New hospital works put on hold after 12th Century finds uncovered in Northumberland town
Building work on a new hospital has been put on hold due to archaeological finds dating back over 900 years.
Ancient walls, pottery and fish bones were found during a dig carried out as part of the redevelopment of the Berwick Infirmary site where a new £30m hospital is being built.
Archaeologists, who are still in the very early stages of the excavation work, have also discovered what are thought to be stone yards associated with Low Greens.
They hope to unveil more about the town’s medieval past and give an insight into what day-to-day life on the site of the hospital was like in the 12th Century.
Steve Collison, lead archaeologist from Northern Archaeological Associates, said: “From what we have found so far, we are hoping that we are going to be able to learn much more about medieval life in Berwick. Our trenches are strategically placed as where we think the archaeological remains and artefacts are most likely to have survived.
“The fish bones tell a story of a cottage industry and smoking and selling fish and speaking to the matron at Berwick Infirmary, her grandma’s family who lived on Low Greens, used to smoke fish in their gardens. So already, there are links between medieval and modern-day life. It is very special to be able to contribute to telling the story of Berwick’s past.”
The archaeological work will result in the new-build taking longer than initially anticipated.
Sir James Mackey, chief executive of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “It is fantastic that as part of an innovative project which is going to transform how we deliver healthcare in Berwick for both current and future generations, we also have the opportunity to unlock precious insight into what lies beneath our hospital site.”
Executive director Marion Dickson, who is leading the Berwick redevelopment project, added: “It is quite incredible that our new hospital, which looks to the future in terms of the use of the latest technology and healthcare practices, is going to be built of the solid foundations of such a rich and interesting past.
"As a Berwick resident myself, I find this incredibly exciting and know what it will mean for people to be able to discover more about our town and those that lived before us.
“We appreciate that people may be disappointed about the timescale of our hospital build being affected, but as a responsible organisation, it is really important that we continue to work with our archaeology team and support them to do what they need to as part of this very important work.
“We will of course keep people updated regularly, in terms of the progress of the project and in relation to any services that we may have to temporarily relocate to other hospitals to ensure we protect the health and wellbeing of patients in our care and our staff. Services affected will included oncology and some ambulatory care.”
The trust has set up and secured the hospital site compound and the buildings that used to house the general day ward, the day hospital, theatres and physio department are being cleared out. These buildings will be the first to be demolished. This work is due to begin by the end of April.