The 2008 Season

Recording an Iron Age fieldsystem ditch near Marr (photo by Sarah Cole)

During 2008 we again welcomed participants from a wide variety of groups and backgrounds including students from the U.K., U.S.A. and Canada and local people from the ages of 7 to over 70. This year has seen the development of a local group (the Brodsworth Community Archaeology Group) and this is helping to provide a structure for welcoming back regular participants. Yet again over 100 people joined in with the Project during the summer of 2008.

The weather in July and August 2008 was again difficult at times (although not as difficult as 2007) however we had a successful season from our new base at Hickleton Hall. The new base in the grounds of the Sue Ryder Care home at Hickleton Hall provided us with a much expanded campsite area and we now hope this be the centre of our operations for many years to come. While the campsite stood up remarkably well to the wet weather, the weather did cause some problems for the local harvest and this had an effect on some of the things we had aimed to complete this year. We had hoped to undertake the investigation of a series of late prehistoric cropmark sites in the Bilham area and close to the Hickleton to Brodsworth road. While it proved possible to work on one site near Bilham the crops on the others did not come off until too late and these sites will have to wait until another year.

We had intended to address many questions that had been raised in 2007. Firstly we had hoped to build on earlier work on the late prehistoric and Romano-British farmsteads and field systems which cover this area to obtain further information into the origins, organisation and decline of this settlement pattern. It did prove possible to undertake some small scale excavations near Bilham, however these were effected by poor weather and they produced only limited information about Romano-British activity in this area. More successful was a small excavation between Marr and Pickburn which was following on from fieldwalking which had produced good quality Romano-British material. The excavations revealed two ditches which had formed the boundary of a trackway and we were also able to extend the area fieldwalked and undertake a geophysical survey across part of the field. The material from this area suggests that there is a settlement site nearby and while we have yet to locate this settlement 2008 did bring us significant evidence about the organisation of the landscape surrounding it.

2007 had seen the uncovering of some remarkable structures on the site of the medieval village of Brodsworth. We had been left with enigmatic evidence about a building underlying the driveway of Brodsworth Old Hall and about a possible large gateway which may have been an entrance to a medieval hall or similar high status building. Excavations in 2008 further investigated these walls and buildings. Under the old driveway a building of perhaps early 18th century date was uncovered, a building which must have been demolished to allow the driveway to be built. However investigation of the floor layers within this building also revealed that there was another earlier building underlying this! At the moment we have no date or function for this building and further investigation would be very difficult as it lies almost 2 metres below the modern ground surface. However it is clear that this area has very deep archaeological deposits and would repay the substantial efforts required to excavate to this depth if resources are available at some point in the future.

The large medieval gateway was further investigated in 2008. It was hoped to find the `other´ side of the gateway from that seen in 2007. However the trench excavated did not find this. It did reveal deep layers of dumped material which had been deposited to level up this area of ground. We are left with the fact that the gateway must either be wider than estimated or the gateway is at the corner of an enclosure and the other side is off at an angle from the line of the wall (and therefore gateway) that had been estimated in 2007.

resistivity survey in the grounds of Hickleton Hall

Closer to Brodsworth church we uncovered part of the medieval churchyard wall, confirming its location. This excavation also extended into the churchyard towards the location of a trench excavated in 2007 which had contained several burials. No in situ burials were found in 2008 and we are confident we now know the extent of burials within the churchyard. It is still not yet clear why the churchyard wall extends so far into an area that does not contain burials. This is a question that remains for the future.

We also continued with our work on the designed landscape of Brodsworth Hall. In 2008 we investigated an earthwork feature to the south of Brodsworth Hall which was thought to be a pond. It indeed proved to be a pond which had been constructed in the Victorian Period and which had a very carefully made and substantial clay lining with an unusual organisation of the edges of the pond. Records suggest that in the area of this feature there was one or more ponds which both produced ice in the winter for the nearby icehouse (and allowed skating on the pond) and which were used to encourage wildfowl to land so that they could be driven off later when a shoot was taking place. We are confident that this one pond was fulfilling both these functions. The pond was shallow and flat-bottomed which would have been effective in encouraging ice formation and also for the `harvesting´ of that ice for the nearby icehouse. The arrangement at the edge of the pond is compatible with encouraging the growth of reeds or other plants along at least some of the boundaries of the pond which would have provided some cover for wildfowl and would have encouraged them to use the pond. It would then have been possible to then drive these birds towards Brodsworth Hall where oral history has suggested they would then be shot from the terrace. The excavations combined with documentary and oral history have provided a strong case that this pond was able to act as both the skating pond and the flight pond.

In addition to our work on the formal gardens and landscape of Brodsworth Hall, the Project is investigating the available landscapes of other nearby county houses. We have already conducted work on the site of Bilham Hall and a small geophysical survey had also been conducted on the front lawn of Hickleton Hall. In 2008 we expanded the work at Hickleton Hall by conducting a geophysical survey of the remaining lawns to the side and rear. This produced clear evidence of an earlier formal garden under the current lawn. In future we hope to build in this with topographic survey and excavation in the current grounds of the hall and in the woodland immediately to the south to see if we can find more evidence for earlier gardens and to look for evidence of the medieval hall and the surrounding medieval village.

Surveying the visible earthwork features of a Victorian flight pond at Brodsworth Hall (photo by Sarah Cole)

The Project aims to investigate all the medieval villages within the study area and 2008 saw the first really attention being paid to Marr. We were fortunate in being able to gain access to several small fields immediately adjacent to the current village after the crop was harvested. We both fieldwalked and completed a geophysical survey of these fields and this produced a large amount of medieval material. It is clear that this area will repay considerable further work.

We again managed to continue the work into the autumn and winter with some small scale fieldwalking and geophysical survey of sites in the area. We continue to hope to expand this kind of work outside of our main summer season in the future.

Overall 2008 was a year with many difficulties and some disappointments, however it did produce some remarkable results particularly in Marr and Hickleton. While we did not manage to undertake as much work as we had hoped on the late prehistoric/Roman-British sites, this provided us with extra opportunities to begin to explore Hickleton and Marr and this has already produced significant results for us to follow up in the future.

In addition to the fieldwork participants undertook many visits to local historic sites such as Brodsworth Hall, Cusworth Hall and Doncaster Museum. The new base at Hickleton also allowed a wide range of evening activities and participants got to know Hickleton village club very well.

Fieldschool August 2008 Activities >>