Uncovering Sheffield's lost castle

A team of archaeologists from the University of Sheffield are involved in an exciting project to excavate the remains of Sheffield Castle. They hope to reveal its lost and colourful history: from highlighting its powerful position in the North of England to its use as a prison for Mary Queen of Scots. But this is only the beginning. The excavations are central to a project to use archaeology to help regenerate the Castlegate part of the city.

The story so far

Archaeologists from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield are working on a major project to recover and promote Sheffield Castle: a key element of the city’s forgotten medieval heritage.

Findings from the excavation, which involves several of our Archaeology students and is being led by Sheffield-based Wessex Archaeology North, will inform a long-standing collaboration between the University of Sheffield, Sheffield City Council and the Friends of Sheffield Castle to inspire regeneration of the city’s Castlegate Quarter.

Ongoing work by the Department of Archaeology has revealed the history behind the castle, which will be detailed in a book due to be published next year.
Throughout, our Archaeologists have worked closely with the University’s School of Architecture whose students have developed designs for the use of the site to attract business, investment and tourism to the area.

Bringing Sheffield’s lost medieval castle to life

In another facet of this interdisciplinary project, the Castle has been brought to life in a unique augmented reality experience, believed to be the most accurate visual impression of the castle ever produced. 

Developed as part of an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project, the augmented reality experience is based on research by University of Sheffield archaeologists on material uncovered from excavations at the castle in the 1920s and 1950s that is currently curated by Museums Sheffield.
The collaborative project brings together researchers in the departments of Archaeology, Architecture and Computer Science alongside industry and community partners, Human Studio and Friends of Sheffield Castle. It was one of the centrepieces of the University’s Festival of the Mind.

The Castlegate AR experience will be used as a testbed to demonstrate how immersive digital technologies can harness cultural heritage and community engagement in the field of urban regeneration.


Digging the medieval layers in Sheffield CastleSheffield is perhaps better known for its place in the Industrial Revolution as ‘Steel City’, but its roots lie in the medieval period, and are closely associated with the foundation of a castle in the late 11th or early 12th century, possibly by Roger de Busli, at the confluence of the rivers Don and Sheaf. The castle became one of the largest and most important in the north of England, and was rebuilt and developed by the de Lovetots through the 12th century and by the Furnivals in the 13th. By the 15th century, the castle had passed to the Earls of Shrewsbury. During the English Civil War, the castle was controlled by the Dukes of Norfolk, who sold the site for redevelopment through the late 17th and early 18th century. It became an area of slaughterhouses, metal work and other trades.

Associated with the castle was an extensive deer park (on its eastern side) which had a lasting influence on the development of Sheffield in this area. The historic core of Sheffield developed in the streets to the west of the castle towards the parish church, now the Cathedral. The story of the castle has become closely associated with the site of an Anglo-Saxon hall, the story of Mary Queen of Scots, held here between 1570-84, and its destruction following the English Civil War. The cathedral, the Manor Lodge (the site of the hunting lodge), Lady’s Bridge and the Queen’s Head pub are prominent survivors of Sheffield’s medieval and early post-medieval past.

The castle was subject to two periods of archaeological investigation between 1929-1940 and 1958-1972. The results from the initial work by Leslie Armstrong and Joseph Himsworth were published in the Transactions of the Hunter Archaeological Society in 1930, but many of the later records by Himsworth remain unpublished. The second campaign of investigation by Leslie Butcher also remains unpublished. The Castlegate Archives Project was set up to bring the results of these earlier studies of Sheffield castle to publication. Through the work of the Castlegate Archives Project our understanding of the development of Sheffield Castle, its association with the town and deer park has been transformed.

The full archive of archaeological observations is being analysed and published by the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield. The project is led by Professor John Moreland, Professor Dawn Hadley (the latter now at York) and Dr Gareth Dean. The work is being carried out in collaboration with Sheffield Museums, who hold the archives, Wessex Archaeology and independent specialists, Dr Chris Cumberpatch, Jane Young and Quita Mold. Reviews of the historical records were carried out by Dr Rachel Askew and Dr Alan Bryson.

The project has been funded by the University of Sheffield through The Pamela Staunton Bequest (Department of Archaeology - www.sheffield.ac.uk/archaeology/about/alumni), the Academic in Residence Scheme (Faculty of Arts & Humanities) and the PVC Research Development Fund, with additional funding from the Society of Medieval Archaeology.

The project builds on earlier work on aspects of medieval and post medieval Sheffield. Work on the Manor site was funded by The Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEFCE) and the AHRC funded the development of an app for Sheffield Lives: the birth of a city. www.sheffield.ac.uk/archaeology/research/sheffieldlives

The main aim of the Castlegate Archive Project is to assess previous assumptions regarding the site based on the limited published evidence through a thorough reassessment of the excavation archive. Key themes the project hopes to address are;

1. The origins and development of the castle
2. The relationship between the castle and the town of Sheffield
3. Evidence for the Civil War siege of the castle and subsequent redevelopment
4. The process of archaeological investigation in the 1920s and 1950s
5. The relationship between the archaeology of Sheffield Castle and urban regeneration

The project will create a digital archive and major new publication that will review the significance of the excavations and develop the narrative of our understanding of the castle within Sheffield and its surroundings. This will provide a crucial overview of the archaeological and historical evidence from the original heart of the city of Sheffield, vital to informing both people in the present and its regeneration in the future.

News archive

A computer generated view of the Sheffield Castle Gatehouse

Mary Queen of Scots spent more time in Sheffield than anywhere else in England, Scotland or France. 

View the video 

castle 160

Augmented reality experience brings Sheffield’s lost medieval castle to life

Festival of the mind 2018

Experience Castlegate as part of Festival of the Mind 2018 (20-27 Sept. 2018)

A computer generated view of the Sheffield Castle Gatehouse

Archaeologists start work to reveal Sheffield’s lost medieval castle

Pier designs for Castlegate

Collaborative projects promote creative regeneration in Castlegate

castle 160

University of Sheffield researchers help secure funding to reveal history of Sheffield Castle

Workmen expose the gate house of Sheffield Castle 1958 © Museums Sheffield

The story of Sheffield Castle

Student stories

Four undergraduate students from the Department of Archaeology have taken part in five week placements on the excavations. Each have gained valuable experience working on a commercial project with Wessex Archaeology, as well as being part of this important community heritage initiative.

Read about their experiences below:-

Isabelle Sherriff digging in a trenchIsabelle Sherriff

"Working on this project has given me a sense of what working in commercial archaeology could be like and being able to ask the Wessex team questions about how their normal day operates has helped paint a picture of a potential career path I would like to follow. I also feel as though this experience will make me more confident when on future excavations. "

Read more

Paul HarrisonPaul Harrison

"As we peeled away the layers we found some very interesting things, especially just how much the site has been used and reused over the centuries, and just how much of the castle was reused by later generations. This dig has reinforced that I do want to be a field archaeologist."

Read more

Georgina Goodison on placementGeorgina Goodison

"Having the opportunity to work on this project has been incredible. Having the chance to work on a local project of this scale is not something that comes up all the time, and I feel proud to say that I've worked on it. I have learnt so much in the last five weeks, and its been good to put into practice some of the things we've learnt in lectures. "

Read more

James Chapman on placementJames Chapman

"I rank my time on Sheffield castle as one of the most interesting archaeological experiences of my life. It provided me with valuable skills and gave me practice in how archaeology is undertaken in the commercial sector and therefor has been incredibly important in my development as an archaeologist."

Read more

Study with us

Has the Sheffield Castle dig sparked your interest in Archaeology? Explore the subject in depth on an undergraduate, Masters, or PhD course with us.
Visit us on an open day to find out more about studying Archaeology.
Got a question? Contact us via email archaeology@sheffield.ac.uk.