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Winter Common Room Project Magdalen College, Oxford

Gill, Jonathan and Pickard, Chris and Ford, Ben and Black, Tom and Fellingham, Adam and Munby, Julian Winter Common Room Project Magdalen College, Oxford. [Client Report] (Unpublished)

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Oxford Archaeology (OA) has undertaken historic building recording at Magdalen
College, Oxford in relation to the Winter Common Room Project. The project is
aimed at improving access between parts of the college and it affects two Grade I
listed buildings: the south range of Cloisters (or the Great Quadrangle) and the
northern part of Chaplains III.
The main recording work in the Great Quadrangle focused on the Old Bursary area
where the removal of modern elements exposed structural features of historic
interest. The original floor joists substantially survive above the Old Bursary
together with a north-to-south partition which divided the main room from a pair
of smaller rooms to the west. The plaster has been lost from the partition but four
of the main studs survive together with much of the head rail and part of the sole
Dendrochronological analysis shows that both the floor and the partition were
constructed with trees felled in 1474 and this corresponds with the date when
construction works are known to have started in this range. The foundation stone
of the chapel in the western part of the range is known to have been laid in May
1474 and thus we can be confident that these structural elements in the Old Bursary
were original. They also appear to confirm that the entire south range of the Great
Quadrangle was constructed in a single phase.
The work in the Old Bursary also exposed another partially surviving partition on
the north side of the main room and dendrochronology has shown that this was
constructed with timber from trees felled in 1583. This partition incorporates a
doorway and it retained historic plaster, including a daub which is likely to be
primary. The doorway would have provided access to a small room serving the
The works have also exposed features of some interest in the Chaplains III range
which is believed to have been constructed in the early 17th century. This range has
been much altered in the 20th century with the replacement of the original staircase
in 1911, the insertion of some structural steelwork in the 1960s and extensive
refacing of external stonework.
However, although very little primary internal fabric survives the investigation
identified apparent evidence of a substantial phase of alterations probably from
before 1850. Tall joists and a number of stud partitions at first floor were exposed,
the character of which appeared to suggest a mid 19th century date or earlier. Other
evidence appears to confirm that they pre-date the 1911 work.
The creation of a new doorway at the north end of Chaplains III showed that this
part of the wall incorporated a series of reused moulded stones, set backwards with
the flat side facing outwards. These stones were suggestive of a post-medieval date.

Watching brief 1
Oxford Archaeology (OA) were commissioned by Robert Langley, Surveyor at Magdalen
College, Oxford to undertake an archaeological watching brief during initial Site Investigation
(SI) works in advance of finalizing the foundation designs for the construction of the proposed
new Stores and Butlers Office that forms part of the wider new Winter Common Room
project. The SI works comprised the excavation of three trial pits, Nos. 1, 2 and 3 (each
measuring c 0.60-0.7m wide by 1.2m long, and excavated to a depth of 1.5m b.g.l). These
were located within the northern part of the Maintenance Yard against the walls of existing
buildings. A single 10m deep borehole (for dynamic probing and window sampling) was
placed at the eastern end of Trial Pit 3.
The trial pits were relatively small and difficult to access manually, however the sections were
hand-cleaned and the records are an accurate representation of the sequences that were
revealed. No artefacts or soil samples were recovered during the work.
The evidence from the trial pits strongly suggests that the truncation from the construction
of the Maintenance Department in the late 20th century has removed all significant
archaeology within the northern area of the Yard to a horizontal depth of between 0.63-
0.68m b.g.l or 56.95 - 57.06m OD. Much deeper truncation, to at least 1.5m b.g.l was seen
from the construction of the foundations for those buildings on the east side of the yard.
Below this level construction horizons consisting of building debris and ground-raising
deposits associated with the building ranges on the north side (15th century) and west side
(17th century) of Maintenance Yard survived, although they appear relatively homogenous in
nature and of some, but limited significance.
Details of the below ground foundations for both the Maintenance Yards historic flanking
ranges were revealed. The 15th century construction showed massive stepped limestone
foundations which should be considered to be present along this elevation, at least in this SE
corner (nearest to the Cherwell where the ground is likely to be the most unstable).
More curious was the 17th century range on the west side which appeared to reuse an earlier
medieval wall. This wall, 103, extends well above the levels of the medieval Infirmary floors
recorded by Durham in the 1980s and would suggest that, if medieval, 103 is a surviving
element of a former upstanding wall, located internally to the postulated Infirmary. If this is
the same structure as that observed in the Music Store Room (Structure 6, OA, 2009) it would
suggest a major structural partition within the Infirmary. It is notable that wall 103 is on the
same alignment and position as the eastern wall of the range of buildings that currently form
the west side to Maintenance Yard and perhaps suggests some previously unknown
upstanding survival of medieval fabric within the College layout in this area.

Watching brief 2
Oxford Archaeology was commissioned by Robert Langley the Surveyor at
Magdalen College, Oxford to undertake an archaeological watching brief
during works associated with the Winter Common Room Project. The watching
brief initially focused upon excavations for a new kitchen drain, but also
observed ground reductions within the northern part of the Maintenance Yard,
the northern ground floor area of the Chaplains III East Range, and within
rooms and corridors on the ground floor in the south-east corner of the
southern range of the Great Quad.
The works identified the unremarkable remains of disparate lengths of
limestone foundations immediately beneath the existing floors, as well as the
uppermost courses of the foundations to extant walls. None of the structures
encountered are likely to be related to the putative infirmary building of the
medieval Hospital of St John, as previous archaeological works had identified
these at levels between 56.00m and 56.60m OD, whilst these more recent
discoveries were at higher levels between 56.92m and 57.51m OD.
The internal remains probably relate to previous structural divisions within the
southern range of the Great Quad and the Chaplains III East Range. Their
undiagnostic construction combined with the lack of any associated datable
artefactual evidence (no associated floor or occupation deposits were
encountered), prevents a more accurate date estimate than late-15th century
- 20th century. However, the RCHME phased college plan of 1939 would suggest
those in the south range of the Great Quad (labelled ‘Senior Common Rooms’)
probably pre-date the illustrated 18th century partitioning. Those in the
Chaplains III East Range probably relate to the illustrated later 19th or 20th
century partitioning. The foundations to the extant outer walls date to the 15th
century in the case of the former, and the 17th century for the latter.

Item Type: Client Report
Subjects: Geographical Areas > English Counties > Oxfordshire
Period > UK Periods > Modern 1901 - present
Period > UK Periods > Post Medieval 1540 - 1901 AD
Divisions: Oxford Archaeology South > Buildings
Depositing User: Scott
Date Deposited: 17 Sep 2021 14:41
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2021 12:20
URI: http://eprints.oxfordarchaeology.com/id/eprint/6120

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