Bishops Palace Excavation

Bishops Palace Excavation

The site that is situated in the grounds of 16 Market Place covers the eastern range of what was once part of the wider complex of the Bishops Manor at Howden. Used as a residence by the Bishops of Durham since before 1128, and most certainly in use as a manor house by nobility since Saxon times, all that remains today is a small part of the southern side of the complex.

Despite the generally medieval-looking facade of this existing dwelling, the majority of the building has been a victim of nineteenth century adjustments and modifications, as evident by its windows and interior features. However, the existing building is not of interest to this project. Instead, the interest lies in the building and wider complex that once was, more specifically its eastern range.

The medieval manor house was formed by a quadrangle of buildings based around a central courtyard. Based upon a detailed survey completed in 1561, the eastern side of this quadrangle may be found to cover what is now the grounds of 16 Market Place. The medieval structure that once stood here included a chapel, closets, privy and the private apartments of the Bishop of Durham.

A section of brick wall that stretches from the existing building to the edge of the grounds of 16 Market Place demonstrates the length of this eastern section. This is supported by the correlation of the wall with he 1561 survey of the post medieval manor house. This wall lies where the east end of the complex would have been and now forms a garden wall for the site at 16 Market Place. Indeed, stone from the original medieval structures may be found to make up part of the contemporary wall.

Furthermore, the survey suggests that part of this eastern corner was in fact partly two story, as attested to by the placement of a small and long stair, and the fact that the area contained a vaulted stone cellar beneath the chapel. Interestingly, over two hundred years later in 1794 ruins of medieval buildings still remained along the eastern edge of the manor.
By 1840, when the southern part of the manor was used as a farm house, the eastern side still held several large ruins of medieval buildings, including the remains of the ribs and groinings of an extensive stone vault. This stonework being undoubtedly what remained of the bishop’s chapel.

Archaeological work previously completed on the surviving southern section of the Bishop’s Manor in 1984 did indeed suggest that the east wall could be the oldest part of the building, dating back to the times of the conquest. This theory is supported by further work done just over a decade later. However, none of the above theories were based upon any solid archaeological evidence. Despite the interest the eastern range may hold, no evaluations of what may remain of it has ever been explored.
The site is of considerable interest and importance to the community in Howden, where the significance of the town in terms of its connections to the Church, English Royalty and nobility can be explored further through archaeological evidence. In particular, being able to establish the actual extent of the eastern range of the Bishop’s Manor complex will notably further improve our understanding of the importance Howden held to the Bishops of
Durham and nobility alike during the medieval period.