Marketplace dig reveals pub grub of the past

Oyster shells, most likely from 17th century ale houses, have been some of the discoveries unearthed by SLR’s archaeology team in the heart of Dudley.

Dudley Market Place
17th century oyster shells unearthed by SLR Consulting at Dudley Marketplace

The project, for Dudley Council, forms phase two of the £6.7m marketplace redevelopment, which will include the redesign of market stalls and the enhancement of the medieval passages.

Current archaeological focus is on exploring the remains of buildings known as Middle Row, which were demolished in the mid-19th century. Excavations have shown the buildings were constructed from limestone, a material commonly used in Dudley at the time.

SLR Technical Director Timothy Malim said: “Middle Row would have been built as a speculative development within the old open medieval market.

“It would have been the vibrant centre of the community, and the large quantities of oyster shells we are finding provides evidence for the kind of fast-food available in historic markets.”

Although today they are seen as an expensive treat, in the past oysters were eaten regularly, particularly by the urban poor. From the 17th century they were pickled for transport to inland towns. Small fresh oysters were eaten raw; large ones were stewed with herbs and spices, or roasted or baked in pies.

As well the oyster shells, the team have also unearthed a store room containing late 18th/early 19th century bottles. Manufactured from salt-glazed stoneware, some of the bottles contained residue and were labelled with the maker’s trade name ‘Warren’s Liquid Blacking’ – a forerunner of today’s shoe polish – used at the time on stoves and fire grates.

For more information see Archaeology, The Historic Environment and Cultural Heritage or contact Timothy Malim