Norwich Cathedral and its Close are of considerable archaeological interest. The site is notable for its pre-cathedral Saxon remains recovered through excavation, but above all for the buried archaeology and upstanding buildings from the period of the medieval priory-cathedral. As such, it has long attracted archaeological interest, but more recently this has been put on a firmer and more rigorous footing by designation, so that opportunities for archaeological investigation are not missed.
One reason for more archaeological investigation has been increasing designation as controls for the historic environment – and cathedrals in particular – have become more stringent. In short, the fabric of historic buildings and the likely below-ground archaeology have become important factors in determining the nature and acceptability of proposed works, and many works within the Close are then required to make provision for archaeological investigation.
Since 1990 every Anglican cathedral in England has been required to have a cathedral archaeologist – that is, an external consultant with expertise in the historic buildings and below-ground archaeology of the cathedral and its precinct. The cathedral archaeologist will undertake research to inform conservation or development, assess the impact of proposed works, and make recommendations for appropriate archaeological provision. The skills and interests of cathedral archaeologists vary, but at Norwich the Cathedral Archaeologist (Dr Roland B Harris, BA DPhil FSA MIfA) is a buildings archaeologist and personally undertakes most of the recording and analysis of the standing buildings.
At Norwich Cathedral most below-ground archaeological field work is undertaken by contracted archaeological units, working to a brief written by the Cathedral Archaeologist and co-issued with Norfolk Landscape Archaeology (i.e. Norfolk County Council). This work can range from watching briefs during shallow digging (such as for a cable trench) to large-scale archaeological excavations. Norwich Cathedral has seen two examples of major archaeological excavations in recent years, both undertaken by NAU Archaeology on the site of the Refectory and Hostry.