Archaeological survey findings on Thompson’s Lane

Historic maps of Cambridge showing the outline of the Thompson's Lane site in red

Before the archaeological survey began, the St Clements Gardens terraced houses had been demolished and the site was cleared.  Deep piles had been inserted to create the foundations for WYNG Gardens, our new four-storey student accommodation block with basement. Once the piles were in place, the site was cross braced to allow an excavation to take place down to the level of archaeological interest.

The site is the largest investigated in this part of Cambridge and is in a very significant location, sitting on the edge of a gravel ridge that was an extremely important topographic feature for the development of Cambridge. The southern end of the site closest to St. Clement’s Church lies on the higher gravel ridge; here we have found part of a Roman settlement, with ditches and a palisaded structure that may mark its boundary.

There is also evidence for activity associated with the medieval town, this begins in the 11th-12th centuries and by the late 14th century this area was part of Harleston manor. Despite being enclosed by the town boundary ditch in the early 12th century the lower northern end of the site remained part of the floodplain of the River Cam until the 14th-15th centuries. This area is covered by a sequence of alluvial deposits, which may stretch back to the Roman and Prehistoric periods.

The thick sequence of water-lain deposits lie in a channel which may be natural in origin, but was possibly also modified in Roman times. These waterlogged deposits have wood and other organic remains surviving in them and should provide a wealth of information about Cambridge in the Roman period.

By the 16th century the height of the whole site had been raised sufficiently that it was no longer part of the river floodplain. St. John’s College purchased the property in 1533 and sublet it to various tenants. Over time the property was divided between ten different houses; features associated with these include three enigmatic stone filled pits, several bread ovens and a cess pit constructed with reused stone from a medieval building.

In the 17th century a large cellar, well and drain were constructed, these all appear to have been demolished when St. John’s College sold the site in 1791. The area was transformed into a large formal garden for the buildings that still stand across the street, which were constructed in the 1820s. The 16th-18th century features, including wells, cesspits and shafts, incorporate large quantities of reused stone from medieval buildings and have timber base-plates, which may make it possible to date the findings precisely using dendrochronology.

In 1911 a row of terraced houses, 1-8 St. Clement’s Gardens, was constructed.