Deconstructing modern mounds

Linda Smith, Archaeological Consultant

You may be familiar with the Cleveland Way as it winds its way across the top of Greenhow Bank and you might have been tempted off your route at Burton Howe to head over towards Baysdale. You may have stopped to take in the view from the mound with the boundary stone stuck on top and perhaps, whilst eating your sandwiches or resting your legs, you might have moved a few stones around or brought up another couple from the track to add to the heap.

What harm could there be in that?

Piles of loose stones can be the remains of something built in prehistory. During the Bronze Age (3-4,000 years ago) it was the custom to bury people in mounds called barrows (sometimes marked as tumuli or tumulus and labelled in gothic lettering on maps). Barrows were often built from stones and located on hill tops or ridges of higher land. The dead may have been buried with pots or flint tools and disturbing these structures also disturbs the archaeological story contained inside. Archaeologists could have used this varied information to build up a picture of what happened in the past, much as a detective would today except there is no one alive from whom to take a statement and corroborate the evidence.

Barrows are located in prominent places in the landscape. They can be found on the skyline or forming a focal point for a modern path or they may have had trees planted on them in the past to highlight a hill or a view. Historically they have often been used as route markers by pedlars or when moving animals over long distances in otherwise featureless terrain, or to mark a property boundary by inserting a boundary stone into the mound. They are often important features in the landscape even today, because of their visibility, or maybe because they have a local legend associated with them. As a very numerous and distinctive feature of the North York Moors landscape, barrows constitute a significant proportion (about 65%) of the 842 protected sites or Scheduled Monuments, within the National Park.

Why people build cairns today

Cairns, simply piles of stone, are often built today by walkers to help mark a route which is difficult to see on the ground and this is especially true in the North York Moors where there are few prominent landscape features such as trees or hilltops, where fog and bad weather can divert the walker from the right route or where the heather is deep and makes the path hard to locate. Or where the top of a hill has a great view but it’s often windy so a wind break has gradually been built up to provide welcome shelter. Or maybe there’s a place people always stop for a breather after climbing a steep hill and look down, perhaps on their home village. A handy nearby pile of loose stone can easily be used as a quarry for creating a new heap or cairn in a better place and it may become the custom to add a stone or two to a modern cairn when anyone passes, or even to deliberately take up another stone each time a place is visited. In this way, cairns are created, and enlarged and become important markers.

What’s the damage?

The problem with building cairns today is that by using stones from existing archaeological features like barrows the information contained within them is disturbed, the clues that archaeologists use to build up a picture of what happened in the past are destroyed – how the structure was built and used, how it was developed for different burials, perhaps over several generations, or what objects were buried with the dead. This does not mean that every archaeological feature will one day be excavated by archaeologists but it does mean that the features are so important that they deserve to be left undisturbed for future generations and new techniques and understanding: if something 4,000 years old is disturbed, that unique information is lost for ever. Many of these barrows have been recognised as being nationally important and so are protected as Scheduled Monuments.

'Codhill Heights' - walkers' cairn and shelter built up on round barrow on Gisborough Moor. You can see a hole next to the scale pole where a stone has been pulled out of the burial mound. Copyright M Johnson.

Some artefacts moved during modern cairn building will not be recognised as such and simply be thrown away, including small fragments of bone which might have revealed a lot about the person buried there. Moving stones may disturb post holes or remains of other structures. Inserting a commemorative plaque adds a modern intrusion, or it may be fixed to a stone with prehistoric carvings or which is part of a prehistoric feature. Modern graffiti are sometimes carved into the stones on a prehistoric monument. Sometimes gamekeepers use archaeological features for siting grouse grit stations; if the ground is not disturbed and no stones are moved this might not start as a problem, but then if passing walkers are tempted to start building a cairn on the same spot a problem forms.

Beyond the obvious problems, these activities can have other impacts. Making a feature more prominent means that more visitors may be attracted to it, creating deepening erosion by following a single line to the summit. In some cases a new cairn might even bury or obscure the historic monument altogether.

Large walkers’ cairn on Drake Howe which draws visitors off the Cleveland Way. Copyright M Johnson.

An even larger walkers’ cairn on a round barrow above Bilsdale. Copyright S Robson.What we can do?

To put things right, work is under way as part of the National Park Authority’s Monument Management Scheme (MMS) which is funded by Historic England. This involves a group of volunteers monitoring the condition of barrows with identified walkers’ cairns, and carrying out remedial work to repair the worst damage. The first of these repair projects has recently transformed a round barrow next to the Cleveland Way on Live Moor. The barrow will be monitored to ensure a modern cairn appendage doesn’t re-appear.

A volunteer monitors the walkers’ cairn on Pike Howe. Copyright S Bassett.

Barrow on Live Moor before remedial work to remove the cairn. Copyright Solstice Heritage.

NPA apprentices help to remove the modern cairn from a burial monument on Live Moor. Copyright M Johnson.Live Moor monument after remedial work. Some loose stones have been left around the centre of the mound to protect the bare ground on the top until the vegetation can re-establish itself. Copyright Solstice Heritage.We want to raise awareness of this issue of accidental damage to archaeological features amongst walkers. When in the countryside, it is best to leave things alone and not disturb anything you find. Be aware of the Countryside Code which includes “Our heritage matters to all of us – be careful not to disturb ruins and historic sites.”

You can find out if a feature or site is protected by visiting the Historic England website where you can search by a name or on a map.

So the next time you find a nice sheltered spot for a rest on top of a hill, enjoy the view and your lunch and by leaving the site as you found it you could be helping to preserve an important feature for another 4,000 years!

A to Z: a horde of Hs

H

HANDALE ABBEY

Handale Abbey Farm nestles in a sleepy valley near Grinkle Park in the north of the North York Moors. On first glance there is little to indicate its dramatic past but closer inspection reveals clues to its history…

The farmstead was once the site of a Cistercian Priory and home to a small community of nuns. Handale Priory was founded in 1133 and is thought to have stood somewhere near
the existing farmhouse. Nuns from Rosedale Abbey in the south of the North York Moors Handale Abbey - mediaeval cross shaft base and tomb lid - copyright NYMNPA.were sent to this outlying subsidiary house as a penance, presumably because of the difficult journey required to get there over the moors and possibly due to the hard day to day life once they got there although little documentary evidence survives to help us understand what life would have been like for the women who lived and worked at Handale Priory.

In the centuries following the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries, the Priory’s surviving mill building was used for the manufacture of cotton undergarments and the Priory ruins were incorporated into a new farmhouse and walled garden. Evidence of the Priory can be seen today in the medieval fish pond to the south of the walled garden and the medieval tomb lid and cross base which have been relocated to the base of the medieval wall to the left of the farmhouse. There is a small carved stone that stands next to the tomb which is a memorial to the last cart horse at the farm before diesel engines took over.

There is also a less historic more fantastical tale associated with the site too. Local legend tells of a ‘loathsome serpent’ that lived in the area and would steal beautiful maidens from nearby Loftus, bringing them back to its lair at Handale to devour. One day a brave knight called Scaw killed the serpent and rescued one of the beautiful maidens called Emma Beckwith from the serpent’s lair. The couple wed and presumably lived happily ever after. The nearby wood is known as Scaw’s Wood. In 1830, along with 16 other burials (possibly remains from the nuns’ graveyard) a coffin was found on the site with a picture of a sword and the words ‘snake slayer’ carved in the lid. The skeleton inside was apparently holding a four foot long sword and so naturally was believed to be Scaw himself.

In 2011 the LEADER Programme funded the repairs of the disused, listed walled garden at
the site which was in a parlous state and classified as being at ‘extreme risk’. The project Handale Abbey Farm - bringing the Walled Garden back to life - copyright NYMNPA.also commissioned an imaginatively designed interpretation panel and bench, and a contemporary gate to keep cattle out. At this current time permissive access into the garden is still extant and visitors are welcome. Along with the local apple varieties introduced into the reinvigorated garden there were also initially bee hives. The current owners would be keen to host new hives if anyone is interested in producing Handale Honey.

HEATHER and HEATH

The North York Moors is renowned for its heather – the largest continuous expanse of heather moorland in England and Wales – which blooms purple during the summer months (July/August). The display is mainly made up of three species – Bell heather (Erica cinerea), Ling heather (Calluna vulgaris) and Cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix). The main difference between a heather and a heath plant is their leaf structure. In addition there is a record of another heath plant in one location on the North York Moors – St Dabeoc’s Heath (Daboecia cantabrica) – which is more familiar in the west of Ireland.

Heather moorland - copyright NYMNPA.

The moorland habitats of the North York Moors are dominated by heather and heath. The dry climate in the east of England favours NVC (National Vegetation Classification) types H9 Calluna vulgarisDeschampsia flexuosa, with some H10 Calluna vulgarisErica cinerea heath on well-drained areas and large areas of H12 Calluna vulgarisVaccinium myrtillus heath on steeper slopes. However there are also smaller areas of M16 Erica tetralixSphagnum compactum wet heath. From North York Moors Special Area of Conservation site details.

HEDGEROWS

Hedgerows are man-made lines of trees managed and manipulated to demarcate boundaries and to control stock. Every hedgerow will have had a purpose and every hedgerow has a value. Hedgerows can develop their own understorey of plants and provide shelter and food for invertebrates, birds and animals. They act as living connecting corridors between other habitats and are important visual features in an English landscape. Hedgerows can last as hedgerows for a very long time as long as they continue to be managed and the longer they last the more biodiverse they can become – one new plant species establishes in a hedge about every 100 years.

Old roadside hedge, Bilsdale - copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.Because of the importance of hedgerows in the North York Moors we’re offering grants to help land managers regenerate and gap up their valued hedgerows.

Where hedgerows no longer have an agricultural purpose they might be seen as a hindrance to modern land management. To remove an agricultural hedge more than 30 years old a land manager must apply to the Local Planning Authority for a Hedgerow Removal Notice (under the Hedgerow Regulations 1997); for the North York Moors National Park we’re the Local Planning Authority. When this happens we need to establish whether the hedgerow is ‘important’ according to a number of set criteria that consider both its ecological and historical value. If the hedgerow is ‘important’ the hedgerow is retained and if it isn’t, the hedgerow can be removed. There are very few applications for hedgerow removal in the North York Moors.

HERBERT READ

Herbert Read (1893 – 1968) was born at Muscoates Grange in Ryedale, just to the south of the North York Moors. As a child, following the death of his father, his family moved from the pre WW1 countryside to the city (Leeds and Halifax to be precise). The feelings engendered of loss and contrast had a profound effect on him.

During his lifetime Herbert Read was an army officer, a bank worker, a museum curator, an academic, a journal and book editor, a writer, a poet, a theorist and critic. He co-founded the Institute of Contemporary Arts and was President of the Society for Education in Art. He was a prodigious thinker and believed in art as a necessity for society. He saw art as a natural organic phenomenon that comes out of a need for expression and championed modern British sculptors and artists of the mid-20th century. Despite being a theoretical anarchist he was knighted in 1953.

Herbert Read returned to Ryedale in his later years. Here he wrote about his recollections and current thoughts, now that he was back.

Sir Herbert Read - Leeds University Library Special Collections - https://library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections

From Between the Riccall and the Rye: selected writings on Ryedale from Herbert Read’s poetry and prose (© The Herbert Read Trust):

“I think I heard those hooves again the night my father died, but of this I am not certain; perhaps I shall remember when I come to relate that event, for now the memory of those years, which end shortly after my tenth birthday, comes fitfully, when the proper associations are aroused. If only I can recover the sense and uncertainty of those innocent years, years in which we seemed not so much to live as to be lived by forces outside us, by the wind and trees and moving clouds and all the mobile engines of our expanding world – then I am convinced I shall possess a key to much that has happened to me in this other world of conscious living. The echoes of my life which I find in my early childhood are too many to be dismissed as vain coincidences; but it is perhaps my conscious life which is the echo, the only real experiences in life being those lived with a virgin sensibility – so that we only hear a tone once, only see a colour once, see, hear, touch, taste and smell everything but once, the first time. All life is an echo of our first sensations, and we build up our consciousness our whole mental life, by variations and combinations of these elementary sensations. But it is more complicated than that, for the senses apprehend not only colours and tones and shapes, but also patterns and atmospheres, and our first discovery of these determines the larger patterns and subtler atmospheres of all our subsequent existence.”

HIGHLAND CATTLE

Highland Cattle are great at conservation grazing, they’re particularly hardy, and they’re also extremely placid.

There are currently five Highland Cattle on the coastal slope at Common Cliff (also known as Beast Cliff) near Ravenscar. Common Cliff is a 44 hectare area of undercliff habitat at Ravenscar. The site is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its seacliff grassland communities; however these grasslands are being encroached upon by rank grasses, bracken and scrub. So a 5-year conservation grazing programme was introduced in 2015, hence the cattle.

Highland Cattle grazing Common Cliff - copyright NYMNPA.

Grazing cattle on the site has three particular effects:

Defoliation – The cattle are ideal for removing long, coarse vegetation – they wrap their tongues around the vegetation pulling tufts into their mouths which leaves a tussocky appearance. Removing this coarse vegetation will allow wildflowers, such as the Common Spotted Orchid, to flourish. Cattle are less selective grazers (compared to sheep or ponies) and do not eat flower heads, unlike sheep.

Trampling – Cattle are heavy animals and as they walk around the site, they trample the vegetation, creating pathways through the bracken and scrub, opening up the dense sward and suppressing growth of these unwanted species. Hoof marks can also create germination niches – areas where wild flower seeds can germinate.

Dunging/manuring – Dunging returns nutrient back to the soil whilst also providing a food source for invertebrates.

Because of their hardiness the cattle can remain on the sea edge site throughout the year. They are also very sure-footed, a must for grazing on coastal slopes! The stock is checked regularly, the site has been fenced to help manage the animals, and there is a year round water supply, to ensure that the cattle stay happy and healthy.

 HISTORIC ENGLAND

Historic England (officially the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England) is the Government’s statutory adviser on all aspects of the historic environment and its heritage assets. This includes archaeology on land and under water, historic building sites and areas, designated landscapes and the historic elements of the wider landscape. The National Park Authority works closely with Historic England to achieve shared objectives, recent examples of partnership working include:

Traditional Estates Craft Apprenticeship Project (2012-2014) – In partnership with the University of York, and Historic England we launched a new apprenticeship scheme which offered three young apprentices hands-on experience in a range of building maintenance and conservation skills. Hosted by Estates in the North York Moors the apprentices gained the specialist skills needed for conserving the nationally important built heritage of the National Park whilst achieving their NVQ Level 2 at York College. The initial project was so successful we’re hoping to follow it up with a new Trailblazer Apprenticeship.

New Listings – Historic England advises the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on which heritage assets are nationally important and should therefore be protected by designation. Buildings and structures which meet the criteria for national protection are listed. This protection system has been in place since 1947 and operates under The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. The test for listing is architectural or historic special interest, with the final decision to list being taken by Government. Recently within the North York Moors Historic England has listed a rare surviving Clapper Bridge and a Battle of the Somme War Memorial on Commondale Moor.

Monument Management Scheme – This is a partnership initiative largely funded by Historic England which has been running in North York Moors since 2009; we’re now into Phase 3. The essential aim of MMS is to improve the condition of scheduled monuments and ultimately to remove ‘At Risk’ monuments from the Heritage at Risk Register, using the most practical means available. The current Register includes 54 of the National Park’s 841 Scheduled Monuments (as of November 2015) – a big reduction from the 198 which were ‘At Risk’ when the MMS began in 2009.

Buildings at Risk Survey Pilot – Using funding from Historic England, we created a NYMNPA Buildings at Risk AppNYMNPA Buildings at Risk Appsmart phone survey application to help with condition surveys of listed buildings. The App allows volunteers to remotely access information about the National Park’s listed buildings and enables on-site condition assessments to be carried out and data automatically updated. With a runners-up prize from the Campaign for National Parks’ Park Protector Awards, we were able to refine the App and Historic England have since used the concept to create their own version which is now being trialled prior to launch.

Grant provision and advice – Joint funding projects between the National Park Authority and Historic England have enabled the removal of several key buildings from the Buildings at Risk Register recently, like the Ionic Temple and Nelson Gates at Duncombe Park in Helmsley. The Authority also liaises closely with Historic England in providing coordinated expert advice to support the conservation of important historical sites in the North York Moors, such as Whorlton Castle Gatehouse and Arden Mill on the River Rye.

Whorlton Castle Gatehouse - copyright Paul D Hunter.

Historic England have lots of useful advice notes and guidance on managing and maintaining our built heritage, for example suggesting sensitive and practical ways for home owners to improve the energy efficiency of listed buildings such as draught-proofing of windows, secondary glazing, cavity walls and insulation.

HOBS

A lot of cultures have their own ‘other folk’. These other folk have lots of different names such as Fairies, Trolls and Goblins; in the North York Moors they are known as Hobs. Hobs are little and aren’t renowned for their good looks. They can be very helpful and are keen to work hard, just as long as you are grateful in return. If you’re not suitably grateful or you try and trick a Hob – woe betide you.

The National Park has a team of Volunteers known as The Hobs. They’re not necessarily little or lacking in good looks but they do work hard.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G

Cliff edge archaeology

Chris Scott – Solstice Heritage, formerly of Archaeological Research Services Ltd and  Mags Waughman – NPA Monument Management Scheme Officer. From ‘An Industry on the Edge: the Alum Industry of the North York Moors coast’

Alum production was one of England’s earliest large-scale chemical industries and the North York Moors and Cleveland Hills was the main production area for the first 200 years of the industry, which took off in England when political and religious rivalries in Europe led to a market for home produced alum. Many of the surviving remains of the industry are of national importance and the National Park has eight alum production centres which have been designated as Scheduled Monuments because of this.

The alum industry operated in North Yorkshire from c.1604 until 1871. It was a major component of the wool/cloth trade because the chemical produced acted as a fixing agent for colour dyes. The alum refining process began with the quarrying of shale bedrock which was heaped with fuel into large mounds, or calcining clamps, and then burned for a long period (up to 8 or 9 months). The burnt shale was then steeped in water in a series of pits to release aluminium sulphate into a solution known as alum liquor, which was siphoned between the pits and settling cisterns to concentrate and clarify it. The liquor eventually ended up in the ‘Alum House’ where it was boiled over coal fires to concentrate it further and then an alkaline sulphate was added (human urine or seaweed) to create the required product – alum crystals.

Many of the production sites in the North York Moors were on the coast where alum shale was exposed in the cliffs and could therefore be easily extracted. The sea also allowed for good access to the imported ingredients of urine/seaweed and coal, and for transporting away the end product. However, the soft sediment coastline of the east coast of Britain is vulnerable to erosion and now as a result, these coastal alum sites continue to be worn away and will be inevitably lost over the next 100 years. Six of the scheduled alum production sites in the North York Moors are in such vulnerable locations on the edge of the coast. Since 2009, we have been working with Historic England to improve the condition of Scheduled Monuments at risk in the National Park through our Monument Management Scheme but in the case of these scheduled coastal alum sites, long term conservation is difficult because we cannot remove the threat.

As an alternative to protecting the coastal alum working sites from inevitable erosion, we have been working to preserve the information they hold through archaeological investigation and recording. This may allow us to answer some of the significant questions which still remain about the regional alum industry, the development of the industrial processes and about each of the individual sites. So back in 2014 the National Park Authority commissioned Archaeological Research Services Ltd to carry out initial assessments to establish the current knowledge and condition of each site and to develop mitigation strategies for the most significant remains; using excavation, aerial photography and Lidar transcription, drawn and photographic recording and walkover survey. In all, four sites were investigated, with the aim of researching outstanding questions and where possible, to facilitate the lowering of the ‘Risk’ status attached to the monuments.

Investigation work was particularly difficult and dangerous because of the locations of the sites – on the precarious and eroding cliff edges. Specialist safety, rescue and access contractors Spartan Rescue Ltd were brought in to create site-specific risk assessments, method statements, access plans and emergency rescue procedures. Each member of the excavation team had to be strapped into a restraint harness for most of the time on site. Happily, investigation of all four sites was completed without mishap and the team was able to put together a full report, the highlights of which are summarised below.

Walkover survey at Sandsend - copyright ARS Ltd.

Walkover survey at Sandsend – copyright ARS Ltd.

Boulby Alum Quarries and Works – this is one of the best examples nationally of a technically advanced 19th century alum-quarrying complex.

The archaeological works at Boulby comprised the excavation of three trenches across a putative pump house, two liquor cisterns and an associated potential building platform, and followed on from previous excavations in the 1960s/70s. The cisterns were well preserved – these circular masonry structures were built within a cut into the shale bedrock, presumably to create the correct finished height to allow alum liquor to be run into them by gravity alone, and sealed with a fine yellow clay as waterproofing. The cisterns had eventually been abandoned, most probably intentionally backfilled, and a later trough for the movement of liquor had been cut through the most easterly tank. Excavation of the easterly cistern showed that the floor and wall had been affected by subsidence at some point, and so one possible reason for its partial demolition may have been that the structure no longer held liquid effectively. The soft geology regularly seems to have been a problem for the alum industry, with oft-reported landslides and subsidence impacting on, and partly caused by, the quarrying operations.

The building platform lay close to the cisterns and was shown to have been created by the mass dumping of quarry waste into a previously quarried area, filling it to a depth of at least a metre, and probably much more. This serves to illustrate both the changing landscape of the ‘New Boulby Works’ during its operational life-span and the limited space within which the quarry functioned. The building on top of the platform had a stone slab floor, made from the local sandstone that had to be removed to access the shale, and timber walls supported on horizontal beams in slots. Evidence for a pantile roof gave a good idea of the overall character of this small industrial building. The other building investigated, presumed to have been a ‘pump house’, proved to be a much grander and well-made structure, with finely built masonry walls and a fantastically preserved flagstone floor. Finely tooled sockets in the walls and chamfered sockets within the floor suggested that machinery had once been fitted into this building. However no conclusive evidence of the building’s function was uncovered.

Saltwick Nab Alum Quarry

Two trenches were excavated at Saltwick and produced archaeological evidence that supplemented the previous survey data compiled by York Archaeological Trust detailing the location of cisterns, warehouses, burnt heaps and tanks on the quarry floor. Work focused on the excavation of an existing erosion scar at the seaward lip of the quarry. Previous visits had noted in-situ eroding deposits, which were investigated in order to try and understand the nature of the deposits being lost to the sea. The trench exposed huge deposits of quarry waste, spent burnt shale and piles of clay and silt which had been dumped by barrow. These overlay surfaces of hard trampled shale and waste: the working floors of the quarry on which were preserved flat wooden-plank barrow boards used to make barrow routes for the movement of materials within the quarry. These boards, worn through by use, spoke of the colossal human effort needed to shift such vast tonnages of stone by hand. Also within the trench, cut into the quarry floor, was a drain heading towards the sea, presumably for draining away the waste from the steeping process.

The evidence at Saltwick showed that, although much of what is being lost appears at first glance to be just dumps of quarrying and processing waste of limited archaeological potential, this material can often bury and preserve the fine detail and artefacts of everyday life in an alum quarry, and it is this which is being slowly washed away and lost to the sea.

The archaeological work at Saltwick included the production of a detailed photographic and drawn record of the foreshore slipway/ramp feature (used for sea transportation), in order to mitigate the uncontrollable and imminent loss of this feature through the ongoing erosion.

Kettleness Alum Works

The Kettleness site had previously benefited from detailed earthwork survey and documentary research carried out by English Heritage (now Historic England), so the new project aimed to examine specific areas of interest identified by this earlier work. The excavation trenches were targeted across a putative calcining place and putative calcining clamp.

A prominent mound at the landward side of the quarry, had previously been interpreted as a spoil heap or, possibly, a rare survival of an in-situ calcining clamp. The excavations demonstrated that it was indeed a calcining clamp, but rather than for processing alum shale it was an equally rare survival of an unburnt clamp for the calcining of ironstone. The North York Moors and then the Cleveland Hills and Middlesbrough, saw large-scale growth of the ironstone industry during the middle and later part of the 19th century. This site may have represented a diversification of production during the later 19th century, moving into the product in most demand (see This Exploited Land Landscape Partnership).

Kettleness is one of the better understood sites and the targeted excavations have answered specific research questions in relation to the site, as well as demonstrating significant evidence of the likely re-use of this alum site for the extraction and refinement of ironstone. The information gleaned from the excavation, together with the detailed earthwork survey, can now be better used as a model from which to interpret earthwork evidence at other sites, particularly potential “clamp” or “spoil heap” features.

Sandsend Alum Quarries and Works

At Sandsend, a complex of three successive alum quarries (Gaytress Quarry, Ness End Quarry and Deep Grove Quarry) extend for nearly a kilometre along the coastal margin. The investigations carried out comprised LiDAR and aerial photographic transcription, followed by a detailed walkover survey to examine remains on the ground. This initial survey work was necessary because there had been much less previous investigation at Sandsend compared to other sites so it was required first to establish a comprehensive baseline of evidence.

The survey at Sandsend identified features relating to the quarrying of sandstone, alum shale and possibly cement stone, as well as barrow-ways, route-ways, spoil heaps, evidence of water management, banks of steeping pits and liquor channels covering the entire scheduled area, and in places extending beyond it. This work has added significantly to the understanding of the breadth of remains within the quarries, as well as the position of the remains in relation to the coastal edge, and therefore the relative risk of erosion. These can now be much more successfully compared and contrasted with other well understood or surveyed sites, such as Kettleness, allowing the production of more targeted research across this group of important sites.

Now that the project has finished, we have a good base of evidence which we will use to inform and support both future management and targeted works to mitigate the inevitable loss of these monuments. We will continue to address the issues facing these sites and look for opportunities to investigate and record the remains under threat in order to achieve ‘preservation by record’ where they cannot be physically saved. The coastal alum sites contain the remains of one of England’s earliest large-scale chemical industries and illustrate the important place the North York Moors had in this industry.

If you want to have a look yourself at a coastal alum working site – the National Trust owned Peak Alum Works at Ravenscar is open to the public and is safe to access without emergency rescue procedures.