Archaeologists uncover structure from medieval nunnery at Jesus College

Archaeologists say that the find is a significant step towards understanding the college’s early history

The remains of a medieval cloister have been discovered in Jesus College’s Pump Court during excavations being carried out by Cotswold Archaeology and Cambridge Archaeology Unit (CAU). Preston Boyles of Cotswold Archaeology said it is believed that the medieval cloister “belongs to the nunnery phase of the site’s history”.

The University’s eleventh oldest college, Jesus was founded in 1496 on the site of a dissolved nunnery established in the twelfth century. Director of CAU Christopher Evans said: “It is basically a matter of gender succession – an all-female community superseded by an all-male community. It is very difficult to think of how many situations that would happen in.”

(Credit: Copyright Cotswold Archaeology)

The discovery of the medieval cloister is a significant step towards understanding Jesus’ early history. The college’s archivist, Robert Athol, said: “There’s next to nothing surviving in the archives that tells us about the site when occupied by the nuns, and there’s roughly a fifty-year gap in the early records of the college’s history, so this discovery is extremely important in our understanding of the history of the site.”

The excavations are being carried out in the area north of the college’s Hall ahead of planned work to extend and modernise the kitchen block.

Kitchen and domestic waste from both the nunnery and the college have also been found which will allow researchers to compare the diets of their inhabitants. Furthermore, isotopic study on the bones of livestock should establish where the institutions’ animals came from and, by extension, their economic reach.

The excavations have seen bricks, tiles, and medieval stonework found among old building rubble, attesting to continuous demolition and renovation over the course of the college’s history.

Further remains of a series of small buildings likely dating from the late seventeenth century have also been found. So too have the remains of a hall, designed in 1876 by Alfred Waterhouse who also designed the Natural History Museum in London.

Feature image credit: Copyright Cotswold Archaeology.