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Exciting historic discoveries shed new light on 14th century life in Coventry

Exciting archaeological discoveries in Coventry have offered a fascinating new insight into 14th century life in the city.

The rare 14th century remains, which shed new light on the city’s history, have been discovered by archaeologists working on the restoration of The Charterhouse on London Road.

Ongoing works are uncovering layers of history at the Grade I listed former Carthusian monastery, which once restored will be a major new heritage attraction.

The prior’s house and refectory of the monastery, which was founded in 1385, remain today and have the only intact interiors of any Carthusian building in the UK.

The church, monks’ cells and chapter house were demolished during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, although 400m of tall stone precinct walls remain.

Now, archaeologists have discovered additional Elizabethan wall decoration inside the prior’s house and, beneath later Victorian coverings, a likely monastic tiled floor.

A 14th century arch discovered at The Charterhouse

The floor is made up of patterns and vivid colours found in tiles elsewhere on the site and made locally in the Middle Ages by Coventry’s renowned tile industry.

The tiles, and a 14th century arch also just discovered, are in a passageway along which a few select visitors were invited into the monastic settlement.

Careful conservation could bring this space back to its full medieval context.

David Mahony, conservation architect at PCPT Architects, said: “The discovery of more wall decoration on the first floor suggests that, when the monastery was converted into a house in the 1570s, large parts of the walls were decorated in black and white patterns and caricatures in a style very popular at that time.

“External excavations have been done in a piecemeal way in the past and this left an incomplete picture of what the monastery was originally.

He added: “Carthusian monasteries were built to a fairly standard layout which has enabled a best guess, but we are now starting to fill in the gaps.

“We recently uncovered remains of a substantial stone building which looks very likely to be the chapter house and it is exactly where it should be.

“The team believe these are some of the most exciting recent archaeological discoveries in the region.”

A medieval floor tile discovered at The Charterhouse

Historic Coventry Trust is working in partnership with Coventry City Council and the local community on the £8m project to restore one of Coventry’s oldest buildings.

The restoration is a major part of £30m of investment in the city’s heritage for Coventry being UK City of Culture in 2021.

The Charterhouse has proved to be a hot bed of discovery for archaeologists from University of Leicester Archaeological Services, architects PCPT and conservation contractors Splitlath, who have been excavating the inner precinct area of the monastery and restoring the prior’s house.

The works are being funded by the National Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic England and donations from several trusts and foundations.

Medieval ridge tiles discovered at The Charterhouse that once decorated the roof of a monk’s cell

The visitor attraction is due to open in the spring of 2021 and will include interpretative displays which explain the lives of the Carthusian monks, their cultural importance and influence, as well as the later Elizabethan conversion to a house during Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester’s ownership.

Two of the original 11 monks’ cells that lined the Great Cloister will be reconstructed on their original foundations.

One will show how the monks lived and the other will be an acoustically insulated room exploring the concept of silence – the Carthusians were the only monastic order to live in strict silence.

Councillor Jim O’Boyle, Coventry City Council’s cabinet member for jobs and regeneration, said: “ The Charterhouse is set to become a major Coventry attraction and it is fascinating to see more and more of its history being revealed.

“I am proud that, working with our partners, we are now delivering a project that has been a community aim for decades.”

Ian Harrabin, chairman of Historic Coventry Trust, said it was no surprise further secrets of 14th century Coventry had been discovered.

“We were expecting to find substantial archaeological remains within the great cloister and we have not been disappointed,” he said.

“These are being recorded and preserved by the team, working closely with Historic England.”

He added: “In many ways it is like having a complex jigsaw puzzle with a lot of pieces missing.

“Every piece we find takes us closer to the complete picture, not just of the original monastery, but also of the layers of change over 600 years.

“It is an incredible story to tell to local residents and the large number of visitors we are expecting from the boost to the city’s tourism by City of Culture.”

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