11th April, 2012 The British Kingdom of Elmet: recent archaeological evidence from West Yorkshire Ian Roberts, Principal Archaeologist, West Yorkshire Archaeological Service.
Late Roman or Elmetian? New archaeological evidence for the Kingdom of Elmet in West Yorkshire April 11th At our last meeting in April we heard Ian Roberts, Principal Archaeologist, West Yorkshire Archaeological Services, speak on the subject of the British Kingdom of Elmet. My only knowledge of Elmet before the lecture was from place names near the magnesium limestone belt to the east of Wakefield, and indeed place names have been used to identify the probable boundaries of Elmet. These are likely to have been the River Wharfe to the north, the Don to the south along the line of south Yorks 'boroughs' such as Conisbrough and Mexborough, the Humber headwaters to the east and the Pennines to the West. This large area in the centre of Northern England is now much of South and West Yorkshire. Here, during the post Roman period from the 5th century, Elmet remained free of Anglo-Saxon influence, until it fell under the control of Northumbria in the 7th century. There is also sufficient - although very limited - written evidence to confirm Elmet's existence as a kingdom.
From an archaeological perspective the kingdom's existence in the fifth and sixth centuries has been used to explain the absence of early Anglo-Saxon evidence in these areas of West and South Yorkshire before the 7th century. However, until recent years, there was little tangible archaeological evidence attributable to this transitional period. The idea of this Kingdom has underpinned a number of theories about the origins of certain linear defensive earthworks but some of these, such as the dating of the Aberford Dykes to the 5th and 6th century, have recently been questioned.
Ian posed the question of why we cannot identify an archaeological record for the Kingdom of Elmet. His conclusion was that the area may have remained culturally Roman until the seven century with artefacts like pottery or coins continuing in use for years after the Romans left. Recent work, mainly involving the radiocarbon dating of human remains, has helped to confirm this view. Major excavations around road and motorway networks at Garforth and Ferrybridge have provided the Archaeological Service with an opportunity to date remains in the magnesium limestone area. This new evidence seems to confirm the long-held suspicion that Elmet was culturally late Roman in nature. Previous dating by means of the burial methods associated with particular cultures has not always corresponded with this radiocarbon dating: varying underlying traditions seem to have carried through into the late Roman period. Excavations for the Boston Spa relief road seemed to promise an Elmetian identity with a new type of sunken floor building and evidence of late pottery and coins. However, the radiocarbon dating showed the burials to be almost all Roman.
Radiocarbon dating has been applied to a number of sites previously excavated. At Wetherby, dug in the 1930s, or Castleford, in the 1970s and 80s, found some evidence for the post –Roman period. But there remain some sites, such as the iron age hill fort at Barwick-in-Elmet which are still not fully understood. Ian raised the possibility that post-Roman elites might have re-occupied hill forts like Barwick.
Asked what his priorities would be if he had unlimited funds and opportunity Ian felt that there was plenty of work that could be done to interrogate further the archaeology already available. He felt that the Portable Antiquities Scheme, too, was a rich source of evidence which would reward further analysis and mapping.
Those of us with limited background in the period found this a challenging but intriguing presentation. The geographical area of the Kingdom of Elmet was clear, and. in the Wakefield area. Bretton and Walton are local examples of the mul/walh, cumbra, brett place names typical of this shadowy period. The archaeological lesson for me was that radiocarbon dating was revealing a complex cultural evolution, in which burial customs and artefacts from earlier periods sometimes continued in use. In the case of the Kingdom of Elmet, its remains, in most archaeological situations, are almost impossible to differentiate from legitimate late Roman contexts without the help of scientific dating techniques. Lesley Taylor
14th March, 2012. Members' Evening
Following the AGM three of our members gave short presentations.
Pauline Brook described her search of eighteenth and early nineteenth century churchwardens' accounts from Wakefield and Horbury in pursuit of local wild life at the time. With close-up pictures of the pages we could all see the details of numbers of pole cats, otters, moles, hedgehogs, sparrows and other vermin, and the prices paid for them by the churchwardens. She explored early names such as foomard for pole cat and urchant for hedgehog. This was an entertaining exposition of the unexpected information to be found by trawling original records, arising from Pauline's two great interests - local and natural history.
David Scriven provided an insight into the nature of the 1781-2 Wakefield Manor Court Roll upon which he is working. The later rolls, written in English with a legible hand, do not present the challenges of the earlier documents. These rolls are written on paper and many are in a poor state but this one is in very good condition, and, apart from the difficulty of opening out the additional sewn-in wills and the legal jargon, information in this thick, book- like roll is easy to access. By this date the court dealt with property transactions which contain important evidence of financial and business practices in this early industrial period, whilst the wills often reveal significant details of family dynamics. We look forward to seeing David's work presented in the YAS Court Rolls Series in the future.
During this year Shirley Levon has arranged for the depositing at Wakefield Archives of a set of 124 glass negatives found by her brother-in-law in an attic in Stanley Road. Shirley's research suggests that the photographs were taken by Henry Morgan, Town Clerk in the 1880s, or his son, who was living in Stanley Road by 1901. Many of the photographs have not been printed and others are in a poor condition but Shirley was able to show us a small selection which indicated their variety and their quality. Some were of Wakefield landmarks such as the then new Town Hall and Clayton Hospital, some were taken on outings and holidays. There was even an elephant in Kirkgate, taking part in an 1882 procession.
8th February, 2012. Aerial Archaeology in West Yorkshire by Matthew Oakey
A large audience gathered on a cold evening for our February lecture given by Matthew Oakey, a member of English Heritage's Aerial Investigation and Mapping team based in York.There are four main aspects to the team's work: aerial reconnaissance, the national mapping programme, special projects, and education and outreach.
Aerial photography has existed from the 1880s, originally taken from balloons, free-flying kites and even pigeon cameras. The First World War showed the possibilities of reconnaissance: as an example Matthew included a photograph of the trench lines in 1917. Camera and aircraft techniques were developing fast and by the Second World War the 'M' series was taken of all the coastlines of Britain. Between the wars Osbert Guy Stanhope Crawford was an early pioneer in the use of aerial photographs in archaeology and by the 1970s regional flyers, such as Derrick Riley, published many early aerial surveys. The National Monument Record in Swindon holds 1.68 million oblique aerial photos and 2 million vertical photographs from the 1930s to present and these are available to the general public.
Matthew's team are aiming to have national coverage of England's archaeology as the outcome of their National Mapping Project: at present they have 43% mapped and are discovering areas showing thousands of years of occupation. They make over a hundred aerial sorties a year from Sherburn-in-Elmet recording man-made landscapes of all sorts. Matthew's many photographic examples demonstrated the range of their work from Conisborough's medieval street patterns to RAF cold war sites. Their pictures have many uses such as monitoring threatened ancient monuments to recording coastal erosion.
Crop marks are a very significant way to recognise archaeological sites. Land will appear darker green where humic remains such as vegetation-infilled ditches survive. Equally crops will be less vigorous where there are remains near the surface. In our area the magnesium limestone near the A1 is particularly good for crop marks, but they can also be seen on the coal measures or millstone grits, for example Baildon Moor is covered with coal pits. Snow also shows up features like ridge and furrow. A WYAS publication 'Cropmark Landscapes' is available for our region.
Matthew then took us on a photographic tour of the local area including the layers of archaeology exposed at Ferrybridge, North Elmsall Iron Age field boundaries and enclosures superimposed by a Roman road, and Darrington Iron Age settlements with co-axial field patterns, among others. More modern archaeology shown included the anti-aircraft artillery site Thorp Arch, the remains of an air raid shelter beside a Normanton school and earlier stages in the development of Leeds Bradford airport.
New techniques add to the possibilities. LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), an optical remote sensing technology introduced 3 or 4 years ago, can penetrate woodland to show the archaeology beneath. Such techniques are changing ideas of what might seem empty landscapes as archaeological evidence is bringing out the density of occupation in the past.
Matthew assured a questioner that Google Earth, available to everyone with a computer, was part of his team's standard tool kit. Evidence of archaeology can be passed on to the Historic Environment Record (HER 01924 306797). 3D modelling using aerial photography is likely to be the next technical development. A member asked about Luftwaffe archives but these are not available: there are, however, lots of allied photographs being catalogued.
Kate Taylor thanked Matthew warmly, remarking that all his audience would have liked his job!
For more information: English heritage, Aerial Investigations
11 January 2012, The Manor of Wakefield, its courts and court rolls, by Sylvia Thomas
In January we welcomed a good number of Civic Society members and other visitors for Sylvia Thomas's lecture on the Wakefield Manor Court Rolls. Sylvia has been custodian of the Rolls for a considerable part of her archive career, and continues to be so in retirement as President of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. These Manorial records, held at the YAS since 1901, are among the most complete in the country, covering the years from the 1270s into the twentieth century. In 2011 they were chosen to be on the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register, a short list of outstanding UK records which hold documentary heritage.
The Manor of Wakefield is probably the largest in England, covering 650 square miles and including many townships and subsidiary manors. The administrative centre of the Manor was Sandal Castle and later the Moot Hall outside Wakefield Parish Church. The Court Baron and customary courts were held in Wakefield every three weeks under the stewardship of the Lord's representative. The court leat, held twice a year, was convened in the other four bailiwicks of the manor too and had a sworn jury. It appointed constables, made by-laws and heard cases of minor crime such as burglary or assault. Sylvia recounted a selection of some of these cases from the medieval period.
The court baron had only restricted powers over those activities which followed the traditional 'custom of the manor', such as disagreements between tenants, misuse of common lands or tenants not fulfilling their services to the lord. These issues involved not only the unfree manorial workers and the later manorial tenants but also local freeholders who retained common rights in the manor. The Manor Courts also devoted much time to the exchange of land which involved surrendering and re-granting of property and land, often done symbolically with a piece of straw. From the 14th century manorial tenants kept copies of the documents and therefore were known as copyhold tenants. Over time the business of the Courts changed emphasis with land surrenders, appointments and by-law making constituting the bulk of the work by the end of the seventeenth century.
The Rolls recorded all the business of these manorial courts. Altogether there are 670 Court Rolls as well as other manorial documents including docket books, maps and a detailed survey of the manor made in 1709 for the Duke of Leeds. After 1737 the rolls were written on paper. By 1989 over 200 rolls were too delicate for use and a major conservation project was launched to raise money. Today nearly all the parchment rolls have been conserved but there are still about 100 paper rolls in very poor condition. Questions following the talk were particularly focussed on learning more about the materials and techniques used in conservation.
At the YAS there is a membership section devoted to the publication of the Court Rolls Series, of which the fifteenth volume was published in 2011. Several members are currently working on rolls - including David Scriven from our own society - and Sylvia stressed that the YAS is always keen to find volunteers who have time to devote to this important work of making the huge range of information on each roll more widely accessible.
14th December 2011 Traditional fare: Food in the working communities of nineteenth century Yorkshire. Peter Brears
Following mince pies and sherry, John Goodchild introduced Peter Brears both as a long-standing member of the Society and a close friend. Peter is familiar to many of us for his work in a number of local museums, including Clarke Hall, and for his national reputation in the interpretation of domestic life in the past.
By way of introduction Peter described some of the sources he had used for tonight's topic such as the oral memories of members of groups to which he had spoken, dialect poetry, and government reports into conditions for working people. He had found that the variety of distinct diets in nineteenth-century working communities was governed by geology: different land use resulted in very different working and living arrangements.
The body of the lecture dealt with various areas in this region. Following Enclosure the agriculture in different districts became more distinct. In the Dales an increase in demand for meat in the late 18th century meant that all land was given over to animal husbandry, with the result that populations dropped and diet became very poor as arable completely disappeared. By contrast the East was mainly arable, requiring many workers who lived on the large farms before marriage and were well fed with local produce.
The poor land of the South Pennine gritstones meant that secondary occupations were developed, particularly textiles. Weavers' homes were like small factories with regular hours and basic meals. It was the mining families in the coalfields who faired very well: miners were well paid and had healthy meals with a lot of meat accompanied by vegetables from the garden or allotment. Their practical home interiors were familiar to many members of the audience as these were often not refurbished from the 1880s to the 1950s.
In towns family life was often carried on in over-crowded, damp cellars. Workers would eat ready meals from hawkers or market stalls selling meat and 'tatty' pies or offal such as black pudding, tripe, pigs' cheek, polony, pig's trotters or brains. Families often had very poor diets and over 70% children had rickets in the 1850s. This improved only a few generations ago: both world wars saw health improve as a result of rationing.
Peter's details of menus - often dominated by the ubiquitous oatcake - stirred members' memories and comments: the eating of game and rabbits, sometimes poached; 'elder' or udder another offal meat; how water supplies varied in different areas; the relative affluence of miners until after the first world war; sparrow pies, and the foundation of Horticultural Societies to encourage the growing of food. Conversations after the talk demonstrated very aptly the message of Peter's introduction: our own recollections are a great source of information about the past.
9th November 2011 The life and times of the Knights Templar in Yorkshire. Trish Colton & Diane Holloway
This November lecture attracted a large audience - so many that the Ad Lib Gallery was full to bursting and chairs were brought from all over the Library next door. The speakers, two sisters who have researched and written a book on the Yorkshire Knights Templar, spoke alternately, thus providing variety for their listeners but presenting themselves with the difficulty of managing a shared clip-on microphone!
A short introduction explained something of the origins of the Knights Templar, a Military Order founded to protect pilgrims travelling from Europe to Jerusalem. By 1119 they had a base in Jerusalem in the Temple on the Mount, hence the Templar name. The Order spread throughout Europe and appeared in England by 1128. They were granted much land and property in Yorkshire and the county's preceptories raised funds through agriculture and industry to support their Knights in action elsewhere.
Following the structure of their book, Diane and Trish then introduced the ten Yorkshire Templar preceptory sites one by one, including some reflections and anecdotes on relevant aspects of life in the period. Preceptories were established at Temple Cowton near Northallerton, Penhill near Leyburn, Templehurst near Selby, Temple Newsam near Leeds, Foulbridge near Malton, Faxfleet on the Humber at the confluence of the Ouse and the Trent, Westerdale on the North Yorkshire Moors, Ribston near Wetherby, Whitley near Knottingley, and Copmanthorpe, west of York. Today there are traces of Templar occupation to be found in building remains, tombs and windows, crosses and local names, as illustrated in Trish and Diana's photographs. Their pictures and accounts of Templar activities in Yorkshire placed the Knights clearly in these local landscapes and communities.
Despite the Templars' wide-ranging abilities not only in fighting and exploiting their land, but also in learning, in diplomacy, architecture, trade and finance, they incurred the enmity of Philip IV of France, who persecuted them, eventually persuading the Pope to suspend the Order in the early fourteenth century. Edward II followed suit, although English Templars were treated less brutally: in Yorkshire they were imprisoned in York, tried and then either pensioned on 4d a day or allowed to join other religious houses.
As usual there were lively questions following the talk. The Templars were very active in both local and national society unlike the enclosed lives of monks, although the Knights took similar vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. The Order was likened to a modern multinational corporation. Members mentioned the Nine Standards at Kirkby Stephen, the Chignon Parchment found recently, and surviving Templar deeds in John Goodchild's Collection.
12th October 2011 Hudderfield Narrow Canal Bicentenary Two hundred years of the Standedge Tunnel 1811-2011 by Dr Bob Gough, Administrator, Huddersfield Canal Society
Those who braved a miserably wet evening to hear Dr Bob Gough's talk about the Hudderfield Narrow Canal and the Standedge Tunnel were well rewarded. Bob's knowledge comes from many years' experience in his role with the Canal Society, and his illustrations using maps and documents as well as photographs from various periods were excellent. In 1794 an Act of Parliament authorized construction of a canal between Ashton-under-Lyme and Huddersfield and the sections to Milldale and Marsden on either side of the proposed tunnel were completed by 1799 and opened for business. However the tunnelling presented a number of engineering problems and poor management, too, affected progress. It was not until Thomas Telford was appointed to oversee the project that work started to run more smoothly.
The tunnel was opened on 4th April 2011, exactly 17 years to the day since the original Act, and two hundred years ago this year. The tunnel was always restricted in use because only one boat at a time could go through and profits were never great. Competition from the railways started in 1849 with a single-track tunnel constructed along a similar route to the canal. Eventually three railway tunnels shared the route. However, to the close of the 19th century the canal continued to be profitable, the railway transporting perishables and the canal carrying heavy goods. But for most of the twentieth century the canal was hardly used, until the Huddersfield Canal Society was established by volunteers.
In 1986 the first large grant meant that work could start on reopening: altogether they have obtained grants of over thirty million pounds for the work. On 4th April 2011 the Standedge Tunnel was opened: the first boat was a horse-drawn narrow boat, the Maria, which was 'legged' through. Now two trips a month are taken though the 3.25 mile tunnel as well as other boat trips from the Marsden Visitors Centre. Information about these is available on the society website www.huddersfieldcanal.com/or on www.standedge .co.uk . At the end of his talk Bob also considered the future of the canal: in April 2012 British waterways will become a Charity, the Canal and River Trust. Questions following the talk allowed Bob to discuss the types of goods which have been carried, the different sources of power that have been used through the tunnel, the current usage by leisure craft, and the potential for more freight traffic. Members found the subject fascinating and they were still absorbed when the session had to be drawn to a close.
14 September 2011 More Deadly than the Male by Dr Phil Judkins
Using contemporary illustrations, Dr Phil Judkins described the many and varied roles that women took during the two world wars. Many of these were behind the lines in well known activities such as nursing, on the land and in munitions work, this last one being especially dangerous. Other less well known work was also undertaken in mining, on canal barges and lumberjacking. Women often worked alongside men during the blitz operating searchlights, anti aircraft guns and firefighting. Closer to the front were the women who went to France to assist the Resistance. But perhaps one of the most intriguing activities was that of the WRENS who played such an important role in the code breaking work at Bletchley Park.
13 April 2011 A medieval mystery: North and South Elmsall in 1425 John Goodchild
The 2010-11 season ended in April with a talk by John Goodchild about a medieval mystery in North Elmsall. John described a detailed survey of the lands of the Honour of Pontefract in 1425 which he had acquired. Using his historical skills and knowledge he was able to give a flavour of the immense amounts of information about tenancies, land holdings and rentals which the document revealed. However he was puzzled to discover that a comparison with the 1379 poll tax records showed that the families inhabiting the area had moved away by 1425.
9 March 2011 Annual General Meeting followed by The Duke of York's Legacy Marta Smith
The AGM in March was followed by a presentation on the legacy of the Pontefract to Fotheringhay Pilgrimage which took place in July 2010. Marta Smith, the project's diarist and recorder, ably illustrated her talk with slides. One aspect she particularly valued was the generosity and eager participation of the local people in the towns and villages through which the Pilgrimage passed.