Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills
During test excavation in 2020, buried beneath the highrises of the 20th century, AMAC Group discovered the ruins of three terrace households from the 1860s. Originally brick and shingle buildings of two-storeys and four rooms, all that survived were the sandstone foundations of their party walls, internal walls and fireplaces (pictured above) along with deposits of soot, dust and artefacts that had accumulated beneath the floor boards over their 30 year occupation period. The range of artefacts discovered described the domestic comforts commonly available to the working classes of people in Surry Hills who resided in these high-density dwellings in the late 19th century.
However, the 1860s terraces were only the beginning of the story for this archaeological site, follow the timeline below to uncover what lay beneath...
As the 1860s terraces and levelling fills were removed, a vast, early 19th century clay mining pit was discovered. Clay pits were dug to mine quality natural clay to produce ceramics and this disused pit was now backfilled with layers of unsuitable waste clay and tens of thousands of discarded artefacts. Based on the makers marks of ginger beer bottles and smoking pipes, this clay mine had once supplied the raw material for one of Sydney's earliest and best known potters - Jonathan Leak.
Natural C Soil Horizon, base of Leak's clay mine
The terraces were not founded on natural ground. Instead, AMAC Group found a series of brightly coloured layers of clay levelling fills, episodes of dumping and reformed topsoil, all of which indicated a long period of site abandonment and hinted that there was more archaeology still buried beneath.
Leak was a convict transported to Australia, who was originally from Staffordshire, the heart of British pottery. Jonathan Leak's wares were produced and sold locally in Sydney and were exported to Hobart and as far as Mauritius during the 1820s.
In contrast to the buttons, forks, glass and tableware that dominated the domestic artefacts collected from the 1860s terraces, the clay mine revealed tens of thousands of fragmented industrial and commercial artefacts that illustrated the daily operation of Leak's kilns and products, the range included: smoking pipes, ginger beer bottles, vitrified bricks, mis-fired bowls and colanders, clay marbles, kiln vents and props, decorative jugs, broken lids, and pinches of fired clay waste with an unusually personal touch - the preserved impressions of the fingertips and fingerprints of potters from over 200 years ago.
Pictured below: A selection of artefact fragments collected by wet-sieving the clay waste deposits inside the clay mining pit, in the centre, a fragment from a grey-coloured ginger beer bottle stamped with a maker's mark: 'LEAK.'
As of 2022, AMAC Group have returned to this site to continue excavation and recording of the former clay mining pit and collect the artefacts from Leak's pottery to compile a comprehensive catalogue of his works which represent some of Australia's earliest ceramics produced at an industrial scale. The range and scale of items from Leak's pottery were a key part of the sustained growth of Sydney's economy, recreation and home life at a time when the first Parkesine or Celluloid plastics were still decades away and glass vessels were expensive and rare for a remote island colony.
Early 19th century ornate jug lip from Leak's Pottery
Pictured below: A south-eastern section view towards Wentworth Avenue showing the stratified layers of soil and construction phases that illustrate how time passed at this site from the natural ground levels to the c.1822-1830 clay mining pit from the first phase of Leak's pottery, a period of abandonment and backfilling circa the late-1830s to 1860, the terrace construction and occupation from the 1860s, demolition c.1910 during the government resumption of land and futher backfilling c.1919 to once again to level up the ground for redevelopment to form the current level of Wentworth Avenue and the CBD buildings that today's Sydney-siders are accustomed with.
For more project updates, check back to this page over time as AMAC Group complete the final phase of fieldwork and begin analysis of the artefact assemblage.