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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