Oakwell Hall at Birstall (West Yorkshire, UK) is noted as one of the finest surviving examples of Tudor gentry housing in the region. Fewer people know that under the grounds of the present house there is evidence for a settlement going back at least another three hundred years.
This week as part of its programme of summer events Oakwell are offering families the opportunity to come along and work on a real archaeological dig to see if they can uncover more evidence of the hidden history of the site. We’ve opened a small trench in the garden to the west of the house and families from all over the region have been helping use explore Oakwell’s past.
We have found no medieval features yet but we’ve dug up a whole load of Victorian pottery and a single piece of clay tobacco pipe stem. Finding only one is realy a bit odd. When they broke, they split into dozens of little pieces. You’d think if we found one, we’d find lots more, but that’s not the way it was today.
Equally odd is the large amount of slag which we’ve found. This is one of the waste products of making iron, but there’s no furnace on the site, so where has it all come from?
Maybe we’ll find out the answers later in the week. I’m doing something different tomorrow: the staff from the Hall have asked me to look at something they’ve discovered in the grounds. But we’ll be back digging in front of the house on Thursday and Friday. Why not bring the family along and join us? Remember no-one’s too young (or too old!) to have ago…
One of the test pits showing metalwork in the side
We finished working on the track bed on Saturday though the site has been left open for a couple of days so that local people can share our discoveries.
Over the weekend attention turned to the footprint of a building which is shown on the 1850s Ordnance Survey map of the area. It’s situated near to the junction of the main waggonway route with one of it’s may branch lines. Naturally the assumption was that the building was something to do with the waggonway but no one was precisely sure what. An archaeological investigation seemed in order.
I guess that the first thing to say is that the structure was bigger that most of us had thought it would be. There were traces of a few stones visible on the surface before we started and they gave the impression of a small hut but as it turned out the building was much bigger. There’s also more of it surviving below ground level than might be expected. I’d thought we’d only have to go down a few centimetres before we found a floor surface but this was not the case. There was at least half a metre of material to go through before anything which looked like a natural soil level was encountered.
Given these circumstances it was only possible to look at one corner of the building in detail. Recovering the whole of the floor plan will have to wait for another day. Two test pits were put down into the interior of the structure. This revealed a series of interleave layers of burnt material in which were found a large number of iron objects including bolts and what might be a section of rail from the waggonway. It seems therefore that the building might have been a smithy where people were engaged on making repairs to the waggonway but further work would be need to confirm this.
The site is now covered over again and all that remains to be done is to produce a report on the work of the past few days. After its completion it will be available as a pdf from this site – hopefully in a couple of weeks
Finally I would like to offer my thinks once again to the children of Silkstone Common School and Silkstone Primary and to the members of the Roggins Local History Group who all worked very hard over the four days. If these blogs have whetted your appetite for the history of the waggonway you can find out more by clicking on the link below.
Roggins Local History Group