MEDIEVAL defences, centuries-old animal bones and Edwardian drinking vessels were among the items unearthed when archaeologists excavated a city theatre site.

Durham University’s archaeological services team explored the Assembly Rooms Theatre as part of its £2.4m refurbishment, which is due for completion this October.

They found glass jars from the early 1900s, pre-18th Century cattle bones still showing a dog’s bite marks and a sandstone wall, which experts believe could have been part of a medieval defensive wall for the inner Bailey.

The wall was found at the back of the Theatre, in what was previously the dressing room toilets. At 2m below ground level, it may have also been the retaining wall for the eastern side of Palace Green.

Project coordinator Daniel Still, of Archaeological Services, Durham University, said: “Investigating the history of the Assembly Rooms site was a fascinating project to work on. We think the wall we found was medieval, possibly part of a once-substantial wall that stood along the east side of Palace Green, between the Castle and the Cathedral, marking an Inner Bailey.

“This wall was demolished in the early post-medieval period* to allow the City to be opened up, and we thought nothing had survived of it. So it was interesting to find a surviving section.”

The Assembly Rooms was built in the 18th Century and the oldest surviving reference to it is a newspaper advertisement for an event in 1741. It appears unmarked on City maps from the 1750s, and is clearly visible on a delineated map from the 1820s.

At that time, Durham’s fashionable elite would socialise and dance at the venue. In 1891, it was altered to become a theatre, after Durham’s Theatre Royal burnt down in 1869.

In 1909, the Theatre was made into Durham’s first cinema by owner Thomas Rushworth and it continued to stage films throughout the First World War.

Durham University bought the Assembly Rooms in 1930, from Rushworth’s daughter, Grace.

Today, it is home to Durham Student Theatre, which includes 28 theatre companies, producing and performing more than 100 shows a year– making Durham one of the largest student theatre scenes in the UK.

It also hosts resident theatre companies, including Elysium Theatre Company and Grim Up North, and attracts 75,000 visitors per year.

The 220-seat venue is currently undergoing a year-long refurbishment to make parts more accessible to wheelchair users and people with prams and buggies, restore the original ceiling and refurbish the Box Office. The workshop, dressing room, audience social spaces and toilet facilities are also being improved.

Work is progressing well and the Theatre is due to reopen in October 2019.

Kate Barton, head of student theatre at Durham University, said: “The Assembly Rooms is a building that we all love dearly, but we know so little of its history. It’s fascinating to gain these small clues to what happened in the building long before our students took to its stage.

“We’re very excited that the refurbishment is nearing completion and we look forward to welcoming lovers of drama and history into the theatre when we reopen this autumn.”