Ralph Mills



In the early 2970s, York Minster was being shored up in a thankfully successful attempt to prevent its total collapse. The great church was splitting apart as it settled over a jumble of long-buried foundations of both its predecessor, the Norman cathedral, and beneath that, the remains of York's Roman forum.

I worked in the tunnels and deep trenches below the floor level for only about a year, but the experience provided many memories. We worked mostly inside the building, and much of the time in the spaces that were being excavated to allow the structure to be underpinned with tons of concrete and hundreds of stainless steel bolts. In the tunnels the headrooms wrere low and the lighting poor, the noise of drilling and excavating machinery was incessant, the air dusty and the ambient temperature chilly whatever the outside conditions. We occasionally worked outside, usually at the coldest time of the year!

At the west end, my trench was visited briefly by Prince Charles. Fitting the Prince, his retinue, most of the important York clergymen and some attractuive young ladies who had suddenly appeared, clutching shiny new trowels, was achallenge. As a result I was squeezed up against the trench side, and only my stomach appeared in the resulting photograph! After the Prince and everyone else had climbed the mahogany staircase that had been constructed into my trench, I was left with an archaeological horizon stamped hard by the tread of many important feet. But we got a new lavatory as a result of his visit (he didn't use it)!


Excavations At York Minster : Volume I, From Roman Fortress To Norman Cathedral (Part 1 The Site / Part 2 The Finds) By Phillips, Derek / Heywood, Brenda / Carver, M O H (Editor)

Creating the Undrcroft (York Minster web site)

ralph mills in an archaeological trench, holding a tape measure
Detail of a posed photograph beneath York Minster
view of an an achaeological trench, with a posed group in the foreground
A wider view! Note the concrete and steel providing a new and more reliable foundation for the masonry towering above us. The photograph shows how restricted were the views of the archaeological remains.