Excavations on the site of Tetley’s Brewery in Leeds have revealed intriguing insights into the 18th- and 19th-century development of the city. Carried out by Archaeological Services WYAS, the investigation explored buildings along Hunslet Lane, including the location of the Scarborough Castle Inn, adjacent shops, and a side street known as South Terrace.

Beer bottles found under the stairs of a building next to Scarborough Castle Inn
Around 600 beer bottles were found stacked beneath the stairs of a building next to Scarborough Castle Inn in Leeds. [Image: Archaeological Services WYAS]

The well-preserved foundations and basements of these properties were exposed – all brick-built, with the majority having sandstone foundations – below layers of concrete. Far from being mundane footings, they tell stories of alteration, renewal, life, and war.

For example, the footprint of the Scarborough Castle Inn and nearby shops showed signs of significant alterations, including the addition of cellarage and the raising of the floors to match an increase in road level. The pub’s front wall had also undergone extensive work to prevent its collapse, while debris in the enterprise’s cellar included the twisted remains of enamel advertising signs and a single Tetley’s beer bottle. The adjoining shops yielded a small assemblage of shoe nails and leather offcuts, which had fallen down behind a floor slab, traces of the bootmakers that once worked and lived there.

It was the cellar of a building adjacent to the pub that produced the most surprising find, however. Lying in neatly stacked rows beneath the stone stairs of the cellar were around 600 bottles. The distinct smell of beer, on their initial exposure, indicated that they were full when stacked although most of the corks had since degraded. Some, however, still contained liquid and analysis of one tightly corked bottle gave an ABV of 3%. The majority of the bottles were stoneware and stamped with J E RICHARDSON LEEDS. John Edwin Richardson was a grocer and provision merchant who lived in various properties in Leeds; he was recorded in the 1901 census as living on Hunslet Lane. Why he left the bottles and how they were forgotten before the building was demolished, though, remains a mystery.

The row of houses known as South Terrace had also undergone extensive alterations, including the complete realignment of its western wall to allow for the widening of Hunslet Lane. A later basement contained another surprising discovery: a set of six interconnected brick- and stone-built ducts. Could these have been an underfloor heating system? The ducts were accessed via a small basement room, which later seems to have been used as an air-raid shelter, from which four gas masks were recovered in the backfill.

The ducts found beneath the floor of South Terrace
A set of six ducts were uncovered beneath the floor of South Terrace. [Image: Archaeological Services WYAS]

These excavations concluded at the end of March, and it is anticipated that analysis of the recovered artefacts, combined with historical research, will produce illuminating insights into life in developing Leeds.

Text by Marina Rose


This news article appears in issue 363 of Current Archaeology. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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