End of an era

Our Senior Archaeologist is taking phased retirement, so before he goes he has been asked to reflect on his time with the North York Moors National Park.

Graham Lee – Senior Archaeological Conservation Officer

graham-leeHow do I sum up a career lasting over a quarter of a century in a few paragraphs? It is a strange feeling to have 26 years seemingly flash by so fast.

I started work for the North York Moors National Park in April 1990, having previously worked in the archaeology section of North Yorkshire County Council since the summer of 1983. I had decided many years before that I loved the north of England and had no desire to return to my southern ‘roots’.

Graham had decided many years before that he loved the north of England, whatever the weather ... Copyright - NYMNPA.One of my first tasks with the National Park was the completion of a management survey of one of our large estates, encompassing moorland and large blocks of forestry. This quickly whetted my appetite for the excitement of making new archaeological discoveries – often very subtle earthworks, no more than a handful of centimetres in depth or relief – despite an exceptional tradition of previous high quality archaeological fieldwork in the region. Working solo in large blocks of conifers was a good test of dedication – crawling under the branches of dense stands of conifers searching for vague earthworks mapped in the 1890s – and the steadiness of nerve, when yet another wretched pheasant exploded out of the leafy vegetation where I was just about to step! In recent years the delights of discovery have been broadening thanks to new technology and techniques, especially LiDAR which provides an aerial view through tree and ground-cover vegetation of archaeological remains that were previously hidden or obscured.

If you have a passion for the past, the North York Moors have something for pretty much everyone – enigmatic Neolithic rock art; surviving prehistoric pitted boundaries and avenues; upstanding Bronze Age funerary monuments and field systems; Roman encampments; medieval castles and monasteries…

Human industry is also well represented – from the earliest iron industry through the search for alum into the full-blown “iron rush” of the mid 19th century, the exploitation of coal and jet, and the plentiful local rivers managed to provide motive power for a range of watermills. Research and conservation priorities relating to these local industries finally led to our new HLF Landscape Partnership Scheme, This Exploited Land of Iron. Some 15 or so years in gestation, it is very rewarding to see new generations captured by the excitement of the important remains of our 19th century ironstone industry and the associated development of early railways – although the original scheme for a canal link between Whitby and Pickering would have been a sight to behold and a major tourist attraction if it had ever been built.

Into the 20th century, remains survive here from both world wars – in the form of coastal defences, army camps as well as troop training and target practice areas. Finds are still occasionally made of 2nd World War unexploded ordnance in former training areas across the North York Moors, in particular after the wildfire on Fylingdales Moor in 2003 which affected two square kilometres of heather moorland.

Fylingdales Moor after teh wildfire in 2003. Copyright - NYMNPA.

Although an environmental disaster – the severity of the fire in reducing the shallow peat cover to ash, this event was an archaeological revelation. Virtually everywhere you looked, subtle archaeological remains became visible, including the drip gulleys around former prehistoric round houses, low stony prehistoric boundaries and cairns, large numbers of previously unrecorded examples of Neolithic rock art and occasional shallow trenches which resembled grave cuts with a subsiding infill. As numbers of the latter quickly increased their interpretation became clear – slit trenches from 2nd World War troop training. I remember my first visit to the site after the fire when the ground was reddened and blackened, covered in ash and still smouldering; few trees had survived and many had toppled after the peat holding their roots in place had been burnt away. Flashes of colour were very noticeable, such as an adder emerging from its underground refuge having survived the conflagration. A major project ensued, both to protect and restore the moorland habitat and to record and investigate the breath-taking remains of surviving archaeology.

Rosedale Calcining Kilns in a perilous state. Copyright - NYMNPA.There have always been new specialisms to get to grips with. A visit to the Scheduled Rosedale iron calcining kilns with the Park’s Conservation Director at the time revealed that a portion of one of the kilns’ firebrick linings had collapsed the previous winter. This led to a major conservation project to stabilise these huge monuments which ran for three years in the mid 1990s, a forerunner of This Exploited Land which will continue the efforts to conserve these monumental sites 20 years on.

Conservation project to stabalise the Calcining Kilns in the 1990s. Copyright - NYMNPA.

It has been such a pleasure working with like-minded and dedicated professionals, both in my own National Park, but also with colleagues throughout the family of British National Parks, and Historic England and Natural England. We’ve shared experiences and ideas to the betterment of our discipline from research to management, and also shared the excitement of attempting to bring our subject, which we love, to life for anyone who cares to see and to get involved.

Graham at work - examining finds at an archaeological excavation - Coxwold Creative Minds Project, March 2006. Copyright - NYMNPA.

The National Park Authority is currently looking for a new Senior Archaeologist to lead on archaeology in the North York Moors. The closing date for applications is 26 January 2017.

Historical curios and curious patterns

Beth Davies – Building Conservation Officer

We visit a huge number of sites throughout the North York Moors during the course of our work and occasionally we’re lucky enough to come across something on the more unusual side.

Like this stone noticed on a farm in Danby – we think it was used as an egg cooler.

Egg cooler? carved stone on farm in Danby - copyright NYMNPA.

This stone (below) is in a field in Glaisdale and the owner advised me it was an apple press. There certainly appears to be a drain on the near side which would suggest it was used to collect some form of liquid.

Apple press? Glaisdale - copyright NYMNPA.It’s noticeable that the cross shape is very similar to those found on ‘witches posts’ in vernacular long houses, especially those in recusant Catholic outposts like Glaisdale. Did the cross have a purely functional purpose in getting the juice to run out in channels? … did it help protect the juice from evil misdoings by witches? … did the cross shape signify covert faithfulness to the old religion after the Reformation?

'Witch post' - Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton le Hole. From Hidden Teesside http://www.hidden-teesside.co.uk/2014/08/06/witch-post-hutton-le-hole/

This (above) is a picture of a ‘witch post’ trans-located along with the rest of Stang End Cottage from Danby to the Ryedale Folk Museum in Hutton le Hole. The post is supporting the bressumar beam above and there is the heck (draught proof screen) behind. It’s called a ‘witch post’ because of the pattern carved at the top which is thought to be there to protect the house and the hearth. Similar carved posts in houses seem to be a particular feature of the North York Moors, but it’s not clear when they were first associated with witches.

The North York Moors contains a number of ‘cup and ring’ stones (see below). These are usually in-situ rocks which have been engraved in prehistoric times with patterns – the ‘cup’ markings are concave shapes and the ‘ring’ markings are concentric circles. These types of engraving are found in a number of places in Europe and beyond and it is this similarity of the ‘cup and ring’ patterns in different places that makes them particularly significant. There are various explanations of how and why involving semiotics, cryptography and mythology, as well as archaeology.

Cup and Ring stone near Roxby - more cup than ring - copyright NYMNPA.

Cup and Ring Stone near Fylingdales - copyright Blaise Vyner.

Cup and Ring Stone near Goathland - copyright NYMNPA.People like to leave their mark. Below is an example of 19th century rock art (graffiti) at an ironstone industrial railway site in the North York Moors – it shows a man in a top hat, and a bird. I don’t suppose there is any meaning behind it other than someone passing the time and representing what they were seeing around them.

Carved picture stone - copyright NYMNPA.

We’re always keen to hear about odd cultural remnants in the North York Moors and different interpretations of their functions. Please let us know if you can help.

Large engraved stone within drystone wall - copyright Roy McGhie, NYMNPA.

 

Bridging the centuries

Beth Davies – Building Conservation Officer

We have a new listed building in the National Park! It’s the clapper bridge carrying Ashfield Road/Wandels Lane across Danby Beck near Castleton – and it’s now Grade II listed. It was designated due to three principle reasons – its architecture, its historic interest and its rarity.

The Principles of Selection for Listing Buildings (Department for Culture, Media & Sport 2010) sets out how the Secretary of State determines whether a building or structure is of special architectural or historic interest and therefore merits listing. This states that most buildings and structures pre-dating 1840 should be listed. Historic England’s Listing Selection Guide for Transport Buildings (2011) notes that most pre-1840 bridges, where substantially intact, warrant serious consideration for listing.

Architecture – The earliest form of bridge typically surviving in use is the clapper bridge – large stone slabs spanning between boulders or abutments, built out of undressed stone. This example crossing Danby Beck is an interesting development of this most basic form in that it has carefully constructed abutments and piers using dressed stone. The herring-bone tooling indicates that the abutments date from the mid-C18 to the C19. The lack of masonry parapets and the general simplicity of the construction contributes to the interest.

Historic Interest – The absence of arches and the re-use of large slabs in their stead strongly suggest that this was a rebuilding of a medieval clapper bridge on the route between Castleton village and Howe Mill. The rebuilding was most likely in circa 1807 when the mill was extensively rebuilt and required improved access. All this contributes to the interest of the bridge.

Rarity – Clapper bridges are relatively rare nationally, especially multi-spanned examples carrying roads.

Clapper bridge carrying Ashfield Road/Wandels Lane across Danby Beck - copyright NYMNPA

The bridge has been adapted over time and still remains functional. The fact that the bridge was strengthened in 2006 by overlaying it with a reinforced concrete deck carrying the road surface does not significantly undermine its claim to special interest –the listing details note that the concrete and road surface are currently neither of special architectural nor historic interest.

The listing means the bridge is protected for the future in that any planned changes to its structure will need listed building consent which will ensure that the bridge’s special interest is conserved.