A rare find at the former Rolls Royce Light Alloy Foundry, Derby

Privy midden being excavated © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Drone photo of excavated terraced houses © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023
Overview of midden privy © Copyright ARS Ltd 2023

We recently excavated at the former Rolls Royce Light Alloy foundry in Litchurch in Derby ahead of a development by Ivygrove Group. Until the mid-19th century Litchurch was an agricultural area with very few buildings, located between the medieval towns of Derby and Osmaston. In 1839, the Birmingham to Derby Junction Railway was built, passing to the immediate west of our site. This brought industry to the previously undeveloped Litchurch area with engineering works, foundries and a carriage and wagon works built in the vicinity of the site, including the Eastwood-Swingler (Later Victoria) Iron Foundry which occupied the majority of the site from 1855 onwards. Workers’ housing sprung up in and around the new factories across the area, including a row of terraced “two-up, two-down” terraced houses within the site. Workers’ housing within Derby was often cramped and overcrowded, especially closer to the town centre. Throughout the mid-20th century slum-clearances occurred across Derby.

Located along Russell Street just off of Osmaston Road, we unearthed the foundations of a few terraced houses dating back to the mid-19th century. These houses were built for workers of the Victoria Iron Works foundry located behind the houses, which later became part of the Rolls Royce factory. These houses are great examples of standard working class houses in the region, and demonstrate the standardisation of such buildings. We can still see the various bits of personalisation each family added to their house though – various renovations to the houses are still clear, such as traces of linoleum on the floor in the scullery or the conversion of a coal hole to a closet under the stairs.

The highlight of this dig was the well-preserved midden privy located in the backyard of a block of terraced houses. This was a central brick-lined pit with a separate privy cubicle on either side. This outdoor toilet was likely shared between at least two families and was also filled in with general waste following its abandonment. Near the bottom of the privy we found the glass chimney of an oil lamp, a nearly complete tea pot, some chamber pots and lots of other bits of pottery and glass dating back to the late 19th century. Toilets such as these are a rare find in Derbyshire – we consider ourselves both lucky and unlucky that we got to unearth one!

These houses were demolished in the early 1970s. Do you know anyone who used to live here?

Archaeological Research Services Ltd