It’s been quite an eventful week at Oakwell. We closed up the site we started at the beginning of the week as we went down for about 20.0 cm and came down to the natural subsoil. On the way we dug through a layer that had a lot of broken thackstones in it. (Thackstones are those flat stones which are used for roofing older houses. The first bit is the same as the modern word thatch i.e. the thing you cover a roof with.) These could have come from a demolished outhouse like the duck house which still stands nearby. There was also a lot of metal working waste. This type of material was often sold for laying down paths so it may not have come from the site at all.
On Thursday we opened up a new trench on the far side of the lawn from the house. This brought us down onto a cobbled surface which might have been a yard or it might have been the inside of a building like the one noticed by John Gilks when he excavated at Oakwell in the 1980s.
But for me the highlight of the week came on Wednesday, when I got the chance to go underground. The staff at Oakwell had found the entrance to a sealed up compartment outside the house and I said that I’d have a look at it for them. Despite all the joking about ‘bodies hung in chains’ or ‘treasure vaults’ we thought it probably gave access to a well. Given my interest in such things it was only natural that I wanted to take a look.
What the access led into was a large underground chamber –about 3.0 metres long and easily high enough to stand up in. What it seems to be is not a well exactly but a settling tank out of which water could be drawn by a pump. The internal walls are rendered so there is no way of telling how old it is but I’d be guessing at 19th century.
It’s things like this that give rise to rumours of underground passages. I’ve never come across an historic building that isn’t supposed to have at least one. I can remember being told that there is an underground passage that runs all the way from Oakwell Hall to the Red House at Gomersal. Apart from the physical impossibility of it all (the two buildings are about a mile apart on opposite sides of a valley), the two houses are of different periods and had different owners. The only connecting factor that I can see is that they are both run as museums by Kirklees Council.
Everything’s been covered up again now, so it’s just like we’ve never been there, but at least I know (and now you know) there’s always history beneath our feet!