Sweetening the land

Ellie Leary – Monuments for the Future Project Officer

Not all of the archaeology within the North York Moors is as ancient and enigmatic as the standing stones or rock art (see previous posts). Once a ubiquitous presence within the landscape, you can still stumble across the remains of a more industrial feature – lime kilns. These structures were part of an industry that has shaped and changed the landscape of the area from the extraction of the limestone from quarries to its end use as a building material and soil improver.

Over 400 lime kiln sites are recorded within the National Park’s Historic Environment Record, with the evidence coming mainly from historic maps, but also earthworks and standing remains. Only three of these kilns have the benefit of protected status as Scheduled Monuments, and in all cases they are included as part of a wider monument rather than in their own right. Another three have protected status as Grade II Listed Buildings.

Grade II Listed Building (1149198) - lime kiln, Hawnby (HER 5946). Copyright NYMNPA.

The use of lime has a long history in Britain dating back to at least the Roman period and over time it has had a wide range of practical uses from forming the base of plasters, mortar and concrete; as lime-wash for waterproofing walls and lightening interiors; in the bleaching of paper and preparing hides for tanning; as a disinfectant; and as a soil improver for agriculture.

During the Roman period it was used particularly for lime-mortar, plaster and lime wash; while during the mediaeval period the need for quantities of lime hugely increased with the construction of large stone-built buildings and bridges. From the 17th century onwards however the main use of lime has been in agriculture, with it being added to soil to improve acidic soils or as a top dressing to pasture to “sweeten” the land.

In most cases in order to turn raw limestone into a useable product it has to be fired in a kiln, creating a process called calcining where calcium carbonate is converted into calcium oxide. This process was both labour and fuel intensive and the trade was known as lime burning – those working at the kilns, were lime burners.

Most of the kilns known of within the North York Moors date to the 18th and 19th centuries, although earlier examples do exist. Excavations at Ayton Castle, for example, revealed a lime kiln dated to the 14th century, which may have produced lime mortar and cement for the construction of the castle’s tower house, the ruins of which still stand.  (This is one of the three kiln sites included within a wider Scheduled Monument – see above).

The earliest kilns were simple clamp kilns which consisted of a circular or rectangular hollow within which the limestone and fuel were layered, covered with clay or turf, and left to burn for a few days. Often clamp kilns leave little obvious trace, however the remaining protected kiln sites in this area (as mentioned above) include two clamp kilns built into the bank of a scheduled prehistoric cross dyke and another cut into the edge of a scheduled Bronze Age barrow – the actual kilns are all thought to be 18th or 19th century in date. Their remains can be seen as horse shoe shaped mounds of earth and stone rubble.

As the demand for lime increased kilns became more substantial in size although the transformation process remained the same. Kilns were generally circular or square stone structures, about 3m in height, with a bowl lined with sandstone or firebricks and at least one draw hole located at the bottom of the kiln. As the contents burnt through the lime was extracted through the draw holes at the bottom. Additional layers of stone and fuel could be added to the top if necessary, otherwise one-off firings were carried out as needed. A good example of this kind of kiln can be found at Old Byland where the remains of four lime kilns stand next to a road (see image below). They are located on the edge of a quarry to the south west of the village and some parts survive to 5m in height, with two of the kilns having the roof and flue surviving.

Old Byland roadside lime kilns (HER 2680). Copyright NYMNPA.

The end product removed from a kiln was called ‘lump lime’, ‘burnt lime’ or ‘quicklime’ and in order to convert this for use it has to be ‘slaked’ – a process involving adding water to cause a reaction which produces heat and steam. By then adding enough water, putty is produced, which, mixed with sand, produces a mortar. Over time this reverts back to calcium carbonate and hardens.  When used in agriculture the ‘lump lime’ was left in heaps, covered in earth and left to slake, eventually creating a powder that could be ploughed into the soil. Other methods were used too, including leaving the lime uncovered and occasionally turning to produce the same result.  ‘Lump lime’ is a volatile material and there were inherent dangers if it started to ‘slake’, producing heat, before it arrived at the final destination.  By the late 19th century, hydration plants were introduced that could grind the lime, sprinkle it with water, dry it and then bag it for transporting.

The location of kilns largely depends on the final use for the ‘quicklime’, so that if it were needed for building construction the kilns would most likely be located close to the building site. They could then either be dismantled and moved or left to decay once they were no longer needed.

Field kilns were sometimes built by farmers and land owning estates from the 17th century. Smaller kilns would have been built by farmers for occasional use to improve their land but estates often built larger kilns to serve the whole estate and wider area, providing a profitable source of income.

Another common location for kilns was close to or within limestone quarries. Many of these quarries are still obvious on the ground now as large excavated pits; historic mapping helps to identify the full extent of the quarries and the location of kilns. The 1893 Ordnance Survey map (below) shows Sour Ley Quarry near Helmsley with up to 20 lime kilns within the quarry.

Extract from 1:2,500 Ordnance Survey Map 1893

Easy access to transportation was also another consideration for the location – for fuel to be brought in and for the final product to taken away for sale.  Colonel Sir Joshua Crompton, 19th century owner of the Kepwick Estate on the western edge of the North York Moors, built a railway line in the early 1820s which carried limestone from a quarry on Kepwick Moor down to the lime kilns and stone yard to the west. Fuel for the kilns could be easily brought in and the final product taken away on the Thirsk to Yarm turnpike road (now the A19). With a very steep incline up to the quarry the railway used gravity; as the full wagons were sent down slope they pulled the empty ones up towards the quarry, whilst horses pulled the wagons along the flat plain to the west. The quarry and the start of the now dismantled railway line lie with the National Park boundary and the lime kilns themselves are a short distance outside the boundary and are protected as a Scheduled Monument.

Lime kiln north of Sinnington (HER 4981). Copyright NYMNPA.

As the demand for quicklime grew the process became industrialised, with new kilns designed with efficiency in mind as well as a higher quality lime product. As a result most of these smaller local kilns were abandoned by the 20th century, with some being dismantled and others left to decay, remaining in the landscape as a reminder of this chapter of industry.

To keep up to date with the latest National Park response to Covid-19 – see here.

In the footsteps of Legionaries

Graham Lee – Archaeological Officer

Roman Forts and Camps are to be found throughout England, Wales and Scotland as evidence of the Roman occupation of Britain from AD43 until the early years of the 5th Century. Sites of some of the major forts can be found within and underlying some of our main towns and cities, such as York, Chester and Lincoln in the north of England, showing the focus of their original Roman settlement. The forts and camps are generally connected by the lines of Roman roads, many of which have been followed as main routes for communication ever since. Roman camps lie along these roads, marking both the lines of military campaigns and the distance covered each day since a fortification would be built at the end of each day’s march. Although only defended, primarily, by banks and ditches, many of these marching camps have survived as earthworks, as well as being known from cropmarks, when plough-levelled, to indicate their former presence. The camps are recognised by their distinctive ‘playing-card’ shapes, a rectangle with rounded corners, with entrances in each side to allow rapid deployment of the Roman forces in any direction.

If you travel north from Pickering to the edge of the Tabular Hills, you will discover a remarkable series of surviving Roman earthworks first excavated early in the last century – now known as Cawthorn Camps  One of the most important groups of archaeological remains within the North York Moors, these banks, mounds and ditches represent a pair of Roman forts, both with several phases of occupation, defined by massive ramparts and large ditches, together with one unusual temporary camp which has a squashed and elongated form, lying between them, built over 1,900 years ago. The shape, and lesser earthworks (presumably supplemented by at least a line of sharpened stakes), of the temporary camp, known as C, indicates that it was subsidiary to the fort (D) to its west, leaving a clear space to the east where fort A (later enlarged with annexe B) was subsequently built.

View across Cawthorn Camps. Copyright NYMNPA.

As well as its unusual shape, camp C lies in a strange position for a military fortification. Its northern rampart does not lie along the northern scarp edge of the Tabular Hills, some 35m to its north, which would be the strongest defensive position, and it is also sited very close to fort D, to its immediate west. They lie so close together that when Fort D was re-fortified or re-occupied with the addition of a second outer ditch, the latter cut through camp C’s defences, showing that by then it was no longer in use. Although connected to the eastern entrance into fort D by a narrow entrance in its north west corner (just 20m apart), camp C is also distinguished by having all its main entrances within the line of its eastern defences which is very unusual.

LiDAR image of Cawthorn Camps overlaid with OS earthworks. LiDAR © Environment Agency 2019.

LiDAR © Environment Agency 2019.

The earthworks of these three entrances survive very well which help us to understand how they would have functioned. Known as of external clavicula-type (clavicula means “key” in Latin), it can be seen that an advance towards the entrance would force attackers to approach the gateway from its right (from the attackers’ point of view), exposing their less protected right-hand sides to the Roman defenders, since right-handed warriors would tend to hold their shield in their left hands.

Although the history of Roman Britain is quite well understood, there is still much about the Roman occupation of the North York Moors to be discovered. How long was this site occupied and by which units? Why were they there? Were the Romans involved in a series of military campaigns or was this more of a policing exercise? – local control by intimidation? Was the site re-used / re-occupied after the soldiers had left? A joint project by English Heritage (now Historic England) and the National Park Authority, involving two seasons of excavation in 1999 and 2000, has been seeking to clarify some of these issues.

View by drone of Cawthorn Camps (Camp D) taken by Graham Smith, NPA Volunteer - August 2018.

The camps are owned and managed by the National Park Authority. Because of the encroaching nature of trees, scrub and weeds, regular management is required to control vegetation and tree growth which would otherwise mask and cause harm to the sensitive earthworks. Much of this work is done by the Authority’s dedicated volunteers. Recently, the Conservation Volunteers have been pulling up and cutting back saplings, seedlings and brambles – this makes it easier to see and appreciate the archaeology in the landscape. The group will be revisiting the site in 2020 to continue this ongoing task – thank you for all your hard work!

Cawthorn Camps are open permanently and are partly wheelchair accessible. Visitors are encouraged to stay on the well-marked trail that runs around the site to try to avoid too much damage from excessive footfall to parts of the vulnerable and sensitive earthwork archaeological remains.

A to Z: a rabble of Rs

R

RABBITS

Hares are native to Britain, but rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus) are not considered to be native at least not since the last Ice Age. Rabbits, also known as coneys, were introduced first by the Romans and then imported by the Normans in the early medieval period. Rabbits were valued for their meat, fur and skin. On southern facing slopes of the North York Moors, rabbits were farmed from the medieval period through to the 20th century using warrening structures. Warrens were artificially constructed with embankments, ditches and ‘pillow’ mounds. Particularly common were ‘Rabbit-types’ where rabbits were caught through trap doors which released into pits.  These artificial warrens allowed the rabbits to be managed (farmed) efficiently on a large scale.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries felt from rabbit skins and fur was an important money making product for the south east corner of the North York Moors. Felt was in demand for hats and rabbit was an alternative to beaver. The industry slowly declined with the last warrener working up until the 1920s.  Many warrening sites have been lost as land has been re-used, but some large scale warrening complexes can still be traced in the Forestry Commission owned forests such as Dalby and Wykeham.

Rabbit, Westerdale. Copyright Ami Hudson, NYMNPA.

Wild/feral rabbits are now a particularly successful non-native invasive species, despite there being a number of native predator species.

Ranunculus sp.

As winter is losing its grip, hopefully the photo below will help brighten your day.

Grassland with buttercups. Copyright NYMNPA.

Ranunculus is the plant genus which includes our buttercup species and provides our countryside with vivid displays of yellow during the summer months.  There are lots of different species, and here are but a few found across Britain including the North York Moors, all with sunny yellow flowers.

Meadow buttercup R.acris: Look at a hay meadow in the summer and the chances are that it is this species that is predominant. It is an indicator of moist unimproved grassland, and although it grows in a wide range of soil types it is not tolerant of high nutrient levels. As it can survive cutting and is not palatable to grazing stock, old meadows and pastures are where it thrives best.

Creeping buttercup R.repens: This buttercup can, from a distance, give the impression that you are looking at a species rich hay meadow. The reality can be very different though as this plant is very tolerant of high nutrient levels and disturbed ground and is sometimes considered a problem weed. It is often found around field gateways where poaching and tramping make it difficult for other plants to survive, and in overgrazed fields where it remains untouched by stock and readily out competes less tolerant plants. One of the key differences between this species and meadow buttercup is the presence of rooting runners which allow this plant to spread very effectively and quickly cover bare ground. The species’ method of reproduction (cloning) meant it was used a few years ago for an interesting study into aging meadows. https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/news/archive/2009/june/title-77794-en.html

Bulbous buttercup R. bulbosus: This species prefers much drier conditions and, like meadow buttercup, is an indicator of unimproved grassland with a low tolerance to fertilisers. It is common on well drained neutral or calcareous soils and can be identified by its downturned sepals (when flowering) and a swollen stem base which can be identified by carefully scratching a small amount of soil away from the base of the plant.

But it’s not just buttercups. Also in the same Ranunculus genus, and providing a splash Lesser spearwort. Copyright NYMNPA.of colour in the early days of spring before the other Ranunculs is Lesser Celandine (R.ficaria). This is easily identified by its narrow, glossy yellow petals, low-growing form and heart-shaped mottled leaves. It’s usually noticeable as it is in abundance when other plants are still tentatively emerging from their overwintering.

Finally, brightening up bogs in the summer is Lesser spearwort (R.flammula) which thrives in wet places and can often be found growing with soft rush in unimproved habitats. The flowers look very similar to a buttercup, but it has spear-shaped leaves.

READING ROOMS

In the 19th and early 20th century there was a trend for the better off in society, to provide the means to try and ‘improve’ their local workforce i.e. the not so well off. Rather than people gathering in public houses to drink, debauch and mutter – the idea instead was to provide an opportunity for social, moral, intellectual and spiritual improvement for the local community. ‘…the more he knows, the less hasty, the less violent, and the more correct will be his judgment and opinions’ (from the Manchester Spectator 1849).

The philanthropic benefactors would be local landowners, local business people on the rise, new industrial entrepreneurs, and often the local Church including non-conformists e.g. the Methodists. Individuals or local committees of bigwigs, would gift their local community a Reading Room, first in growing towns and then also in rural villages. Any local community who wanted to think themselves liberal and progressive needed a Reading Room. The provision of a building where men could read instructive newspapers, educational periodicals and improving books promoted the popular ideas of self-improvement and self-help. Reading Rooms were the forerunners of public libraries. It wasn’t all reading – they also hosted useful lectures and respectable entertainments as well.

There are a number of Reading Room buildings remaining in the North York Moors, some still used as community buildings and others converted. It is interesting that a number are clearly connected to industrial populations such as that in Rosedale, but others are located in more rural communities such as Boltby, Lastingham and Runswick Bay.

ROBERT HESELTINE HUDSON

“Rarely does a case, even of murder, excite such an intense interest as that which has been taken by the general public in the charge against Robert Heseltine Hudson, of the wilful murder of his wife and child on Roper Moor, near Helmsley, on the 8th of June last.”

 “Accused was accommodated with a chair and remained remarkably quiet throughout the trial. He certainly had not the look of a murderer. There was nothing dreadful in the dark sallow countenance, nor repulsive in the black hair, eyebrows, and bearded face, with cultivated moustache trimmed in imperial fashion. The eye was steady and the body restful, and an expression of ease and indifference seemed reflected in a faint smile upon the lips which looked more natural than feigned. Hudson, for some reason, had practically nothing to say. He sat throughout the evidence without manifesting any perceptible distress and it was impossible to judge of the man’s inner consciousness from his appearance…What did seem probably to many observers was that Hudson had quietly resigned himself to his fate…”

From the Yorkshire Gazetteer Saturday 27 July 1895

Robert Hudson’s family was from near Helmsley, he went to school at nearby East Moors. His parents then moved the family to Darlington and as an adult Robert Hudson worked in Liverpool, Sheffield and Nottingham. However in May 1895 Hudson, then a house furnisher’s assistant, brought his wife Kate and their son Heseltine who was not yet one, back to where he had started from. They lodged in a house on Bondgate, Helmsley.

Robert Hudson took his family out for walks and drives in the local countryside – it was reported that Mrs Hudson complained that the places they visited were lonely. On 8 June Mr Hudson returned but his wife and child did not. He told his landlady that they had gone to visit an aunt in Hovingham. Hudson then swiftly disappeared on the 3.39 train to York. Suspicions were aroused resulting in a search of the lonely local countryside. After a while a recently dug hole was found under a clump of trees on Roppa Moor. The bodies of Kate and Heseltine Hudson were found together in the hole covered by a thin layer of soil. Their throats had been cut with a carving knife; Mrs Hudson’s hands were terribly injured suggesting she had struggled to stay the knife.

Hudson was tracked down to Birmingham and arrested, he was brought back first to Helmsley to be committed for trial and then taken to York Crown Court. The evidence was pretty overwhelming. Hudson had bought a spade from a Helmsley ironmonger and was seen cycling about with the spade tied to his bicycle. The spade was later found on Roppa Moor. A local man had come across the hole on Roppa Moor a couple of days before it was used as a grave. Various other local people identified him as a man they had seen acting suspiciously on and around Roppa Moor. Soon after the ‘disappearance’ of his wife Robert Hudson was advertising for a new wife “Bachelor, tall, dark, age 27, wishes to meet with lady of some means, with a view to early marriage”. There was also a pocket book in which Mr Hudson had written on 15 June – “One week from the saddest event in my life, at ten to one o’clock, and I am living yet”. The jury considered their verdict for c. 6 minutes. Robert Hudson was found guilty.

Robert Hudson did not directly confess to the murders, but he did blame bad company for his predicament and expressed repentance. He was hanged at York Castle on 13 August 1895.

ROMANS (1st to 4th centuries AD)

Following on the heels of trading links the Roman invasion and then entrenchment across most of Britain  started with temporary military installations and infrastructure including connecting roads to maintain control. This was overtaken with more permanent military bases, as well as the establishment of towns, industrial centres and civilian farmsteads. Romanisation of society was backed up with military might, but at the same time the lure of Roman luxuries, the value of Roman technologies, and the promise of Roman advancement and power very much helped its spread.

Unlike the Iron Age native population, the Romans weren’t interested in living on the moors part of the North York Moors. Most Roman related remains are along the southern edge, close-ish to Malton and York which were major Roman towns. There are a number of minor “villa” complexes (Romano-British farmsteads) at Beadlam, Spaunton and Blandsby Park and the remains of two forts and a military camp at ‘Cawthorn Camps’.

Romans at Cawthorn, 2010. Copyright NYMNPA.

There is another early fort at Lease Rigg in the north of the North York Moors. This site includes ramparts, barracks, stables, a granary, a praetorium (Officer quarters), and a principia (main building for admin and religion). The forts at Cawthorn and at Lease Rigg are connected by Wheeldale Road/Wades Causeway, which is recorded as a Roman road. Because of the lack of quality it has been suggested it isn’t actually a Roman road at all.

The North York Moors Historic Environment Record includes a number of Roman finds including pottery, tessalie (mosaic tiles), coins, armilla (metal armband), beads, weights, pins, and altars.

There are also a number of Roman signal stations along the coastal cliffs from the 4th century. The best example in the North York Moors is at Goldsborough. There might also have been a signal station at Ravenscar – the evidence for this is an engraved dedication stone identified in the 18th century, but this might have been brought onto the site from somewhere else after the Roman period. The stone reads IVSTINIANVSPP VINDICIANVS MASSIERIV(RR)/(PR) MCASTRVMFECIT A….0. (JUSTINIANUS COMMANDER  VINDICIANUS…PRAEFECT OF SOLDIERS BUILT THIS TOWER AND FORT FROM GROUND LEVEL). Signal stations were built towards the end of the Roman period to guard against the growing threat of Angles and Saxons from the sea. By this time people on the edge of the Roman Empire were having to look after themselves because as the empire contracted it was clear no one was going to come and rescue them. The end of the Roman period fizzled out slowly. Often the new invaders would use the same sites, carefully chosen for their resources and setting. For example there is evidence that Cawthorn Camps was subsequently re-used as an Anglian settlement.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, O , P, Q