York Archaeology hosted an open day to showcase the work of a community wellbeing project, which included findings that span the full range of York’s history.

Willow House, just off Walmgate Bar, is now in its second year of hosting Archaeology on Prescription, a social project to support the mental health of residents who are referred to it by their GP, or local charity groups such as Changing Lives, and SASH.

It is on the site of what was once Willow Street, a residential street during the Victorian age, and a missing 13th century church, St Peter in the Willows, which fell out of use in the reformation era.

York Press: Archaeology displaysArchaeology displays (Image: Gary Malazarte-Smith)

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The project gives the participants the chance to get involved in a real-life archaeological dig just inside the City Walls.

The open day, on Saturday, May 27, was for the public to see their current excavation work and learn about their findings, which covered the full span of York’s history, from the Romans, the Normans, the Medieval times, the Victorians, and into the 20th Century.

York Press: Some of Archaeology on Prescription's findings - Victorian cigarettes, shellfish (bottom row) Victorian, Medieval, and Roman pottery (top row)Some of Archaeology on Prescription's findings - Victorian cigarettes, shellfish (bottom row) Victorian, Medieval, and Roman pottery (top row) (Image: NQ Staff)

Ian Milstead, head of community engagement for York Archaeology, said: “At its heart, this isn’t a programme to create lots of new archaeologists, but rather using archaeology as a tool to improve their quality of life, by spending time outdoors, getting physical exercise, stimulating the mind, or simply by spending time with others.

“People taking part are of various backgrounds and needs, and we have had positive testimonials from themselves, their families, and case workers, who have said they have increased in confidence and have got really into it, which is very humbling.

“Someone taking part, who previously wasn’t able to leave their house for three years has now been able to take the bus by themselves to take part in the project.

“Archaeology is about the people behind the artefacts and about their lives. It is a communal and sociable activity, and people can see themselves in the artefacts as they research the stories behind what they find.”

York Press: Ian Milstead and Christina HenzelIan Milstead and Christina Henzel (Image: NQ Staff)

Visitors were shown displays of some of their findings so far, which included pottery, Victorian smoking pipes and cigarettes, parts of shellfish and animal bones, drinking vessels, plates, and bowls.

Guided tours of the excavation site were led by Christina Henzel, who showed the three trenches.

York Press: The site's deepest trenchThe site's deepest trench (Image: NQ Staff)

She explained that one trench, which opened in September 2021, is on the site of a Victorian drain where the outhouses once were, in the 1890s.

The deepest trench, which opened last summer, is where the cellars of the houses once were, and the smallest one was “jam packed” with pottery and animal bones.

Willow House itself is a former care home, owned by City of York Council, which offered the site to York Archaeology for this project.