Castleton Dig 2018

Monday 9th July dawned warm, dry and sunny and that’s how it continued for almost all of the four week dig.  There were trenches on both the medieval hospital on Spital Field and at the New Hall site behind the Methodist Chapel. As usual, Colin Merrony from Sheffield University led the work with Tim and Lee supervising on the hospital and New Hall respectively. This year’s willing slaves were mainly volunteers, supplemented with students – both undergraduate and postgraduate. Taking part in the excavations were primary school children, more mature people 🙂 and university students of many different nationalities. Thanks go to all our volunteers and to everyone who has allowed us access to sites or helped in other ways. We’re lucky to have the support of some very community-minded and interested people.

What did the digs reveal this year? For a taste of the action and some of the findings see the sequences of photographs below – one sequence for the medieval Hospital of the Blessed Mary and the other for New Hall.

Hospital site

During last year’s excavation of the foundations of the chapel, evidence of disturbed burials was found outside the south wall,and investigation of these became the primary objective for 2018.

The turf was removed from a 4 x 12m area that overlapped previous trenches from 2013 and 2017. As the ground was so dry, it was relatively easy to cut and stack the turves.


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The backfill from the area over previous trenches was removed by Stephen with his mini-digger (this saved a couple of days of hard graft – hooray!) but from the new, previously undisturbed area the topsoil was removed by hand. The first finds from the topsoil of the 2018 part of the trench included medieval pottery, animal teeth and bone including antler, and probable fragments of human bone. These were all likely to have been redeposited from mid-1900s infrastructure works close to the dig site.


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By Wednesday lunchtime all the terram membrane had been removed, the trench was cleaned back so that it could be recorded with photos, planning and levels.


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Next day the trench was extended at the NW corner in order to include possible burial areas found in 2017, as had been indicated by a number of skulls and a few long bones. On the left (west) of the image below you can see the previously unexcavated area. A pair of human leg bones are projecting east from the old 2017 trench edge, in the expected orientation for a Christian burial.


Work could then begin in earnest and lots of our regular volunteers turned up to help out.


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One week in, some evidence of further burials was found, together with a few interesting artefacts.


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We were pleased to have visits from two groups of Young Archaeologists again this year – Peak District YAC and Sheffield YAC. The members of both clubs had an introduction to the archaeology, worked on the Spital Field site and helped wash some finds.


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Our osteologist arrived on the scene just at the right time….


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Where possible the burials were carefully recorded.



Regular volunteer Tina was joined by a friend…


Finally it was a case of recording the site, then protecting all the burials and other features with terram, once again! We had the benefit of mechanical back-filling once more, and then finished off by putting back the turf. All we need now is some rain to get the grass growing again,


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A very productive few weeks has told us that the burial ground around the chapel was used much more than the findings from previous years had suggested. Each year of archaeology adds another piece to the story of our small rural medieval hospital.

New Hall

Activities on the New Hall site started a few days after opening the trench on the Hospital site. The objective this year was to open up part of the 2017 trench and an area to the north and west, and dig deeper, aiming to identify earlier phases of the building.

It wasn’t only Isabella removing turf – her colleagues were having a break….


…and soon there were plenty more people working on site.


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The New Hall site generates a lot of artefacts – rusty metal, glass, pottery and some animal bone. Most of the finds are associated with demolition of the hall, in the late 1800s and a few years before the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel was built. Since digging on this site numerous fragments of ornate plasterwork have been found. Since last year,  David Bostwick, a historic buildings consultant has taken a particular interest in this plaster as its patterns can be used to find connections between different historic houses in the area. With this in mind any pieces of ornate plaster were collected this year.




Once topsoil and redeposited material had been removed a number of features were found – walls and floors. A rather nice piece of pottery stuck in mortar enabled an earliest date to be assigned to one of the  walls – apparently it was an example of “pearlware”, and no earlier than 1780 (C. Cumberpatch).


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Then the site was recorded – when it’s dry, soil features don’t show up so well, so Lee watered everything before Colin flew the drone for aerial photography. When looking through these photos, the more observant may notice that the nice gazebos present earlier (to provide some welcome shade for volunteers) had disappeared. This was due to high winds that sprang up towards the end of the dig and sadly one of our nice gazebos suffered some trauma. However happily it has been given a new lease of life on a Sheffield allotment as a fruit cage….



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Before closing the site it was all planned and then covered in terram.


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…and then it was backfilled and turf replaced. Apart from some re-seeding when it starts raining again, all has been reinstated after another year’s archaeology at New Hall.


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Visit to Bishops’ House: Members’ Night, July 19, 2018

IMG_0080.weblgMembers’ Night on July 19th found us on a sunny evening gathered at Bishops’ House, the earliest & best preserved example of a Tudor framed house in Sheffield.  The first part of the building was built in 1554 with an extension being added in 1580.  We were then guided by Ken Dash on a fascinating tour of the building and its history, described fully in the following account: Visit to Bishops’ House

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Castleton Museum Awarded Full Accreditation

The Arts Council has recently awarded full accreditation to Castleton Museum which is run by Castleton Historical Society.  This fantastic outcome is the result of much hard work by a group of CHS trustees to ensure that the Museum meets the very high standards set by the Arts Council England.  These national standards are set to ensure that accredited museums are well managed and offer the visitors the best experience possible.  Congratulations to the Accreditation Team!

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Historical Landscape Trail: Audio Clips

trail leafletThe Historical Landscape Trail between Castleton & Hope was one of the outcomes of the project to research the ‘Lives of the Medieval Common People of Castleton and Hope’ carried out by Castleton and Hope Historical societies in 2012.  The self-guided trail leaflet enables visitors to discover the history of the landscape from the Middle Ages and later, through its route-ways, fields, lead mines and buildings.  The audio clips which describe each point along the trail are now available on the CHS website along with the downloadable leaflet.  Visit this link to access the leaflet, audio clips and full details of the trail and enjoy the walk.

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Castleton Dig Diary – New Hall and test pits

De-turfing began at the New Hall site on 8th May to mark out a large trench about 9m x 9m


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Then quickly got down to the smaller 2016 trench


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During the next week some really nice features were excavated – the foundations of a wall running north-south and the remains of an adjoining external staircase, both of which had been visible on an old photo and paintings of New Hall.


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The last stages of the New Hall excavation at New Hall


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Colin’s drone photo gave a great bird’s eye view of the New Hall trench. The top of the photo is south here – it shows the south and east walls of one wing of the hall, most of the east wall having been robbed out. At the north-east corner you can see a section of internal wall. In many parts of the trench the excavation had come down onto a compacted floor.


A number of test pits were dug around the village, mostly but not only in fields. The first were in the Spring Field, by kind permission of Rita and Brian – a few finds were made, mostly clay pipe fragments and pottery, which appear to be fairly typical of finds on the fields around Castleton.


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A few test pits were dug in Seven Roods Field (with Gary’s permission) – it rained quite a lot at that point but it was really good practice for a large number of students. Finds were not abundant but again included pottery and clay pipe.


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Two test pits were dug at houses on How Lane by Pauline and Arthur, with a little help from another – in one of the test pits a large ceramic pipe was revealed. That was (sadly) the most exciting find.


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Castleton Dig 2017 – photo diary

Day 1 on the Spital Field – the team assembles

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The 2017 trench was laid out to overlap several trenches dug in previous years, and to investigate new ground to the south and west in order to locate the south and west walls of a putative chapel.

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Approaching the end of first week, good progress is being made…

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Into Week 2, finds cleaning begins…

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Up to and into Week 3, reaching the clay layer on which the foundation walls stand.

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More than half-way through, plenty of finds and more visitors to site, longer sections of the foundation walls are becoming obvious.

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Work on the south-west part of the trench suggests that this is an area of disturbed burials and melting of lead from the chapel building.

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Nearing the end of the four weeks excavation… bones and recording

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Back-filling at the end of a very successful four week’s work

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And here is the result a seen from the drone – medieval foundations of the south and west walls of our probable chapel, with a cross wall.



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John Craven Opens Visitor Centre: 9 August 2017

A crowd of invited guests & visitors heard John Craven talk about his love of the Peak District when he was the special guest at the opening of the newly refurbished Visitor Centre.

Castleton Museum, which is housed in the Visitor Centre, has also been given a new layout with redesigned display cases and a wall size screen for digital interpretations of the Museum’s collection.


P1010379 croppedThere were plenty of activities to keep visitors entertained throughout the day, both inside ….




… and outside, with well-dressing, face painting, river dipping & other rural crafts to try.



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