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Archaeological dig at site of new Berwick hospital

Wednesday, 04 February, 2015
Archaeological dig at site of new Berwick hospital

As part of work to build a new £25million hospital in Berwick, archaeological digs are set to start on site next week.

Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust has announced that the digs are to be carried out at Berwick Infirmary – where the new hospital is to be built – in order to assess the archaeological significance of the site.

The site lies within the Edwardian town walls constructed around 1296, however, the nature of the layout of this part of the medieval town is not well understood.

The digs are therefore vital to understand more about the site and are not uncommon as part of the planning process. They must be completed before a planning application to develop a new hospital can be submitted.

The existing Berwick Infirmary, which opened in 1874 and has been expanded in several phases during the 20th century, was constructed on either small fields or gardens, however, the earlier history of the area is unclear.

The site does, however, lie outside the later Elizabethan walls which were constructed in the 16th century.

Since last summer when the funding for the project was agreed via a loan from Northumberland County Council, Northumbria Healthcare has been working hard to progress the hospital.

A team including architects, engineers and planning advisors was formed and discussions have taken place with staff to seek their views on aspects that will influence how the new hospital should best be designed.

Northumbria Healthcare has also been having discussions with planners at the county council to prepare for the submission of the planning application and it was as part of these that the requirement of an archaeological investigation was raised.  

Paul Brayson, project director of the new hospital for Northumbria Healthcare, said: “Over the last few months, much work has taken place to progress our new hospital in Berwick.

“The appointment of our project team was a big step forward as it has enabled work to start in earnest on developing detailed plans of how the hospital may look and our staff have had input into the plans.

“We are working towards submitting the planning application as soon as we can and it was part of our work with the planners that the need for an archaeological dig came about.

“We would like to reassure people that work continues behind the scenes on the new hospital in order for us to move forward when the results of the dig are known. We will also organise some public engagement events to share our detailed plans with the local community as soon as we are able to and before a final planning application is submitted.”

The digs will take place at various locations across the site and are expected to last around four weeks. They will have no impact on services delivered from the hospital which will continue as normal.

Richard Fraser, director of Northern Archaeological Associates Ltd which will carry out the work, said: “As part of the planning process, archaeological digs of this type are not uncommon for sites such as these.

“The purpose of the work is to establish whether there is evidence of earlier occupation on any part of the site.

“Although the hospital site lies outside the part of the town that lay within the Elizabethan defences, the site does fall within the area that was surrounded by the medieval walls. It is unclear how built-up this part of Berwick was during this earlier period and the aim of the present work is to establish whether there is evidence for earlier settlement on the site.

“It is possible that the works may identify the remains of earlier buildings, roads and property boundaries.

“The aim of the work is to establish if there are any remains and, if so, how significant they might be. If they are deemed to be very significant and need to be preserved within the development, then this could result in a change to the building layout or to the depth or type of foundations.”

When built, the new hospital will provide the existing services delivered at Berwick Infirmary with the potential to expand outpatient and diagnostic services.

The new facility will also give space to improve integration between health and social care services, providing more joined-up care for local people.