will record the finds before allowing their monitored removal and progression of the construction project.
The photo shows archaeologist Silvia Criado working in the building.