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Archaeologists uncover hundreds of old beer bottles in Leeds

Archaeologists excavating a series of Georgian and Victorian cellars in Leeds have uncovered over 600 beer bottles on the site of a former inn, and analysis has shown the contents contain dangerous levels of lead.

Image: Archaeological Services WYAS (Facebook)

Archaeological Services WYAS made the find back in February, and subsequently sent the bottles to be analysed.

After investigating an area within the site of the former Tetley’s Brewery, the team unearthed a set of cellar stairs in the remains of what was the Scarborough Castle Inn.

Neatly piled on the stairs was a collection of over 600 bottles, initially thought to contain ginger beer.

However, after sending the bottles for analysis by West Yorkshire Joint Services, it was found that the bottles contained alcohol, and more surprisingly, high concentrations of lead.

According to a post on social media, Archaeological Services WYAS said the bottles contained beer with a pH of 5.07 and an alcohol content of 3% ABV. However, the liquid contained 0.13mg/l of lead, far above the WHO-recommended safe level in water of around 0.01mg/l.

The team said they suspect the high metal content would have come from lead pipes, and that the beer “would have been detrimental to health”.

The bottles themselves hail from a number of different breweries, with the most from ‘J. E. Richardson of Leeds’.

The archaeologists hope to complete their work in the area in the next two weeks, after which they will compile a report of their findings.

Speaking to the drinks business, senior project manager at Archaeological Services WYAS, David Williams, said that the team thought the bottles dated to the later 19th century, “perhaps the 1880s”.

He added that the developer, Vastint, intends to keep the bottles and make a feature of them within the new development of the former Tetley’s Brewery.

“This excavation is giving us a great opportunity to uncover a part of Georgian and Victorian Leeds. The results so far are giving a real insight to the daily lives of the former residents of Leeds during this period,” he said.

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