Castleton Archaeology Project

Castleton image 2

Over the last 7 years the University of Sheffield has been conducting an archaeological project in collaboration with the local history societies in Castleton and Hope in Derbyshire. This project began by primarily focussing on the probable site of the medieval hospital (Hospital of Saint Mary in the Peak) which we know from historical evidence was located between the villages of Castleton and Hope. The hospital was reputedly founded by the wife of one of the William Peverels before 1153, and continued with a succession of wardens as a hospital until 1543 or soon after. The two earliest documents referring to Spital Field are a grant and a Charter from the early 14th century.

We also know that Castleton was a planned town in the 12th century and was built, along with the castle, by the Peverils. Little is known about the early development of the village other than location of the town defences, parts of which are still visible today. The village of Hope, on the other hand, is an earlier settlement and is mentioned as early as 926 in a charter relating to King Athelstan. The church at Hope is the only one in North Derbyshire mentioned in the Domesday Book. These two villages have very different origins; however in both cases their early development is not well understood.

On the site of the hospital we have discovered that there was a great deal of disturbance of the site in the 18th century, possible during the construction of the turnpike road which runs by the site. However we have discovered the cemetery of the hospital and are currently investigating the cemetery population and working towards defining the extent of the cemetery area and the period it was in use. As a result of a great deal of careful work we also now believe that we have some fragments of the foundation of the one of the hospital buildings (possibly the chapel), which was almost completely destroyed during the 18th century disturbance. During 2016 we will explore this building further as well as investigating whether the cemetery extends further to the west.

In addition to the investigation of the hospital site the project has expanded out to investigate the origins and development of the two villages. We know that Castleton and Hope have very different origins and the assumption has always been that this would mean that the character of the archaeological remains would be very different in each village. We have undertaken over 100 test pits, 5 larger trenches and completed several areas of geophysical survey within the villages and they are proving to appear archaeologically very similar. The difficulty in identifying archaeological deposits prior to the 19th century in both villages may have different causes in each case. Hope is a typical early dispersed settlement where the medieval occupation is spread out over a very large area and which does not have what many people would see as the ‘typical’ English village form (church, village green, manor house, main street) which is drawn from lowland nucleated villages in the south of England. This makes it very difficult to identify the structure of the village and a lot of the unoccupied space between farms and houses needs to be investigated until eventually it gradually becomes possible to piece together the areas where parts of the village stood in the medieval period. Castleton, as a planned town with an enclosing earthwork, should be much easier to approach archaeologically.

However, again finding medieval deposits from after the 12th century foundation has been very difficult. This may be because the village, which was planned by William Peveril as a speculative development, did not prove very successful in the medieval period. It looks very likely that much of the village area may have remained unoccupied throughout the medieval period with the village having a very small population until it began to grow rapidly in the 19th century. We will need to excavate many more trenches and test pits before we have a full understanding of the archaeological deposits in, and therefore the development of, the two villages. We will make further progress with the investigation of the two villages during 2016.

Castleton image 1