North Duffield Conservation and Local History Society

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The Big School Dig was commenced in 2011 as a test-ground for the more involved Big Village Dig of later in the year. I wanted to test the Methodology that I had established so that every pit would be dug and processed in a consistent and uniform manner allowing proper comparison of results and later academic acceptability . I approached the Head Teacher, Elaine Ward, who was very much in favour and so a regular annual event was established. Now, in 2016, in its sixth year, it is gradually being extended to other primary schools, notably Chapel Haddlesey and Camblesforth.

On 23rd June 2011, three test pits were dug by the children in the school playing field under the supervision of archaeologists Jon Kenny and Hannah Baxter of York Archaeological Trust, Tony Stevens and Brian Elsey from AND.

Local charity, the Ash Duggan Committee, kindly loaned the group two gazebos and we used another one we have purchased to protect the children from the rain. Without these, the dig would have had to be cancelled.

Three classes of children from Years 4,5 and 6 took turns at alternatively digging and washing the things that they found. The classes were split so that we had one group in the morning and one in the afternoon. Each group was again split with half digging and half washing. Halfway through both the morning and the afternoon, the groups changed over so that those digging had a chance to wash the finds and vice versa.

The event was a great success with the children thoroughly engaged, as well as the teachers. In addition, it aroused considerable interest amongst the pupils in the younger age groups at playtime.

Each test-pit was dug to a depth of 60cms before 'natural' deposits were encountered.  A total of 798 recorded items were found by the children in that first year(for list see Link at the end of this article)) Many of these items had very little archaeological value but were of local historical interest and of considerable interest to the 'finders' of course.

Following a request from the Reception Class teacher, we returned to the school the following week to allow the five year-olds to dig in their sandpit to find real artefacts  previously hidden for them.  This became the Little School Dig 2011 and  worked really well with the youngsters  entering the spirit of the event. They wrote us a lovely letter of ‘thanks’ with drawings of the things they had found. This event was repeated in 2012 and attempts to reinstate it 2016 will be made..

Both these events were really successful and the Ofsted History Inspector was suitably impressed when the Society was able to compliment what he had found for himself in his visit to the school by a short presentation for him of what the Society is doing and have planned with the School for the future.

We have since returned to the school in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and on each occasion, the children have dug 3 test pits. That is a total of 15 test pits. I have recorded the position of each pit so that we do not duplicate it in different years.

Following an approach from staff at Chapel Haddlesey Primary School, Jon, Tony and myself visited the school in 2013. They had heard of the work we were doing with North Duffield and were keen to be involved. As the school is quite a small one, we only let the children dig two test pits, but, once again, the children really enjoyed the experience although we did not find very much of interest. Despite several attempts since then, I have been unable to set up a return visit.

Nevertheless, our visit to Chapel Haddlesey prompted the Head Teacher from Camblesforth Primary School to get in touch to invite us to their school. Firstly, two bus-loads of children attended our Roundhouse Experience trip in 2015 followed by our visit to them to do the Big Camblesforth Dig. On this occasion, Jon, Roger Weatherill and Bob Wells and myself supervised the dig, The results from this dig were surprising and quite unexpected. Our recce of the school playing-field suggested that we would not find very much so, with low expectations, three test pits were dug by the children. They found lots of glacial-worn pebbles in all layers, quite a lot of angular pebbles and flint and hardly any pottery. This enabled me to return to the school the following week and explain to the children what their landscape indicated in terms of glacial action. We even found a fossil millions of years old. Once again, the children gained a lot from their experience and we hope that we will be invited back soon. In my presentation to them, I gave them some old photographs and maps and suggested they researched the site of the school which may, in the past have been a farm.

Due to circumstances beyond our control, the Big School Dig did not place in 2016 but, for 2017, has been reinstated.

On Thursday 15th June 2017, the children dug the usual three test pits in their playing field overseen by Bob Wells and myself and joined later by Dr Jon Kenny. It is becoming increasingly difficult to select the area for excavation as these three bring the total over the years from 2011 to 18 test pits. (Please see plan mentioned below for position of the pits)

The children were wonderfully engaged and enthusiastic throughout the day- we were able to allow them to spend the full day with us rather than only half a day per group of 12. It is a testament to the powers of concentration of the children that they were able to amass a total of 1080 artefacts of interest. These have now been washed by them, dried and catalogued by myself and appear under the link below.

Once again they found Roman pottery, Norman pottery and pottery from the mid to later Medieval periods as well as more modern potsherds. These ‘finds’ confirm our understanding that the continuous occupation of our village settlement, on this evidence, extends from approximately  the later 4thC AD to the present time- 1600 years.

The children should be proud of their contribution to the archaeological investigation that the Society is currently conducting.

One of my greatest wishes is that at least one local school child will become an archaeologist: one such child has emerged this year so we wish her the best of luck and look forward to hearing of her qualification in the future.


Click HERE to view the results for each year from 2011 to the present for North Duffield, Chapel Haddlesey and Camblesforth Primary Schools.

To view the test pit sites click HERE(North Duffield, Chapel Haddlesey and Camblesforth Primary Schools)

The children washing the items they found in the Dig