Fairpark Road, Exeter

Fairpark Road, Exeter

An archaeological evaluation was carried out by Oakford Archaeology in June 2021 at Hurst Almshouses, Fairpark Road, Exeter. Remains of the medieval leper hospital were uncovered, including parts of the later graveyard and structural remains. The work comprised the machine-excavation of 7 trenches totalling 33.62m in length, with each trench 1m wide. These were targeted on the buildings and the suspected line of the precinct wall shown on the historic mapping and provided a spatial sample of the site.


Fairpark Road, Exeter, Evaluation Trench plan showing principal features identified and proposed reconstruction of the hospital and poor house.

Trench plan showing principal features identified and proposed reconstruction of the hospital and poor house.

In the centre of the site Trenches 2 and 3 exposed human remains. These were recorded in situ by a specialist osteoarchaeologist with regards to gender, age and pathologies (disease and cause of death). No bodies were removed and the remains were reinterred on completion of the archaeological work. The human remains consisted of a total of 12 individuals, including ten adults, one neonate (new-born) and one young infant (3-4yrs old), and although none exhibited skeletal changes due to leprosy all had evidence for extensive infections throughout their lives.

General view of Burial Group 207 and 205 with skeletons 222 and 223 at the top. 1m scales.

Human remains in Trench 2. 1m scales.

No structural remains of the chapel shown on 16th-19th century mapping were identified during the course of the works. To the south of the graveyard the remains of a heavily truncated medieval leat were identified in Trench 4. This would have provided clean water from further up the Shutebrook valley for the hospital, the kitchen and the latrines. Mortar floor surfaces both pre-dating and contemporary with the leat suggest the presence of at least one multiphase buildings in this area.

Archaeological evaluation, Fairpark Road, Exeter. Trench 4 showing leat

General view of Trench 4 showing leat. 2m scale.

The evaluation established important new evidence associated with the medieval Magdalene leper hospital and later poor house in the northern and central part of the site. The exact size and shape of the precinct and the buildings within is not known, although it is likely to extend beyond the limits of the excavations to the north and east. Based on present evidence it seems probable that in most areas, despite 19th and 20th century truncation, preservation is good with archaeological features and deposits preserved underneath the extensive landscaping that has taken place across the site. Read more about this project here.