Between 2015 and 2016 an extensive archaeological excavation was undertaken by Oxford Archaeology on the site of the town’s Franciscan Friary (Greyfriars) before the rebuilding and extension of the Westgate Shopping Centre.
The friary was founded in 1224 and was soon allowed to extend its precinct across the medieval town wall by King Henry III. It became a Studium Generale, a place of study, for Franciscans from across Europe, and was closely linked to the early success and expansion of the University. Leading 13th and 14th century thinkers associated with the site include the first recorded University Chancellor Robert Grosseteste and friars Roger Bacon and William of Ockham.
The friary was eventually dissolved in the 1530s by Thomas Cromwell on behalf of Henry VIII and then demolished and stripped of its stone, window glass and lead piping. The Westgate dig resulted in the biggest exposure of medieval buildings yet seen in the town. The layout of the friary was uncovered including the massive friary precinct wall, a well preserved kitchen and the stone water conduit that provided the friary with running water.
Environmental evidence from the site has shown that that the friars enjoyed a varied diet that included beef, lamb, goose, salmon, trout and eggs. Over 20,000 objects were retrieved and these are being studied by specialists before being stored in the County Museum. The finds included writing equipment, refectory cutlery and hundreds of ceramic beer mugs.