From alumna Kate Weikert:
The hospital site of St Mary Magdalen, Winchester, located about one mile to the east of the city, provides centuries of occupational and usage evidence. The timeframe starts with the unexpected pre-Conquest leper burials, supplying verification that the site is Britain’s oldest known hospital while also challenging the previously-held conventional wisdom that hospitals were a Norman innovation in Britain. Beyond those early evidences, documents show that the hospital was “founded” in the mid-twelfth century by the Bishop of Winchester, Henry of Blois, and “refounded” and rebuilt in the fourteenth century. In the sixteenth century the masonry structures were demolished for brick-constructed buildings, and in the seventeenth century the location was used as a base for troops in the Civil War and later as a camp for Dutch prisoners during the early Anglo-Dutch Wars. By the late 1700s the buildings on site were ruinous and demolished on the order of the Bishop of Winchester (though some of the material was placed in other locations and still survive today, such as the stonework of a doorway previously in the hospital chapel now seen in St Peter’s Catholic Church, Jewry Street, Winchester.) Finally, in the early 20th century, the entire area was a part of the largest World War I military base in Hampshire. Today, nothing survives above ground.
The Magdalen Hill Archaeology Research Project (MHARP) began life in 2000 with a limited excavation by the Channel Four television show Time Team, wherein inclement weather prevented any extensive excavation regardless of the promising geophys results. In 2007, Dr Simon Roffey and Dr Phil Marter of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Winchester reviewed the Time Team data as well as further evidence from survey and documentary sources, ascertaining the existence and location of structures on site such as the medieval chapel, almshouses, master’s lodge, and gatehouse, providing the framework for an excavation programme of the site.
In its third year, the 2010 excavations were focussed in two areas, trench 14 which was to the north of the chapel in the areas of the master’s lodge, hospital buildings, and the Anglo-Saxon burials, and trench 11 to the east of the main site, at the location of the World War I cinema. Highlights of the season included the excavation of a large post-medieval hearth and industrial area, the Tudor latrine with a wide variety of interesting artefacts, further evidence of the fourteenth century buildings and possible twelfth century aisled infirmary, and the “hole,” currently uninterpreted though working theories consider it a well, bathing tank, storage, or cellar for an Anglo-Saxon tower such as the one excavated at Bishopstone, East Sussex. Post-excavation work continues outside the excavation season at the University of Winchester under the direction of Dr Julie Wileman, and several third year archaeology students are completing their final year projects on aspects of the material remains such as the metalwork and glass.
Excavations for 2011 will run from August 22-September 16, and the focus this season will continue to be on the Anglo-Saxon aspects of the site including the structures and burials.