News and Events
Our experienced guide explained to us what life in the cave would have been like in the Ice Age. The people would have lit a fire (vital for warmth in the freezing conditions) at the mouth of the cave to let the smoke escape and to keep wild animals out. They would have lived and slept in the bigger areas near the entrance, leaving the colder inner sections for the storage of meat, and the dark furthest recesses for religious ritual. A number of examples of ancient cave art have been discovered at the Crags, and we viewed a scratched fertility symbol, dated as having been incised during the Ice Age in view of the calcium carbonate coating that had dripped over part of it and hardened in the intervening thousands of years.
All in all, it was a fascinating afternoon, giving an amazing insight into early man`s life style in our own part of the world so many thousands of years ago.
September: "Sheffield Castle" - A talk by Ron Clayton
Mike Woffenden welcomed Ron Clayton, a founder member of the ‘Friends of Sheffield Castle’, a voluntary group whose aim is to protect and promote the archaeological site of Sheffield Castle for the benefit of the people of Sheffield and surrounding areas. Ron’s talk proved to be comprehensive and wide ranging, showing his long standing interest in the topic.
He told us how there was much conjecture, but little documentary evidence about the castle. It is situated at the confluence of the Sheaf and Don rivers. Sheffield developed around this site. Lady’s Bridge is nearby and still has evidence of mediaeval arches, perhaps it was on the site of a Roman Road? Sheffield Castle may have been founded by Saxons, possibly by Waltheof. The first castle would have been a wooden Motte and Bailey, surrounded by earthworks. This was burnt down in 1266. In 1270 Thomas de Furnival was granted permission by the king to build a crenellated castle. In 1296 Furnival was granted the first charter to hold a market so starting the long association of the castle with the markets.
The destruction of Sheffield Castle began with the siege of 1644 during the Civil War. In 1648 the castle was pulled down and the stone used for building materials. Even after the castle’s destruction the markets continued to operate under its protection. Castle Market was built on top of the Gate House. In 1899 the Duke of Norfolk sold his market rights to the Council. A new market hall was built for the Co-operative Society on the Castle Market site in the 1920s when some archaeological investigations were carried out. WWII bombing added to the destruction.
The ‘Friends’ vision for the future is to open up the 4½ acre castle site and link it to buildings such as the Cathedral and the Old Town Hall. A further possibility is to remove the culvert of the Sheaf river. An initial survey has shown that about ¾ of the ground plan still remains. The ‘Friends’ are currently involved in bidding for funding for this project and in encouraging the council to develop this asset for the city.
Mike Woffenden thanked Ron on behalf of the members for such an interesting talk about the past and future of Sheffield Castle.
October: Annual General Meeting
The routine business of the group was rapidly completed with a report by the Chairman, acceptance of the financial report and re-election of the present members of the committee. There is a vacancy for a Programme Secretary. Subscriptions for 2017 remain fixed at £15.
Following the AGM there was a brief discussion of developing a Heritage Centre in Baslow in collaboration with the Parochial Church Committee. There was general support but much more detail is needed.
November: "Castleton Mediaeval Hospital Dig" - A talk by Colin Merrony
Colin Merrony, a Teaching Fellow at Sheffield University, explained that this archaeological excavation by Sheffield University is in its ninth season at Spital Field, Castleton, although originally planned for just five years. The reason for the extra time became clear as his talk unfolded showing that after a slow start some very compelling evidence was being revealed.
Colin first explained the meaning of ‘hospital’ in medieval times. The poor and sick were provided with a bed and food. Travellers were also welcomed. Hospitals were also linked to pilgrimage, relics and shrines, these all being ways for the church to extract money from people. More than 1000 hospitals existed in medieval England, mostly founded in the 12th and 13th centuries. The religious services in these institutions would have followed the monastic model. Of the fourteen or fifteen hospitals known in Derbyshire, most had a connection with lepers.
An archaeological investigation would expect to find a high status building together with a cemetery. Documentary evidence of ‘Spittle Field’ (e.g. John of Gaunt papers, Henry VIII survey) supports Castleton Hospital being founded in the first half of the 12th century but with no certain monastic association. It is reputed to have been founded by the wife of William Peverel. The difficulty in locating the exact position of the hospital arises because available maps show the road post turnpike, this could have been moved from its earlier route. English Heritage awarded Scheduled Ancient Monument Status to the hospital, based on the various ‘lump and bumps’ in Spital field. In 2007 Castleton Historical Society was awarded a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a community project to locate the hospital and the timeline of the archaeological investigation is well documented on Castleton’s Historical Society’s website: http://castletonhistorical.co.uk
(This includes a very informative booklet available to download ‘Castleton's Medieval Hospital: Blessed Mary in the Peak’).
A brief summary of the archaeological evidence found to date:
- 2007 Geophysics investigations in the area of the ‘lumps and ‘bumps’ showed only a modern pipeline
- 2009 Trenches dug on the edge of the scheduled area found nothing
- 2010 One piece of medieval pottery found in the scheduled area but local children found a short section of a wall just before the dig was due to finish for the year
- 2011 Mounds of stones were found and shapes of possible walls. Some medieval pottery was found but it looked as though this had been ‘dumped’ on the site. There is still no evidence of a cemetery.
- 2012 Some lead was found from the stripping of the building and a couple of skulls (without the rest of the skeleton).
- 2013 Two grave ‘cuts’ and more skulls.
- 2014 More burials and skulls.
- 2015 A layer of white stones, the bottom course of the medieval building.
- 2016 Corners of the building.
Colin then explained the research around the skeleton finds. Carbon dating can show the age of the skeleton and other methods analysing the soil exposed can give burial dates. The range of dates is from the early 12th century to the mid 15th century. There is an intriguing possibility that the skeleton found within the building, in a high-status position, could be the wife of William Peverel, but there is no conclusive evidence.
The skulls found also need explaining. Castleton holds an annual ‘Garland Day‘ which involves the ‘beheading’ of a man on horse back. Does this custom originate from an ancient ritual?
Colin went on to talk about the early development of Hope and Castleton villages. The conventional theory is that Hope is an early medieval village that grew over time. It is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Castleton is not mentioned in the Domesday Book, and it had been supposed to begin development as a planned village in the 12th century, much later than Hope. However 7th to 9th century burials have now been found, near Peak Cavern in large numbers, indicating a definite settlement. These early burials raise the questions of what led to the earlier settlement vanishing before Domesday, and whether there is any evidence of prehistoric burials to be found. There are local stories of skulls and bones being found in this area in the past, including reports in local newspapers in the 1960s. Permission is being sought for excavations in the area of the car park for the caves.
Mike Woffenden thanked Colin for such an interesting and thought provoking talk, and the group looks forward to hearing of further investigations and finds.
December: "The Archaeology of the Peak District" - a talk by Ken Smith
Ken is currently the Cultural Heritage Manager for the Peak District National Park Authority and has spent many years studying a wide variety of sites across the area as well as comparative sites elsewhere. He has close links with the local universities and ACID (Archaeology and Conservation In Derbyshire).
Ken first reviewed evidence from:
- Pre-history - a hand axe from 200,000 years ago
- Neanderthal man - habitation by from Ravencliffe, Thor’s, and Fissure caves
- Neolithic times - mostly ceremonial settlements such as Gibb Hill long barrow, Arbor Low and Minninglow. He explained that there was very little evidence of ‘housing’ because of the nature of the terrain although recent discoveries in Lithemoor fields near Buxton may be important
- The Iron Age (Mam Tor hill fort, but noting that there was also evidence of earlier settlement in the bronze age)
- The Roman occupation - arrival in Brough occurred in the late 70s AD and lasted until the 5th century because of its key position at a centre of lead mining and along a trans-Pennine route for the movement of salt.
Very little is known from archaeology about the time between the Roman occupation and the Norman invasion, although there is some evidence of a settlement in Castleton pre-conquest, a great ditch in Bradwell that dates from 800-900AD and ancient crosses such as that at Eyam are also from that period.
From mediaeval times onwards, evidence becomes more plentiful and Ken was selective in discussing some key sites such as Tideswell Rakes, ‘hollow ways’ and Magpie mine that illustrated important changes to land use, transport and local industries. He finished by showing how many old features were finding new uses today (for example 17th and 18th century mills used for new industry or housing) and emphasising the balance that needed to kept between progress and preserving our heritage.
His talk, with a timespan from 200,000 years ago to the 20th century, was a master-class in the inter-relationships between history, geography, social and economic impacts, and the scientific technologies of today that go to form the study of archaeology. That they were so clearly linked to our local areas made this a fascinating topic with which to end our programme for 2016.