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Bull Ring Market in Birmingham, England was first known as Corn Cheaping. The first reference we have to Corn Cheaping dates back to the 12th century when we know it was used as a corn market. Corn Cheaping had an iron ring setup on a grassy section of Corn Cheaping that was used as a bull baiting arena, where bulls who had been selected for slaughter would be tied and baited for entertainment before being processed into meat. That’s where the name Bull Ring Market comes from. Today, in the 21st century, Bull Ring Market is still being used as an open air market, selling fish, meat, poultry, exotic vegetables, and even household supplies.

But how did the market get from the 12th century to today, and why has the original purpose survived so many centuries? Headland Archaeology discovered some answers about the history of Bull Ring Market when they conducted an archaeological dig at Beorma Quarter, close to Bull Ring Market.

Today, our guest, Steve Thomson, lead archaeologist for this project, is here today to share with us what they found underneath the ground at Bull Ring Market and what that tells us about how the space was being used in Shakespeare’s lifetime.

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In this episode, I’ll be asking Steve Thomson about: 

  • Finding bull horns indicates that the area may have been used to slaughter bulls, but Steve, were there also evidence of other industrial activities like leather making?
  • One human artifact uncovered at Beorma Corner was a button that fell into a lime slaking pit. Steve, explain for the uninitiated what a lime slaking pit was and why would a button be found inside one? 
  • There are several streets near Beorma Corner that include the name “Mill” suggesting that there was, at one point, a mill for grinding grain, here at Bull Ring Market. Steve, did your dig uncover any artifacts that suggest a mill had been held there, and would it have been there for Shakespeare’s lifetime?

Steve Thomson

Steve has been involved in commercial archaeology since 1999 with extensive experience of urban, greenfield and wetland sites in a variety of sectors, from housing developments to large infrastructure projects  such as Hunterston Nuclear power station and Heathrow terminal 5. Steve joined Headland Archaeology in 2014 directing one of the excavations on the 52km Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route project. He is now based at the Midlands and West office (Hereford). Steve joins us today to discuss the recent excavation project of Headland Archaeology, the Bull Ring Market, where they found items that date back to Shakespeare’s lifetime. See more of Steve’s work here.

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Resources Steve Thomson Recommends: 

Archaeology Data Service – access to archaeological excavation reports – grey literature