EYO132 - Former Female Prison, Castle Yard




Location Land adjacent to Female Prison and York Castle Car Park
Grid reference Centred SE 6056 5147 (17m by 12m) (2 map features)
Map sheet SE65SW
Unitary Authority City of York, North Yorkshire



York Archaeological Trust


May - 1998



In April and May 1998 an archaeological evaluation trench was excavated by York Archaeological Trust immediately north of the Former Female Prison, Castle Yard, York with the object of establishing the location of the curtain wall of York Castle and assessing its state of survival. The earliest deposits examined were dated to the 9th-11th centuries although pottery of the Roman and Anglian periods was also recovered suggesting some earlier activity in the vicinity but of an uncertain nature. In the deposits of the Anglo-Scandinavian period were a number of human burials, some, if not most, of which had been disturbed by later activity. The burials may indicate the presence nearby of a previously unrecognised parish church. The burials and deposits were sealed by a thick deposit of clay that was associated with a north-south band of substantial postholes. These were dated by pottery to the 11th century and may represent part of the defences of the earliest Norman timber castle in this area. All features and deposits of the later medieval and early post-medieval periods had been truncated by activity broadly dated to the 18th century or later presumably in connection with the construction of the Female Prison. A number of burials, presumably of criminals hanged in the Prison were also excavated. The latest activity in the area consisted of dumps and levelling deposits laid down in the late 19th and 20th centuries The site of the former Female Prison which is now part of the York Castle Museum was subject to an evaluation excavation in an attempt to locate and assess the condition of the curtain wall of York Castle. To this end a trench measuring 10m by 2m was excavated to the depth of 1.5m below the modern ground surface. Later the size of the trench was widened to the west to incorporate a 6m extension with the intention being to link up with a previous excavation The excavation failed to find any evidence of the curtain wall but a linear feature containing post holes, and tentatively ascribed a medieval date, was thought to be a possible indicator of the line of the curtain wall. Found within the western extension of the trench were a number of burials which overlay one another. The uppermost of these burials displayed evidence of the individuals being interred in coffins as indicated by linear soil stains at the edge of the grave cuts. These burials were found at a depth of between 0.5 and 0.65m below the modern ground surface. After the removal of these burials by carefull hand excavation it was found that they overlay other possibly earlier burials which did not show evidence for the use of coffins.The earlier burials have been dated to the Anglo-Scandinavian period by the presence of well stratified deposits containing pottery dating from this period. Although only two graves were excavated which were positively dated to this period many others were observed in the sides and bases of features penetrating to a lower depth. The later coffin burials have been dated to the early 19th century and have been suggested as being associated with the prison which is known to have executed criminals during this period in time.The absence of material and indeed burials of the intervening period suggests that the site covering the former female prison may have obliterated all traces of structures dating to the high medieval period and hence the lack of evidence for the curtain wall. However the presence of burials dated to the Anglo-Scandinavian period is interesting as it raises the possibility of a pre-conquest church site which was subsequntly destroyed during the construction of the castle. NMR: RCHME Microfilm Index Number 7764 Sources- CBA Forum : the annual newsletter of CBA Group 4 Continuation of: Annual newssheet/CBA Group 4. Library has incomplete set. 51 /1998 Church archaeology Society for Church Archaeology 78 4/2000 York Archaeological Trust Evans D/1998/Former Female Prison, Castle Yard, York: report on an archaeological evaluation/Report 1998/26.

Sources/Archives (7)

  • --- Unpublished document: YAT. 1998. Former Female Prison, Castle Yard.
  • --- Unpublished document: YAT. 1998. The Former Female Prison, Castle Yard.
  • --- Unpublished document: “Skeletons in the Cupboard” Excavations at the Former Female Prison, York Castle Car Park, 1998.
  • --- Unpublished document: YAT. Crime and Punishment in 19th Century York: Analysing the Skeletons Excavated at the former Female Prison.
  • --- Unpublished document: YAT. Crime and Punishment in 19th Century York: Analysing the Skeletons Excavated at the former Female Prison.
  • --- Unpublished document: 2016. Osteological Analysis The Former Female Prison.
  • --- Serial: YAT. 1998-2000. INTERIM 23. 1-4. 23/1.

Related Monuments/Buildings (3)

  • Anglo-Scandinavian cemetery, York Castle (Monument)
  • York Castle (Monument)

Record last edited

Sep 20 2021 1:25PM


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