North Duffield Conservation and Local History Society

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To mark the end of our three year Historic Landscape Project and as the final element of that Project, a Conference was held in the village hall on 14th June 2014.

Notwithstanding that permission has been granted by the Heritage Lottery Fund to extend our Project until August 2015 to allow full investigation and analysis of the monumental  ring-ditch roundhouse discovered by excavation, we had already arranged the Conference and it was decided to allow it to go ahead.

Four  professional archaeologists had been enlisted to present papers on the day, to compliment those of the Brian Elsey and Tony Stevens actually reporting on the results of the Project itself.

 The Conference being addressed by Dr Jon Kenny

The morning started with Registration and refreshments at 9.0am with a chance for everyone to view the displays of artefacts recovered from both field-walking and excavation, a model of the roundhouse, a model of the village as it might have been in 1839 and various photographs and old documents. It was also a chance for old acquaintances to be renewed and new ones to be forged.

At 9.30am John Ellwood, long-time Chairman and founder member of the Society welcomed the Speakers and visitors and spoke a little of the formation of the Society.

The first speaker was Dr Mark Whyman, of York Archaeological Trust who had previously visited the village in connection with the visibility of crop marks on differing soil types and had invited the Society to become involved in trying to understand the connection between soil and the traces of earlier civilisations.

His paper today involved ‘some thoughts about the Iron Age and Romano-British settlement of the Vale of York’. On this occasion he developed some views upon movement of people and herds of animals in pre-history. There was ample evidence of human occupation upon the Wolds, North York Moors and Pennines but such evidence in the lowlands of the Vale of Pickering and Mowbray and Vale of York was more elusive- perhaps even transitory. He put forward the hypothesis that local tribes and their herds inhabited the high land in winter moving down into the flat and fertile lowlands in the summer to take advantage of the lush pastures when it was drier and therefore more accessible.

The moraines of Escrick and York were the likely route-ways through what was most probably a wet and marshy area for much of the year.

He also examined the larger picture of crop-marks and earth –works  drawing parallels with the Wolds were it was possible to trace ancient track-ways through areas of habitation, often for quite long distances, which have survived modern cultivation. He asked whether it was possible that these track-ways served generations of farmers moving about the countryside coming down from the high land to the lowland  with their animals-known as transhumance.

The next Speaker was Dr Melanie Giles, the Keynote Speaker, Senior Lecturer in archaeology at Manchester University, TV personality , author and acknowledged expert on the Iron Age in East Yorkshire. This was quite a ‘capture’ for our Society in acquiring her services. Indeed, Melanie has shown interest in our work for some time and plans to visit our ‘dig’ in the summer.

The topic of Melanie’s paper was ‘The Chariot in Pre-history ‘. The chariot or perhaps more correctly, cart, is one of the most iconic images of the Celtic Iron Age. Most burials of this type in the British Isles, where the cart, usually dismantled, is buried with the inhumation, occur on the  Wolds of East Yorkshire.

Whilst the chariot is often thought of as an instrument of war, the archaeology of this area suggests they may have had many roles; vehicles of social prestige, evidence of power and wealth and not least of all, a connection with the continent where similar practices are known. The chariot may have been merely a vehicle to convey the body to the grave but, clearly, the degree of craftsmanship involved in the creation of such an item and the often rare and expensive trappings of its construction, for example Mediterranean coral, must surely mean that only the very rich and powerful could avail themselves of such a grand possession.

Not all such burials were of men and some involved burials with other grave goods, notably, swords and spears but also bodily adornment. One thing stands out though, the craftsmanship was exceptional. Could it be that the maker of these exotic items wielded ‘magical’ powers, were highly regarded even, perhaps, worshipped, in their communities?

Finally, some of these ‘chariots’ suggested they were made especially for the burial since they could not have served their proper purpose, whilst others showed signs of having had great use or were made up of disparate parts from more than one vehicle.

Unfortunately, Lewis Calou, who was to have presented a paper on the Hasholme log boat and ‘The significance of the boat in pre-history’ was indisposed and unable to attend the Conference.

After lunch, when again attendees were invited to inspect the various displays and ‘network’,  the Conference was address by Dr Cath Neal. Cath is a lecturer in archaeology at York University and she her students have been involved with the Project from the outset.

Cath has considerable experience of Community Archaeology and discussed the pros and cons set against a back-cloth of involving marginalised communities such as the homeless and Roma travellers and sites upon which she has worked, notably Heslington University extension with  Iron Age and Roman features much of it on the York moraine.

Cath also discussed the wider impact of Community Archaeology on commercial and University driven projects.

There followed papers by Brian Elsey, archaeology Co-Ordinator and Tony Stevens Secretary of the Society.

Brian reported on the Project as a whole stating that every element had been a considerable success, delivered on time and under budget attracting much local involvement and particularly local school-children. The first event was the Big School Dig 2011 when test pits were dug in residents gardens. A trial run pre-Project called the Big School Dig had been highly successful, so much so that it become an annual event at the school much anticipated by staff and pupils and now in its fourth year. The success had reached other schools and a similar event was now becoming regular at Chapel Haddlesey School.

The Celtic Festival in 2013 involved a ‘live’ Celtic re-enactment with Roman involvement as well and a picnic on the village green attracting well over a thousand visitors. Trips round the round house saw 600 visitors and donations over the weekend exceeded £500 to Society funds. Crafts on display were pottery, bread-making, spinning, weaving, pole-lathe work games and helmet making.

An excavation over features identified as likely to be of Iron Age date from aerial photographs has been the subject of two seasons of work and will again be visited in 2014. A linear ditch containing late Iron Age pottery, a round feature, now known to be a monumental ring-ditch roundhouse of 20 metre diameter, also containing late Iron Age pottery, evidence of iron smelting and a Neolithic worked  flint flake were found. This event brought together a big team of working and retired archaeologists, students, people with learning disabilities, children and residents as well as members of the Society and surrounding history societies.

Reports had already been submitted to the Heritage Environment Record and Prehistoric Yorkshire and Post Hole an academic journal and Newsletter of York University respectively. Further reports to the HER and Yorkshire Archaeological Journal will follow in due course. A book is in preparation and quotes for printing have already been obtained. Finally, a Ceramic Reference Collection of officially identified finds from the dig and field-walking has been assembled to inform in the future and is available for local societies when considering localised vernacular pottery since there seems little similarities with the York area but more in keeping with East Yorkshire.

Tony Stevens then reported on the re-construction of an Iron Age roundhouse on land  belonging to the Ellwood family. After visits to Butser Ancient farm, Ryedale Museum and Heeley City Farm Sheffield, a model was made to better understand the construction techniques before the 5 metre version was started. Materials were all obtained locally mostly free of any charge. Timber from a wood clearance in the Leeds area, willow from John Bramleys’ adjacent farm, elephant grass for thatching from Richard McNeil, also within the Parish , clay from Plasmore at Hemmingbrough and locally produced cow manure.

Some of the daubing had been conducted by a class from North Duffield School and members of the Tuesday Time Team- adults with learning disabilities.

Tony was responsible for creating an Education Pack based on the Iron Age which contains projects and practical elements as well as a wealth of information. The Pack includes a Teacher Instruction section and encourages the child to think about what it was like to live in the Iron Age by designing menus, weapons and suchlike and allows them to try their hand at weaving and making a cardboard roundhouse. There is a colouring book with illustrations of Life in Iron Age. 100 of these Packs were handed over to North Duffield Community Primary School and are now in general use. The change to the National Curriculum by the inclusion of the Iron Age has made this a valuable and comprehensive resource for both children and staff.

The final Speaker was Dr Jon Kenny who is  the Community Archaeologist for York and the greater York area. He has worked with a variety of groups, especially disadvantaged and those with special needs and moist recently obtained funding to run an introduction course for archaeology with adults with learning disabilities from a Selby based group called the Monday Club.

Jon is passionate about what he does combining a personal interest in archaeology with a desire to make it available to all classes of person irrespective of their age and ability and was voluntarily working with Community groups before he took up his post at York Archaeological Trust in 2006.

Jon continues to support local groups above and beyond his employment remit and has been involved in the Project at North Duffield from the very outset.

He now has a large portfolio of contacts and Projects whilst managing to find time to do commercial archaeological work on sites within and beyond the County borders as part of the archaeological team at the charity based Trust. As a Trust and a charity it must fund its activities by commercial activities which includes running attractions such as DIG and The Jorvik Centre in York.

Jon commented on the success of the North Duffield Project and looked forward to working with them in the future.

The Conference was concluded with an opportunity for the audience to question the speakers and to raise relevant issues. Several of these were taken on board and will be developed by North Duffield Conservation and Local History Society at the next meeting of Timeline York +, the informal association of local history societies in the greater York area.

The conversation was so animated that it was necessary to call ‘time’ and allow everyone to make their way home.

North Duffield Conservation and Local History Society wishes to thank all the contributors to this event, the ladies who provided the refreshments, the Speakers, visitors and helpers and the huge army of volunteers who have been part of our Project over the last three years. Without you none of this could have taken place- a big thank you.