Keeping hold of history

Jo Collins – Volunteer and Communities Officer

If you are standing anywhere in the North York Moors National Park you will never be more than 1 mile from a known archaeological site.
Help care for this heritage.

We are very excited that we’ve been successful in securing a grant of more than £170,000 to support a new project – Monuments for the Future.  This will help secure the future of historic monuments in the North York Moors and increase public understanding of their significance.

The funds have been awarded by Historic England, who supported the National Park’s previous Monument Management Scheme from 2009 to 2018.

There are tens of thousands of monuments and other archaeological sites in the National Park. Currently 842 of these have been ‘scheduled’, this means they are nationally important and protected in law*.

History and its monuments are embedded in the landscape of the North York Moors.

Young Ralph Cross. Copyright Simon Hirst, NYMNPA.

Young Ralph Cross still stands upright by the road on Rosedale Head. The horizon is spotted with funerary round barrows (marked as tumuli or tumulus on maps), and crossed with ancient dykes thought to mark the boundaries of territories. Look closely and evidence of the lives of our hunter gatherer ancestors can be seen on rocks decorated with ‘cup and ring’ marks. Occasionally flint tools or arrowheads are still found on the moors (recorded as a ‘findspot’ on the HER map**). And of course there are the more recent remnants of history – castles, abbeys, trods, iron works . . . far too many types to mention but all worthy of our care and attention.

Key to the new Monuments for the Future project is providing training and support for an increased numbers of volunteers. We want to encourage and build a sense of ownership for the monuments amongst local communities; engaging people, young and old, with the heritage they have on their doorstep.

So we are looking for people to join our volunteer survey team to look after our Scheduled Monuments. Volunteers working in pairs or individually, with the kind permission of landowners, will visit archaeological monuments to check on their condition. Problems are commonly caused by bracken or erosion and the volunteer surveys are vital to identify issues in order to target practical management which can help sustain the monuments.

To get the most from this voluntary role you’ll need an enthusiasm for archaeology/history, a reasonable level of fitness, and an ability to read a map or else an ability to team up with someone who can. Some sites are easy enough to find but some can be more difficult, volunteers can choose the level of challenge! Training days are planned for August and September this year. Please do get in touch if you are interested in being a volunteer or you just want to find out more – we would love to hear from you.

* The National Heritage List for England (NHLE) is the only official, up to date, register of all nationally protected historic buildings and sites in England – listed buildings, scheduled monuments, protected wrecks, registered parks and gardens, and battlefields.

** This is a map of the North York Moors Historic Environment Record. It’s a handy way to check out our claim that ‘If you are standing anywhere in the North York Moors National Park you will never be more than 1 mile from an archaeological site’. Please let me know if you can catch me out!

More YACking

Kim Devereux-West – Land of Iron Cultural Heritage Assistant

We had our first Young Archaeologists’ Club (YAC) session in February this year and since then we’ve run a session on the first Saturday of each month – with the exception of March when we had all that snow!).

Here’s a look at what we’ve been up to since February…

Moors and Valleys YAC - April 2018April – Down to the Bare Bones
Teesside University, Middlesbrough
Led by our brilliant volunteer leaders Claire Hodson and Dave Errickson, we got to learn all about the bones in a human body. We learned about what bones can tell us about people, had a go at putting a (plastic) skeleton back together and made our own moving paper skeletons.

May – Getting to Know Gravestones
St. Peter’s Churchyard, Brotton
This was our first outdoor session and the weather was fantastic! We learned how much gravestones can tell you about people from the past, got to explore St. Margaret’s Church (just Moors and Valleys YAC - May 2018across the road) and had a go at recording some of the gravestones.

June – Exploring Anglo-Saxon and Victorian Lives
Preston Park Museum, Stockton-on-Tees
Carolyn from the Museum was kind enough to host  a session for us that explored the lives of the Anglo-Saxons. We got to look at artefacts and play the ancient game of Merrills (or Nine Men’s Morris) – which got pretty competetive! We finished the session playing Victorian games on the Museum’s Victorian Street and got to try out the stocks!

Moors and Valleys YAC - June 2018We’ve got loads more fun archaeological activities planned for the year. Our next YAC session will be on Saturday 7 July at the Land of Iron’s Combs Wood community archaeology excavation in Beck Hole near Whitby. Before then we have an extra bonus trip organised by Tees Archaeology on Sunday 1 July to see their excavation of the deserted medieval borough at Skelton.

To find out more, or to sign up for a session –  please contact us.

We’re also looking for new volunteer leaders so if you have knowledge of history/archaeology and would like to get involved then please get in touch.

Young Archaeologists' Club logo

Shaped by people

A new leaflet has been published which highlights the historic environments of British National Parks –Our Historic Environment: special landscapes shaped by people‘. The number one purpose of the National Parks is to ‘conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage’ of their areas.

The cultural heritage reference is not just an add on, a poor cousin to nature. As well as shaping the physical landscape cultural heritage is fundamental to providing a sense of place which is just as important in making a National Park special.

Helmsley Castle - copyright English Heritage

Whereas in British National Parks sometimes it’s easy to overlook the influence of people on the natural environment, whereas the historic environment is all about human impact and residue. Here on the ground in the North York Moors it’s not possible to disentangle the natural and historic environments – a 400 year old veteran tree is a natural feature, but it is there because of woodland management in the past; rare Ring Ouzels breed in Rosedale because of the presence of industrial structures left over from the 19th century; the large conifer forests of the North York Moors are there because of a national policy of afforestation after World War 1.

East Kilns, Rosedale - copyright NYMNPA

Across the country the most important cultural heritage sites are protected through designation by Historic England, Cadw and Historic Environment Scotland. But there are 1000s and 1000s of other significant sites, structures, finds and features, which National Park Authorities are working to conserve on their patch, alongside the protected sites. By building up research, increasing understanding, and informing interpretation National Park Authorities seek to connect and engage people, both locals and visitors, with their heritage and history.

Close up of drystone wall with engraved date - copyright NYMNPA

Since the last Ice Age – the flint tools, hearth deposits, cup and ring marked stones of the subsisting Mesolithic and Neolithic periods; the pottery, earthwork dykes, burial mounds of the ritualistic Bronze and Iron Ages; the forts, settlements, castles of centuries of invasion/assimilation of Romans, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, and then Normans; the abbeys, cruck houses, ridge and furrow of the striving middle ages; the alum works, musket balls and ‘witch posts’ of the religiously provocative Tudor, Stuart and Civil War period; the designed landscapes, water races, stationary engines and railway lines of the industrious 18th and 19th centuries; the radar stations, tank tracks, gas works of the technological 20th century – the North York Moors landscape retains the physical evidence of history (the what and where). Along with documents, maps and other primary sources this provides an historic environment framework, with lots of room left for investigation, imagination and involvement into the how and why.

Coastal archaeology - copyright NYMNPA

Beneath another pile of stones

Mags Waughman – NPA Monument Management Scheme Officer

Archaeology often uncovers the unexpected, but it usually relates to activities which are hundreds if not thousands of years old, but last week we found something which is much more recent.

As part of our work under the Historic England funded Monument Management Scheme (Phase 3), we have been trying to improve the visibility and condition of a number of Bronze Age burial mounds (usually dating to around 1700-2000 BC) which have been obscured in recent years by the addition of modern cairns on top of them. Walkers who may be unaware of the ancient burial mound beneath a pile of stones are sometimes tempted to pull stones out of the prehistoric monument to add to the modern cairn on top and this causes damage the ancient fabric of the monument. Many of these burial mounds are protected in law as Scheduled Monuments so it is especially important that we try to stop the damage and conserve what is left of them. Dismantling modern cairns from the top of these monuments can remove the temptation to extract stones for cairn building and restores the profile of the monument to something which is more recognisable as a Bronze Age burial mound.

One such burial mound on Gisborough Moor is getting an improvement makeover at the moment. This is quite a low and not very imposing mound which is distinguished by having a rough kerb of low stones set into the ground around its perimeter and a larger earthfast stone – a stone slab set vertically into the ground – on its north side. Small standing stones like this are believed to be prehistoric and in this case to have been part of the structure of the burial mound.

We organised an archaeological survey of the monument last autumn (carried out by Solstice Heritage) to be followed up, once the snows had gone, with the removal of the modern stones. During the survey work we were intrigued by a lump of concrete which was visible, poking out from the bottom of the cairn. We were wondering how someone had managed to lift it onto the monument and in particular how we would be able to remove it. Come last week, a team of our volunteers and apprentices guided by Chris Scott from Solstice Heritage took down the modern cairn, taking care to inspect the stones for any signs of prehistoric decoration. None were found, but underneath the modern accumulation of stones, the lump of concrete turned out to be much more interesting than we had originally thought.

Copyright Solstice HeritageAbove: Modern cairn on top of the burial mound: the standing stone is at the left hand side and you can just see the concrete block next to it.

Marked in the top of the concrete were the initials ‘CS’ and ‘JP’  with the date 11/11/1943 and in the centre was a deep and narrow cylindrical hole. We think that the initials are those of the people who cast the block and that it may have been intended to take either a flagpole or a communications mast. We know that parts of the surrounding moorland were used during World War II as a bombing decoy site  – an arrangement of controlled fires which would have been lit during an air raid to  draw enemy bombers away from Middlesbrough – so the presence of concrete dating from this time is not surprising. The 11 November date suggests that it may have been installed as part of an Armistice Day commemoration: perhaps the servicemen manning the decoy site held a ceremony of remembrance for the dead of the previous world war.

Copyright Solstice Heritage

Above: Cast slab of WWII concrete – possibly a flagpole base

Although modern additions to prehistoric monuments often look out of place, in this case the World War II concrete slab is part of the history of this site and so it will be left in place to tell its own story. As for the Bronze Age burial mound – now that the modern cairn has gone, it is much easier to see the shape of the mound and the standing stone set within it as another visible part of the heritage of the North York Moors landscape and its much earlier past.

Copyright Solstice Heritage

Above: Monument after removal of the modern cairn – the standing stone with the concrete block in front of it is at the far side of the mound in the centre of the picture and some of the kerb stones can be seen in the foreground

We will be keeping an eye on the monument over the coming months to see whether the vegetation is regenerating on the bare ground left by the removal of the modern cairn, and if necessary we will return later in the year to give it a helping hand. We will also watch out for the re-appearance of new cairns, but expect that this will be less likely to happen now that there are no loose stones on the surface  –  we would hope that visitors will respect both the prehistoric burial mound and the relic of our more recent past by not building any new cairns on the monument.

Copyright Solstice Heritage

Above: The stoical team after a day’s work in the March wind

YACking

We now have a Young Archaeologists’ Club for the North York Moors and wider area – the Moors and Valleys YAC.

YAC logo

This is a great new opportunity for this area and the local archaeology scene. The aim is to engage young people with the historic environment all around them and inspire the next generation of budding archaeologists. The club is for young people aged 8 and 16 years of age, and it will host a series of events and sessions across North Yorkshire, Teesside and Cleveland; exploring everything from skeletons and pottery, to stratigraphy and henges.

It kicked off on the first Saturday in February with some rummaging through ‘rubbish’ and some fabulous finds drawing. 

Have a look at our blog post on the Young Archaeologists’s Club website to find out more about what happened (involving expensive jewellery and hamster treats) and what’s going to be happening next. Or if you think you might want to get involved…

Impacts of history

Graham Lee – Archaeology Officer

Further to my last blog post, here are some more examples of enthralling LiDAR imagery from the North York Moors. As mentioned previously, the interpretation of features is not necessarily straight-forward since we are not seeing a photograph per se  but a series of points joined together by a computer algorithm. A clear resemblance to ‘known’ features is a good start but often there is no substitute for checking the site on the ground where necessary, with the landowner’s permission.

Figure 1: Crag Cliff Wood near Grosmont

LiDAR - Cragg Cliff Wood, Grosmont. Copyright NYMNPA.

This image is from the 2016 This Exploited Land 25cm LiDAR (equating to c.16 data points per square metre). The This Exploited Land of Iron Landscape Parntership Scheme focuses on the 19th century ironstone industry in the North York Moors, one of the major sites for this was around Grosmont. This little four-fingered ‘hand’ near the centre of the image, just c.6.5m wide, is clearly a group of linear spoil tips leading out from a small excavation, perhaps a mining trial in the valley side? The linear runs of spoil, as tipped out of a barrow, are a very typical form associated with mining or quarrying sites. On steeper slopes, these are often tear-drop shaped.

Figures 2 and 2a: Rievaulx Village and the River Rye

LiDAR - Rievaulx. Copyright Environment Agency.

Aerial Photograph 2014 - Rievaulx. Copyright Get Mapping.

This image from the Environment Agency 50cm LiDAR (equating to c.9 data points per square metre) shows the site of Rievaulx Abbey (Scheduled Monument) near the central bottom of the picture, with all the buildings stripped away to show the underlying and surrounding earthworks. There is a mass of detail to see here. To the north of the Abbey are the houses of the village with a whole series of platforms and enclosures visible on the valley side. Just below these is the line of the “Canal”, a watercourse dug by the monks to bring a supply of water from the River Rye into the Abbey complex. Surrounding the village are numerous hollow-ways (former routeways) and extensive remains of old quarries. The level earthwork platform, running North-South to the bottom right of the picture is the northern half of Rievaulx Terrace. The corresponding aerial photograph from July 2014, with the water courses and major earthworks (mapped by the Ordnance Survey) layers switched on, help to clarify the positions of some of these features, including the line of ponds leading down to what was the Medieval water-mill, now a private dwelling.

Figures 3 and 3a: Holmes Alum Quarry in Mulgrave Woods

Aerial Photograph 2015 - Holmes Alum Works. Copyright Get Mapping.

LiDAR - Holmes Alum Works. Copyright Durham University/NYMNPA.

This is a classic example of the value of LiDAR imagery. The aerial photograph from August 2015 shows trees blanketing virtually all archaeological detail but this is beautifully clear in the 10cm resolution LiDAR image from Spring 2017 (Durham University/North York Moors National Park Authority; equating to c.90 data points per square metre). You can see the three adjoining quarry scoops to the south of Sandsend Beck, with a mass of, presumably associated, earthworks just across the beck to the north-west. This is thought to represent the site of Holmes Alum Quarry which is recorded as operating from about 1680. Works here had ceased by the late 18th century / early 19th century when this area was landscaped as an arboretum for Mulgrave Castle. I am not aware that this site has ever been surveyed in detail on the ground – this imagery provides a very good starting point. Roasted shale is recorded as having been found in the area so the sites of roasting clamps and, possibly, even steeping pits should probably be there to be found. On the plateau to the south of the quarries is an area of Medieval and Post-Medieval Ridge and Furrow (ploughing) cultivation which is clearly visible.

For more information on LiDAR, have a look at “The Light Fantastic” produced by Historic England

Last year’s top 6 posts

These were our top 6 posts during 2017, according to the number of views – in reverse order to make it more exciting.

North Yorksire Turtle Dove Project Logo6. Talking about Turtle Doves

The Turtle Doves are currently in western Africa. Work here is now focused on preparing for a new season of surveying starting in May when these migratory birds return to the UK. There is a meeting for volunteer surveyors in the Howardian Hills AONB area organised for 17 January, and another for volunteer surveyors in the National Park area on 4 April. If you’d be interested in becoming a volunteer surveyor – please contact us.

Rosedale Abbey - copyright Mike Kipling, NYMNPA

5. Etymological landscapes

Live Moor monument after remedial work. Copyright Solstice Heritage.

4. Deconstructing modern mounds

Our post set out the reasons for taking forward this work to help conserve nationally important historic monuments, through the Monument Management Scheme. It was followed up with a post updating on progress later on in the year – Deconstructing modern mounds: what happened next…

River Rye near Hawnby. Copyright NYMNPA.

3. Ryevitalising the Rye

Since stage one approval was achieved back in January 2017, the development of this Landscape Partnership Scheme has continued apace.

Anne-Louise and Alex (the Ryevitalise Team) are coordinating as fast as they can, working alongside partner organisations and the wider community. Following on from local community consultation exercises in November, a series of taster events are planned for this spring to enable people to experience the kind of events on offer should Ryevitalise move into it’s delivery phase. One such event will be marking World Fish Migration Day on 21 April.

Partners are labouring over the 22 complementary project elements which make up the partnership scheme, around the themes of water quality and environment, reconnecting people and water level management. Alex is liaising with local land managers to build up a mutual understanding of how Ryevitalise could help support practices that deliver specific objectives around water quality and habitat improvements.

The stage two application currently in development is due to be submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund at the end of this October. If successful, the four year delivery phase will start in spring 2019.

We’re keen to incorporate as many ideas and aspirations as possible. If you want to get involved please complete our online survey form.

Casten Dyke North - wall to counterscarp bank looking north. Copyright Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd.

2. Battle of Byland: considering the evidence

October 2022 will mark the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Byland. Clear evidence that the battle took place at Roulston Scar remains elusive.

Lidar survey - Holmes Alum Works. 1. Quest for knowledge

Quite a few readers of our Blog have asked for more on LiDAR survey results – so please look out for next week’s post…

This Exploited Land of Iron: November 2017

David Mennear – This Exploited Land of Iron Administrative Assistant

Now at the end of Autumn, here at the North York Moors National Park, the Heritage Lottery funded Land of Iron team look back at what have been busy and satisfying months of activity and look forward to next year.

We’ve been working on ensuring that the landscape and ironstone heritage of the North York Moors will be in better condition and better cared for, valued by more people with a sustainable future, by the end of the This Exploited Land of Iron (TELoI) programme in 2021. Families loved our engineering challenge to build an archway at Egton Show this year. Copyright NYMNPA.

TELoI Guided Walk at East Kiln,Rosedale - for PLACE. Copyright NYMNPA.

A snapshot of our Goathland dig volunteers in action, helping to uncover the enigmatic abandoned railway incline. Copyright NYMNPA.

New Team Addition
We have recently welcomed Kim Devereux-West to our team as the new Cultural Heritage Assistant. Kim will be working closely with our Cultural Heritage Officer Maria Calderón in conserving the industrial monuments found throughout the Land of Iron area. Kim will be joining Maria on a number of site visits helping to establish the condition of the historic ironstone industry buildings and associated rail infrastructure, and drawing up conservation plans.

In addition Kim will be assisting the Historic Environment team at the North York Moors National Park Authority by helping to manage the all important North York Moors Historic Environment Record, the regional archive of ancient and modern human activity here that is open to both researchers and members of the public.

Please look out for Kim, and give her a warm welcome.

Recovering Reeking Gill
We’ve recently carried out some truly fantastic team work which achieved an excellent result – we’ve uncovered the stone culvert at Reeking Gill in Rosedale. The culvert was built as part of the Rosedale Railway which was operational from 1861 until 1926 when the ironstone mines there were no longer profitable and therefore closed.  Now once again the magnificent keystone at the centre of the arch has seen the light of day. This is after more than 20 years of being buried beneath compacted silt and boulders from the effect of natural processes above in the gill once the culvert was no longer needed and therefore no longer maintained.Digging out the Reeking Gill Culvert in Rosedale, autumn 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

With the dedicated efforts of Shaun, our JCB digger and driver extraordinaire, and persevering volunteers and Land of Iron personnel, we managed the first step in the consolidation of the Reeking Gill culvert with the ultimate aim of conserving the working structure. This has been one of the programme’s core aims within its first year as Reeking Gill is a major structure within Rosedale, and a striking reminder and relic of the once-thriving ironstone industry in the landscape.

The ongoing Reeking Gill restoration work is one example of the work the Land of Iron team will be doing ‘behind the scenes’, alongside the more public and volunteer-led public community archaeology digs and activities run by Maria Calderón and natural environment events to be run by Elspeth Ingleby, our Natural Heritage Officer, over the next few years.

We’ve been making sure we have a full roster of exciting community-led events and fun-filled activity days (and nights) for 2018, with another community archaeology dig, lots more guided walks and specialist talks, and a little bit of star gazing.

Your chance to deliver your own project
We have recently concluded the initial round of our grant allocation for local community groups and individuals to deliver small scale projects that help to deliver our vision and aims for the landscape and heritage in the Land of Iron area. We are excited to see how the grant aided projects develop and are keen to keep spreading the word around our region as the grants are available to apply for throughout the year.

The next application deadline is 31 December, for a decision by the end of January 2018. It is advisable to discuss your project idea at an early stage with the team before submitting an application. Please note that around 25% match funding is generally required.

If you’ve got an idea for our Land of Iron Community Grant please send us an email or give us a call on 01439 772700 to find out more. Or see our website page.

Next few months
Our work over winter will include:

  • Assessing the latest round of Community Grant applications to see what exciting project ideas there are for the Land of Iron and to see how we can help them come to fruition.
  • Researching mine water discharge along the Rosedale Railway, to see how we can best help mitigate the environmental impacts that are still effecting the local biodiversity.
  • Giving new opportunities for volunteers to be involved in conservation and restoration efforts around the Rosedale and the Esk Valley areas each month with Dawn Rothwell, our Volunteer Coordinator. Contact Dawn on 07792 332053 or by email, to register your interest.

Volunteers after planting woodrush in the Esk Valley. Copyright NYMNPA.

Keeping up to date
If you’re interested in what we’re doing and what you can do to help, then please sign up to our mailing list or email us.

For some great pictures of the landscape and features – click here.

Archaeologist at Large: a new beginning

Shannon Fraser – Senior Archaeologist

I recently arrived in the North York Moors to take up the post of Senior Archaeologist with the National Park. It is going to be quite an exciting challenge following in the footsteps of long-serving Graham Lee, with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the history and prehistory of the landscapes within the Park! Having spent the last 16 years researching, conserving, interpreting and promoting the cultural heritage on National Trust for Scotland properties in eastern Scotland, I am used to dealing with a very broad range of archaeological and historic places – from the traces of mesolithic settlement to WWII aircraft crash sites in the Cairngorm mountains, from Pictish symbol stones to Renaissance palaces and gardens in the eastern lowlands. So some things will be familiar, while other elements of the North York Moors heritage will be quite new to me. Happily Graham is taking phased retirement, so he is still around to share with me his knowledge of and great enthusiasm for that heritage.

I have been taking as many opportunities as I can so far to get out into the North York Moors and explore the cultural landscape, meeting the people who work in, study and enjoy it. Recently, I joined a group of our stalwart Historic Environment Volunteers, on a day out exploring archaeological sites on Carlton Moor, Live Moor and Whorlton Moor in the north west of the National Park. The day was organized by our Monument Management Scheme team, as a thank-you to the volunteers for having devoted so much of their time to monitoring how scheduled archaeological sites within the Park are faring and helping to improve their condition.

Historic Environment Volunteers Day Out 5 August 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

We visited a number of prehistoric sites, in the company of Alan Kitching, one of the landowners in the area who has been extremely supportive of our efforts to remove nationally-important monuments from Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register through conservation and beneficial land management.

Among these monuments is a compact hillfort with well-preserved ramparts at Knolls End, at the end of the Live Moor plateau. The Cleveland Way actually cuts right across this monument – how many people realize they are walking through a defended settlement probably dating back to the iron age? The estate here has been working to control bracken on the fort site through an Environmental Stewardship agreement. Apart from the swathes of bracken making monuments very difficult to see, the plant’s extensive network of underground rhizomes can be very damaging to the structure of earthworks, like the hillfort’s ramparts, as well as to the archaeological layers below ground.

Historic Environment Volunteers Day Out 5 August 2017. Discussing monument management at a bronze age burial cairn. Copyright NYMNPA.

We were also able to appreciate the efforts of our historic environment volunteers who had helped to remove modern walkers’ cairns from the top of bronze age burial cairns. The adding of lots of new stones to these prehistoric monuments can radically change their appearance. More importantly, if stones are removed from previously undisturbed parts of the original cairn to add to a walkers’ cairn on top, it causes incremental damage. By removing obvious walkers’ cairns, we hope to discourage further ‘rearrangement’ of the stones so these wonderful meaningful monuments survive for yet more millennia.

All in all, it was a very pleasant experience meeting some of the committed people who are working to conserve the precious heritage of the North York Moors, whether landowners or volunteers. And the day ended with tea and cake – what more could you wish for?

Historic Environment Volunteers Day Out 5 August 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our Historic Environment Volunteers undertake both indoor and outdoor work. If you’re thinking you might like to join the team, and would like to find out more about what’s involved, please get in touch.

Goathland Incline: a Community Archaeology Dig

Maria-Elena Calderón – This Exploited Land of Iron Cultural Heritage Officer and David Mennear – This Exploited Land of Iron Administration Assistant

Introduction 

This Exploited Land of Iron, our HLF Landscape Partnership Scheme, has had a busy and successful first summer with well attended events and exciting activities taking place across the North York Moors. This Exploited Land of Iron is investigating the once booming ironstone industry, which spread across the area from the early 19th century until the mid-20th century, although you may not easily notice its intrusion on the beautiful landscape today.

Following our first archaeological dig at Combs Wood (Beck Hole) back in May, our second archaeological excavation recently took place at the Goathland Incline over a two week period between 25 July and 5 August. It proved particularly popular with volunteers and passing visitors.

Today the village of Goathland is a peaceful and idyllic haven for tourists, a former spa town famous for the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and for masquerading as the fictional village of ‘Aidensfield’ from the old TV series, Heartbeat. You wouldn’t know today to look around the village, but Goathland once played a brief but fundamental part in the 19th century ironstone mining industry, a noisy and disfiguring industry that required the transport of thousands of tonnes of ironstone across the North York Moors via railways. In fact not many historic photographs of the Goathland Incline survive at all. As such we didn’t quite know what existed or what remained. Targeted archaeological excavation, following a thorough study of the area and its history beforehand, was undertaken to investigate the remains at the Incline..

Goathland Incline: A Brief History of a Modern Mystery

The site itself dates to a brief period in the mid-19th century when the railway was in its infancy. The early Whitby to Pickering horse-drawn railway was designed in the 1830s by none other than George Stephenson, the famous and much in-demand ‘Father of the Railways’. For the majority of the line, wagons and carriages were hauled using horse power; however, due to the 1 in 5 gradient present between Beck Hole and Goathland, an alternative power source was required. Powered inclines had been in use for a number of years by this point, employed primarily at mines. At Goathland a gravity system was used to haul the wagons and carriages up the incline – water butts were filled at the top of the incline and their weight was used to offset the weight of the wagons themselves, effectively and somewhat spectacularly pulling them up the incline. Once the water butts were at the base of the incline, they could then be emptied and brought back up by horses to be used again.

In 1845 the horse-drawn railway was transformed into a steam hauled railway by the new owner, a certain Mr George Hudson. At some point the incline itself was also transformed to steam power with a stationary engine sitting at the top of the incline. The engine house is shown on the Ordnance Survey map surveyed in 1849, but we’re currently unsure of the exact year that this new feature was installed. The conversion to steam power also required the installation of turntables at both the top and foot of the incline itself, as unlike the horses, locomotives could not turn themselves around in such a small space.

The incline was a perilous operation and was known to fail; a crash in 1864 killed 2 people and injured 13. In 1865 a deviation line was built which took a wider route with a shallower gradient that eliminated the need for an incline. The buildings were demolished, the site was abandoned to be subsumed back into Goathland village and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Dig Itself

Due to the early date of the railway at Goathland a lot of the layout relating to the gravity system remains unknown as it was replaced before the earliest ordnance survey maps. So we decided to open a series of trenches that targeted known historical structures and possible new structures identified by a LiDAR survey. Using remote sensing LiDAR maps the topography of the land from above and because it takes measurements from a variety of angles, it can effectively see though heavy vegetation and wooded areas. This allows for the identification of possible building structures or man-made earthworks within the targeted area.

LiDAR image of Goathland Incline Site. Copyright NYMNPA.

Light Detection and Ranging, otherwise known as LiDAR, is a remote sensing method used in archaeology to examine the landscape surface. Here you can see the representation of the land around the historic site of the Goathland Incline, including a suspected turntable.The purple circle is the turntable and the blue rectangles the main trenches targeted within the red study areas

We placed three trenches over a circular feature suspected to be a turntable, one over a series of linear features shown in LiDAR and thought to be the remains of buildings, and one over the alleged engine house for the stationary engine.

The engine house location proved true but unfortunately not the rest. In archaeology, with both the best will and research in the world, you never truly know what you are going to uncover. The turntable was in fact a reservoir and what looked like building remains were probably instead the remains of allotment beds.

Goathland Incline Excavation July/August 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Our amazing volunteers hard at work on the trench that provided to be a bit of a damp squib.

The reservoir was interesting in itself as it turned out to be a clay capped earthen structure that had silted up over the years and had obviously been used as a rubbish dump. Finds such as jars, broken toys, Victorian glass bottles and ceramic wares gave us an insight into 1860-1940s Goathland life. Despite the late nature of the finds themselves, the structure itself we believe dates from the early gravity system, and offers us the only archaeological insight into that period. At that geographic level in Goathland there is no fast flowing water supply sufficient enough to fill the water butts for the gravity-assisted incline system. As such large water storage areas would have been required and allowed to fill on a slow trickle. Could this be what the reservoir was used for?

Goathland Incline Excavation July/August 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Getting down and dirty investigating one of the trenches with our Cultural Heritage Officer Maria Calderón and placement student Ewan Chipping to see what great work the volunteers have done.

Within the trench targeting the engine house we found substantial remains of stone walls 70-80cm (28-32”) thick with foundations continuing below a 1.4m (4’ 8”) depth from the surface level. It is clear that the engine house was a substantial structure with a basement. There were two internal rooms divided by a further stone wall. The building would have been roofed in slate, rather than the local vernacular of pantile; this is typical of railway buildings, as the companies that operated the railways worked on a regional or national level, and did not respect local building traditions.  Sadly we found no evidence of conduits or the stationary engine. In all likelihood most of the metal worked was instead probably sold for scrap at some point. To the north of the building we found traces of a stone covered yard.

Goathland Incline Excavation July/August 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

‘Have you found anything interesting?’ We certainly did! You can tell by the foundations of the stone walls in this trench that a substantial building once stood here, like the engine house.

Goathland Uncovered: Mystery Solved?

But we had not given up on the turntable and with the help of a local resident we gained permission to open further excavations on the site. We opened six small test pits and hit the remains of a turntable in three pieces; two edges and at the centre point, from which we can extrapolate the size. This was a highlight of the excavation and was the fruitful work of a few very determined volunteers. One of the smaller test pits also identified the corner of a brick building that had been demolished.

A successful dig then, but questions still remain regarding the Goathland incline site:

a) How deep does the engine house go?
b) Are there any remains in the rooms waiting to be discovered?
c) Where was the cable drum for the incline?
d) What is the small brick building?

With these questions lingering in our minds after the excavation we’ll now process the information recorded and help to produce archaeological reports based on the available evidence. As always with archaeological fieldwork there may be more questions than answers, but what this dig helped uncover is invaluable to learning about the industrial life of the Goathland Incline and the individuals who worked on it and lived nearby.

Goathland Incline Excavation July/August 2017. Copyright NYMNPA.

Last but not least, we also had time to celebrate Yorkshire Day on the 1st August with a good mug of Yorkshire Tea!

In amongst the digging we also managed to make a short film (in very windy conditions) – have a look here.

We would like to extend a big thank you to all of our volunteers who took part in the excavation, and also a big thank you to all of the members of the local community who came to visit us and asked great questions or provided invaluable insights into Goathland life and industry.

To learn more about upcoming events and volunteering opportunities, please contact the Land of Iron team on 01439 772700 or email us.