New: Stonehenge monuments workshop

In response to requests from teachers, we have developed a new prehistory workshop based on the monuments around Stonehenge.

As you’ll know, Stonehenge didn’t exist in splendid isolation but was part of an extraordinary complex of monuments ranging in size from just a few posts in the ground to a ‘super-henge’ 500m in diameter. This workshop introduces Key Stage 2 children to some of the key monuments including Stonehenge itself.

Among the monuments we explore are Durrington Walls, the Greater Cursus and Amesbury 42 long barrow. These date to the Neolithic period and I was fortunate to be part of the team that excavated them as part of the Stonehenge Riverside project between 2004-2009.

Stonehenge Riverside Project

The Stonehenge Riverside Project was a major research project in the Stonehenge area, partly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and was a collaboration between several Universities including Sheffield, Manchester and Bournemouth.

The project revealed a great deal of new information about the monuments around Stonehenge, and that the monument itself was part of a larger ritual centre. Not only that but at nearby Durrington Walls the team unearthed a settlement that once housed possibly hundreds of people. Archaeologists believe the houses were constructed and occupied by the builders of nearby Stonehenge, as the houses were radiocarbon dated to 2600-2500 B.C., the same period Stonehenge was built – one of the facts that leads the archaeologists to conclude that people who lived in the Durrington Walls houses were responsible for constructing Stonehenge. The houses form the largest Neolithic or New Stone Age village ever found in Britain – so far!

The discoveries, including a new henge close to the River Avon at the end of a feature called the Stonehenge Avenue, helped to confirm one of the theories about Stonehenge – that it did not stand in isolation but was part of a much larger religious complex used for funerary ritual. One of the directors of the project, Professor Parker Pearson of UCL, believes that Stonehenge and Durrington Walls were connected both symbolically and literally. He said: “Durrington’s purpose was to celebrate life and deposit the dead in the river for transport to the afterlife, while Stonehenge was a memorial and even final resting place for some of the dead.”

Durrington Walls is one of the the world’s largest known henges – it is an enclosure with a bank outside it and a ditch inside. It is so large in fact that two ‘modern’ roads run through it. Archaeologists have long thought that Durrington walls was a ceremonial centre. It is some 500 metres across and within it’s banks were a series of concentric rings of huge timber posts, or ‘timber circles’. Finding houses inside has rather changed this view!

The Stonehenge monuments workshop

During the workshop, children engage with a number of the monuments of the Stonehenge Landscape through reading, looking at pictures and plans, and handling objects. They answer questions, discuss ideas and complete a number of tasks, such as re-enacting Bronze Age burials and processions that may have taken place on the Avenue, constructing Stonehenge itself, measuring the size of Bluestonehenge, designing carvings that may have been on the posts at Woodhenge, debating the need for a Palisade and much much more. All this is done to win pieces of a puzzle. When these pieces are put together at the end of the session a whole picture emerges.

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What’s in your parish? Hartington

Welcome to the second of our blogs on the archaeology in your parish. In this one I’ll be looking at some of the archaeology and heritage of Hartington. For those of you who don’t know the village, it’s in the west of the county, about 12 miles north of Ashbourne, and the parish borders Staffordshire.

What’s in the parish?

Well, there’s a quite a lot going on here. The parish has a long history, and in fact there are now four parishes where there was once one. The four are Hartington Upper, Middle, Town and Lower Quarter. Each was originally a ‘township’ within a large, single parish which was part of the administrative area known as the Wirksworth Wapentake or Hundred. Wapentake has its origin in Old English and from Old Norse and it may refer to voting in an assembly by a show of weapons. It was certainly in use by Saxon times and the term ‘hundred’ was in use by the time of King Edmund in the mid-10th century.

As with many other parishes, there are places and buildings of interest which can add to the topic of ‘local studies’ as part of the National Curriculum. Hartington Town Quarter has archaeological sites from prehistory to WW2 with something of interest for everyone.

Prehistory in the parish

There are quite a few sites from prehistory in the parish. Some of these are just ‘find spots’ where artefacts such as flint arrowheads or blades have been found. There are many of these across the parish and testify to the area being much used and visited in prehistory. This may be due in part to it’s proximity to the henge and stone circle at Arbor Low close by.

There are also sites that have been excavated. For example, between Hartington village centre and the main Ashbourne to Buxton road, and overlooking the latter, is Lean Low. On the summit of the hill is the Lean Low barrow. The 19th century antiquarian Thomas Bateman excavated this barrow on the 17th June 1843 when he, or rather his men, dug a trench on the south side to the centre. They found a flexed burial (legs up to the chest, or crouched position) with its head to the south-west. It had been protected on either side by a large stone, with a third stone placed across them. Close by were two horse teeth. Bateman returned in 1847 and excavated on the north side. Here they found a cist (pronounced kissed!) or stone burial chamber. In it was a type of pot archaeologists call a ‘food vessel’ which was surrounded by a cremation. Within the pot itself were unburnt animal bone and a flint knife. About 30 cm beneath this chamber was another burial, this one was a young adult who had been laid upon the bare rock.

A Food Vessel found in a barrow on Hitter Hill, Hartington Upper Quarter.

‘Food vessels’ are a type of pottery from the early Bronze Age, approximately 2400-1500 BC. They got their name from the ‘archaeologists’ of the 19th century who thought that they didn’t resemble ‘Beakers’ or drinking vessels which were also being found in many excavations of prehistoric burial mounds at the time. The name has simply stuck, despite archaeologists now knowing that these vessels often contained material other than food. This drawing of a Food Vessel is by Llewellyn Jewitt an illustrator who worked with Thomas Bateman.

Lean Low bowl barrow became a scheduled monument in 1970. In the summer of 1972, local archaeologist Barry Marsden undertook an excavation. He found the remains of a disarticulated partial burial, again on the old ground surface. Among the other finds were scattered human bones, a barbed and tanged arrowhead, a large flaked knife, a jet bead, animal bones and a human cremation. The burials on the old land surface may have been earlier than those placed higher in the mound. This could mean that the barrow was utilised over a long period of time throughout the Bronze Age.

Another Bronze Age burial site in the parish is Wolfscote Hill barrow and it too is located on the prominent crest of a hill with good visibility in all directions. It is 26m by 24m and almost 2m high. It was excavated by Bateman in 1843 and he discovered a cist of limestone edges, without a capstone. At the bottom were two young children and a crushed ‘urn’ which may have been another Food Vessel. In the centre were some sherds of ‘urns’, bones of two inhumations and animal bones. Another antiquarian, Samuel Carrington, in 1851 opened two more trenches, and as a result found a spread of splinters of human bone and flint flakes. You can find it on an Ordnance Survey map at the grid reference SK 137 584.

Romano-British remains

Frank i’ th’ Rocks cave, site of Roman burials.

At the edge of the parish to the east of the A515 is the Roman road, which ran from the fort at Little Chester in Derby to Buxton. This is probably why there are more Romano-British sites nearby as in Roman Britain many settlements and farmsteads were located in the vicinity of such an excellent transport link!

In Hartington, the majority of the sites are settlement or field systems such as the one at Pennilow. It is thought to be a Romano-British settlement with an area of small earthworks, fields, paddocks,possible hut sites, as well as rectangular structures.

A more certain example is near Bank Top Farmhouse on the way from Hartington to Pilsbury. This ancient field system is one of the best and most extensive examples on the Limestone Plateau of the Peak District. Several sites of what were probably timber buildings and of yards can be recognised. There may be as many as four house sites which are sub-rectangular platforms. One possible reason why it has survived so long is that the site occupies a sloping and relatively rocky area on the upper valley-side. This would have been difficult to divide into larger fields that could then be improved in either the medieval or later periods.

Elsewhere in the parish there’s a cave, known as Frank i’ th’ Rocks Cave close by the River Dove and at the entrance to Wolfscote Dale (SK1313 5840) and about 15m above the river. During 1925 the cave was explored and excavated by Dr L S Palmer of the University of Bristol. Dr Palmer found the remains of at least ten individuals, mostly children, two bronze brooches, some bronze pins, a fragment of bronze chain, nine beads of various types, an antler cheek-piece, and other objects, including Romano-British pottery. Eight Roman coins were also discovered. All the coins date to the latter part of the Roman presence in Britain with dates from AD 300-400. It is interesting that among the beads found was a glass one thought to be Anglo-Saxon – so the cave may have been used again later!

The cave is thought to have been used solely as a burial place as there were no signs of habitation. The cave was also used by animals in the past and the animal remains found in various parts of the cave include sheep, ox, fallow deer, pig, horse, dog, badger, pine-marten, polecat and hare. Some of the remains my have got into the cave by human activity, and some by natural means, including animals using it as a lair or shelter.

Medieval Hartington

St Giles’ church overlooking the village centre.

Although there aren’t many domestic buildings left in Derbyshire from the medieval period, the impact of the times can still be seen today. One type of building is left for us to see – the parish church. The church of St Giles in Hartington for example, has parts that date back to the 13th century. Perhaps the most important element of the church is the pre-reformation murals. As was often the case, they were covered over with whitewash as they were seen as symbols of Catholicism and iconoclastic. There are few examples in the county and these are worth seeing. Also in the church, among the many memorials, are a series of 12 painted boards in the south apse. They are said to represent the 12 tribes of Israel and date to the 17th century.

Also from the 17th century but less religious are circular marks on the outside of the church. You may wonder what they are. The story is that there was a skirmish between Royalist and Parliamentary forces in the village during the Civil War. The Royalist forces were said to have sheltered in the church before moving off in the direction of Hide Lane. The circular marks were made by musket balls, fired by Roundheads!


The market place – dating to the early 13th century

But the church is not the only element of medieval life that has left its mark. In 1203, the village was awarded a charter to hold regular markets by King John. This is among one of the earliest such awards made in the county, and clearly the area was thriving economically. The evidence for this can still be seen in the centre of the village. It doesn’t look like much, but the large open space, now mostly road and car park, was once the site of much mercantile activity in the past!

Further out from the village centre, there’s the remains of not one, but two medieval motte and bailey castles. The first of these is close to Bank Top farmhouse and can be seen from the road. You can find it on a map at SK 1262 6155. The monument comprises a man-made castle mound or motte built on a natural crag that falls away steeply toward the River Dove the north and west. On all sides but north, it is surrounded by a broad ditch that is roughly two metres deep, and is shown on the image here.

Bank Top motte – ditch is indicated

As was the case with many monuments in the past, the material from the ditch was used to built the motte. This one has a flat top of between 20-25 metres diameter and we might presume it had a timber keep or palisade. To the north, the side of the mound has partly collapsed, making the top irregular in plan.

Nothing is yet known of the history of the Bank Top motte. A relatively simple earthwork castle such as this usually dates from the 11th or 12th century. If still in use in the late 13th century, many had their timber defences replaced by walls of stone. It seems likely then that Bank Top motte was probably abandoned by this date. It may even have been abandoned soon after it was constructed, never becoming a permanent base for the defence of the valley.

Pilsbury castle is much more imposing, if only because of the rocky outcrop incorporated into the structure. At it’s height the castle would have had a high motte adjoining the rocky outcrop, two baileys (eastern and southern) with ditches and internal banks, and outworks. The earthworks would originally have been topped by timber structures; there are no traces of any rebuilding in stone.

Pilsbury Castle from the air. The motte is in the top right corner.

The eastern bailey is slightly larger than the other, measuring between 45-55 metres across and the southern about 40 metres in diameter. It is defined to west and north by a ditch, to the south by a ditch with slight internal bank, and to the east by a natural knoll with near-sheer sides and a height of over five metres.

The western half of the interior of the castle grounds is relatively level and could have held a couple of timber buildings. As with Bank Top motte, little documented evidence has yet been found for Pilsbury Castle – one possible reference states that Edmund, Earl of Lancaster had a ‘capital mansion’ at Hartington in the reign of Edward I. It seems very likely that Pilsbury was almost certainly built by the de Ferrers family. Henry de Ferrers fought with William the Conqueror at Hastings and was rewarded with many estates in Derbyshire and elsewhere.

It seems most likely that Pilsbury was built between 1070 and 1080, although possibly later – in the first half of the 12th century during the Anarchy. There is no evidence for stone buildings on the site, implying that it was built as, and remained, an earth and timber castle. It is unlikely that it was ever intended to provide the buildings and services demanded by an Earl and at best it probably housed a constable and a small number of soldiers providing a garrison. The date when the castle was abandoned is uncertain but the fact that it was never rebuilt in stone suggests it had probably been abandoned before 1200.

So, the two castle sites sit in contrast, with Pilsbury Castle a short distance further up the valley from Bank Top, having two baileys and being considerably larger. It is possible, therefore, that Pilsbury could be seen as a replacement fortification to that at Bank Top. They both occupy similar natural crags in the narrow Dove Valley, each controlling passage  up and down the valley. The use of both castles at the same time would seem unnecessary.

As part of a broader Local Heritage Initiative project, entitled ‘Pathways to Pilsbury’, members of ARTEAMUS (Archaeological Research Team, University of Sheffield) conducted detailed topographical and geophysical surveys of the earthworks, obtained a report on the geology of the site and undertook an exhaustive documentary search. Their report can be found here.

Water powered mill wheel and leat.

Evidence from agriculture in the medieval period in the Hartington is also present. There are extensive areas of ridge and furrow field systems. You can see examples along the western side of Dig Street and Mill Lane. These represent part of the economic history of Hartington – how the villagers in the past made their living. If you go past the ridge and furrow on Mill Lane, you will come to the site of a water-powered mill. This was the Hartington corn mill and is thought to have been established in 14th or 15th century. Although it is now a private house the 4 metre diameter waterwheel can still be seen. Water flows through the reconditioned leat or channel in the garden from the River Dove. In more ‘recent’ years the mill was operated by J W Bassett and Sons and from the late 1940’s it was operated by Caudwells of Rowsley until it closed in the 1970’s.


Post-medieval village

Much of what the visitor sees today is from the post-medieval period, or post-1600 AD. That’s not to say it isn’t interesting or historic. Many of the buildings give us clues to the history of the parish. As you walk around the village centre there are several buildings that chart it’s wealth and social development.

One of the earliest buildings of this period is Hartington Hall, dated to 1611 AD. It is a fine example of a 17th century country house, and has triple gables and 3-5 light mullioned windows. The building was originally constructed of coursed limestone rubble with gritstone dressings and quoins (those large stone blocks on the corners) and has
stone slate roofs. It was extended in 1862 and again in 1911. It is currently used as a Youth Hostel, and has an excellent restaurant! Should you visit the Hall there’s a guide to it’s history available at reception. Another early building of the period is Wolfescote Grange (1649) which is a building of irregular plan again with mullioned windows. Interestingly, it still has one of its original panelled rooms.

There are fine Georgian period houses, sure signs of prosperity, including the Old Vicarage. Alongside these are small 18th century worker’s cottages. The Wesleyan Methodist chapel was built in 1809, and is one of many such chapels built around the Peak District as a wave of religious revivalism swept across the country. It cost the princely sum of £400, and was a project of the Nadin family. A few years later another local family, the Hopes, built what is known as the ‘market hall’. The building has served a number of functions over time. The Hope family were apothecaries in the mid 19th century and it is certainly a grand building which is now home to the village stores. The decoration on the pediment includes the date of 1836 and a figure holding scales and a pipe. Tobacco also features elsewhere in the design – can you find it?

Currently being demolished is the cheese factory which was originally built in 1876 and established as a co-operative venture by the Duke of Devonshire, c. 1900. Dove Dairy was constructed in 1876 and closed in 2009. At the time of its closure it was the oldest working cheese factory in England. The buildings that comprise the former dairy could date from the late 19th to early 20th century, but after fires in 1894 and 1929 it is unlikely that many of the original buildings survived, and soon none of them will!

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Want to know more on the Vikings in the East Midlands? There’s an exhibition and new resource!

The Vikings were in the East Midlands right? But you’d like to know more? Well over the summer we heard that a project was launched which aims to do just that. “Bringing Vikings back to the East Midlands” is project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and is examining how the Vikings impacted the area. The project aims to encourage creative engagement with the East Midlands’ Viking heritage through a programme of workshops, public seminars, an East Midlands-themed exhibition about Vikings and their legacy, and a website featuring information about the Vikings in the East Midlands.

New exhibitions of Vikings

There will be 2 exhibitions visiting the Lakeside Arts complex in Nottingham. In the Museum of Archaeology there will be “Viking: Rediscover the Legend”. This is a collaboration between the British Museum and York Museums Trust and will feature nationally important Viking and Anglo Saxon artefacts, including recent finds, and will re-examine the influence of the Vikings in Britain. Alongside this you’ll be able to visit “Bringing Vikings Back to the East Midlands” which has a more local focus.

The exhibitions are can be seen at the Djanogly Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, University of Nottingham between 24th November 2017 – 4th March 2018.

The British Museum gets local!

The British Museum is keen to share its knowledge and experience with museums around the country. Just recently our local museum in Buxton has benefited from the loan of a number of artefacts to enhance the displays. There’s now an official project “British Museum Knowledge Transfer Programme”. This provides a great opportunity for both the British Museums and partners in the scheme to share knowledge and skills.

As part of this scheme, one of the curators – Dr Julia Farley (@julia_farley), of British & European Iron Age Collections will be spending a week (7th-11th November 2016) at the University Museum. During her time there she’ll be examining the collections and suggesting how they could be used to develop new exhibition and outreach programmes.

There’s a blog too

There’s also a blog so you can keep up with news etc! 

We will certainly be going to see the Vikings exhibitions, and we hope you can make it too!


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Away on excavation!

Well, it’s summertime and that can only mean one thing in the world of archaeology – excavation time has arrived! This summer I am spending a month in the country with Prof. Julian Thomas and his excavation in Herefordshire. The site is on Dorstone Hill in the southwest of the county and is a fantastic Neolithic site. I’ll be blogging from there on the project’s blog which you can read at

It is still early days, but already there are exciting finds emerging from the upper layers and hold out the promise of more to come! Do follow the blog and keep up to date as the project will be running until the end of the summer term.

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What’s in your parish? Ockbrook.

Welcome to the first of our new monthly blogs “What’s in your parish?” in which we’ll take a look at what archaeology can be, or has been found in parishes around our region. We’ll focus on Derbyshire initially as that’s where we’re based, but will spread our wings as time goes on. We floated the idea with schools in the county and asked for suggestions for parishes to include. The first parish to get in touch was Ockbrook, near Derby, so here goes with just some of the archaeology of that parish!

Alleyway or gitty in local dialect.

The parish lies about 5 miles east of Derby and sits just north of the A52. To the south of this road is Borrowash which is technically the other half of the civil parish. However, the village has had its own identity for over a thousand years, so who am I to quibble!

What’s in a parish?

There are many aspects to parish life in the past, and archaeology can tap into this in many ways, some of which may be unexpected. For example, in the image on the right an alleyway is an ‘informal’ means of moving about the village that has become incorporated into the ‘formal’ fabric of the parish. So it pays to look more closely at the everyday things that surround you. To help you out, I’ve included some Ordnance Survey grid references should you wish to visit.

Prehistory in the parish

Unlike many other parishes in Derbyshire, there isn’t much to report on prehistory in this small parish. Most of what has been found is from findspots, so we cannot infer too much from them. The oldest evidence we have is two small flint cores from the Mesolithic period (c10,000 – 4,000BC). Cores are, as it sounds, the core or centre of a nodule of flint that remains after all the useful material has been removed. Similarly, a small axe made from Greenstone and dated to the Neolithic period (c4,000 – 2,000BC), can only tell us that it must have been brought to the area as this is not local geology.

As part of the excavations looking for Romano-British evidence, which is in more detail below, an Iron Age (c800BC- 43AD) ditch system and some pottery was found, but no further signs of settlement were apparent.

All Saints Church SK 423 357

Parish church tower
The tower of All Saint’s church, Ockbrook.

Like many a parish church, All Saint’s shows its story in its fabric and if you know what to look for you can read it. In the image on the left you can see at least four phases of development. There are several elements to a church that can help with this, so among the things to look for are a tower, nave, chancel and windows.

The earliest remaining elements are the 12th century tower along with the font. One of the signs to look for is the size and shape of windows. In the lower part of the tower they are typically Norman – narrow on the outside and splayed on the inside. The tower itself is an interesting example of the transition from the Norman style to the Early English. Some of the changes occurred during the reign of Henry II (1154-1189).  The upper part of the tower dates to the 14th century and the broached octagon spire is of later date – probably of the time of Edward I (1272-1307). Staying with the tower, one of the bells is of historical significance. The 1653 bell cast by G Oldfield of Nottingham is a good example of the founder’s work and you can read more about him here.

Other windows also help to tell the story of the building. Records tell us “there was a two-light pointed Decorated window nearer the chancel and …on the south side of the nave there are two two-light square-headed windows of Perpendicular style which dates to them having been inserted between c1350-1540″. However, much of the remainder of church was rebuilt between 1800 and 1835. Luckily there is a tablet at the west end of the nave states that the church was enlarged in 1835! The chancel of the old church was rebuilt by a local beneficiary, Thomas Pares, in 1803. The nave was widened to the north in 1814-15 and to the south in 1835. It was also given a flat ceiling and a west gallery in two parts, on cast-iron columns.

Inside the church there is more evidence to help tell the story. The font at All Saints is a Norman one dating to c1100-1150. The tub-shaped font is decorated with interlaced arches and it resembles fonts in other Derbyshire churches. These include St Michael’s in Church Broughton and St Peter’s in Somersall Herbert. There is an early 16th century oak rood screen of fine workmanship. This was originally in Wigston’s (or Wyggeston’s) Hospital in Leicester. It was purchased in the early 19th century under somewhat mysterious circumstances. An article in the Transactions of the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society suggests that somebody, either a trustee or the master acting on their own initiative or maybe the trustees acting in concert, sold off the screen and some stained glass in c.1805. No-one it seems realized what had happened until the early 1820s. Despite the subsequent hue and cry the windows and screen stayed put in Ockbrook. The incorrect installation of the screen has resulted in the best of the carved detail facing east, away from the congregation. Further detail on this part of the story of the parish can be found here.

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The Royal Oak

The Royal Oak – started life as a house in 1762.

The other stalwart of village life is the pub and so nearly every village has one (and sometimes more!). The Royal Oak is like many others in that it started life as a house. It was built in 1762 and was converted to a public house before 1821. Later in the same century it was substantially extended to the rear. The building is faced with roughcast render beneath a gabled plain tile roof. It is two-and-a-half storeys tall. There is an off-centre entrance door with a segmental head. To the left is a two-storey range built of painted brick.

Giant’s Hill          SK 430 359

The name Giant’s Hill is first recorded in 1826 and is depicted as an irregular earthwork on the 1st ed. 6″ Ordnance Survey map of 1887. A mound suggestive of a tumulus on Giant’s Hill is shown on maps as ‘Giant’s Grave’ and lies on a steep slope of the hill to the east of the parish of Ockbrook, in what was an old enclosure before the 1773 Parliamentary Enclosure Award. The field to the south is called ‘Castle Field’ and is also an old enclosure.

The existing mound, or rather combination of three mounds, measures about 100 feet east and west, by about 80 feet north and south. To the west there is a mound or rampart that looks like a portion of defensive earthwork, but it tails off suddenly both north and south. To the north-north-east of this is another mound but with vague continuations, it is suggestive of a once circular embankment. The third mound lies to the north of the second and is higher than the others and again is irregular in shape.

It has been suggested that this was some form of defensive earthwork from which most of the material (a red marl) was taken by the local inhabitants to fertilize the communal town field to the south. The old name of Castle or Castle Hill Field seems to corroborate this theory. On the other hand, the name ‘Giant’s Grave’ suggests a tumulus or an aggregation of barrows; but probably this popular name is a comparatively late invention. There is now no trace of the hillock; it has almost certainly been ploughed out. Recent examination of the furrows revealed nothing of interest. No recorded excavation has taken place on the site.

Church Farm House SK 423 357

Church Farm House, Ockbrook
Upper floor of Church Farm House. Notice the changes in brickwork.

The house began as two separate small timber-framed small houses/large cottages of similar size, about 5.5m long and the same distance apart. They are both probably dateable to the 17th century. They had square panels set on stone plinths with wattle and daub infill between the timbers. Later, this was replaced by brick ‘nogging’ or filling. Both buildings were two storeys high with a single or partitioned room on each floor and with a garret in the roofspace. Internal features such as the ceiling heights suggest that they are of slightly different dates, with the southern building being slightly later. It was probably somewhere between 1750 and 1775 when the two buildings were brought together by the infilling of the central area, to create a 3-bay long building. A short west wing was added, together with a cellar.

We know more of the history of the people associated with the farm. In the years around 1700, the farm and its land had been bought by Dane Mary Lake from Robert Piggen, a descendant of one of ten yeomen who had between themselves bought the manor in 1583. The farm may well have existed at that time. By 1773 Church Farm is referred to as ‘The Homestead’ although it is unclear who changed the name. It continued to be farmed until about the Second World War, after which it became part of a dairy and later a riding school. Various farm buildings were sold off, and the farmhouse was disused for over 30 years.

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Little London SK 433 372

Little London – originally a barn.

The grandly named Little London, on Far Lane, is a timber-framed house and was originally a corn barn on the site of a grange which belonged to Dale Abbey in the adjoining parish. It was probably constructed in the late 17th century with the brick infilling between the timbers being original. It is not clear when the farmhouse to which it belonged decayed or was demolished, but it appears that the barn was converted into cottages by 1909.

The barn, and a court of brick farm buildings to the south, were restored in the 1980s. In the centre of the building, the windows have replaced the barn doors, but the timbers that supported the doors are still in-situ.

Ockbrook Corn Mill  SK 429 357

Extant remains of parish windmill
The base of the old windmill. The scale is 1m.

Many villages had a mill in the past and at Windmill Farm, just east of the village, there’s the stump of a brick-built windmill tower. It is named on the Enclosure Award map of 1773, although it is not shown on the earlier (1767) map by Burdett. The Ordnance Survey map of 1880 shows the mill to be disused.

Not only do sources give us a good description of what the windmill looked like there is a painting of it too. Although only two sails are shown, it would have originally had four. So this image dates to a point in its decline. It was four storeys high, with a loading door on the first floor. The walls were pretty thick at 14-inch deep. The top,or cap, was ‘boat-shaped’ which was a little unusual.  Most of the mill has now disappeared and only the base of the tower survives. Currently the mill has been reduced to a brick annulus, a little over 2m high with no roof or covering such that rainwater can get into the walls.

The Ockbrook & Borrowash Historical Society have been researching the mill and requested that the windmill be listed, and collected various documentary references to the mill. These included a letter written in 1810, deploring the fact that the miller was working on Sundays, a report on the execution of two men in 1812 who had robbed the dwelling house at Ockbrook Mill, and a survey of 1826.

If you like to know more about windmills in Derbyshire there’s Alan Gifford’s handily titled ‘Derbyshire Windmills: Past and Present’ Published by Heage Windmill Society (2003) and you can buy it here.

Romano-British Ockbrook 

In 1729 in fields near the Little Hay Grange Farm a local man found an antiquity from Roman times – a silver tray or lanx. It was not until the last century however, that any modern, systematic archaeological work looking for evidence of Roman activity in the parish took place. In the 1990s a number of fields in the parish were investigated by Ockbrook and Borrowash Historical & Archaeological Society through fieldwalking.

This investigation yielded a general spread of Romano-British finds, mostly pottery, with large concentrations in a field 250m south of Spondonwood Farm (SK 415 370) and another one 100m southeast (SK 416 371). There was also a spread of artifacts near Little Hay Grange Farm and Little London. The pottery finds gave a range of dates from the 1st-3rd centuries AD, and included everyday and quite high status material. One example was a piece of Samian ware which was shown to be made by a potter called Germanus i who worked at the La Graufesenque factory in South Gaul in the first century AD.

The site of the Romano-British building.

The outcome of this successful fieldwalking was an excavation in Thack Meadow, about 400m away from Little London. Carried out by the Ockbrook and Borrowash Historical Society along with the Derbyshire Archaeological Society, the Ilkeston and District Local History Society and the Trent & Peak Archaeological Trust,  the excavations revealed an Iron Age ditch system and the remains of a Romano-British, stone-built aisled building. So far, this is the oldest building found in the parish as it was dated by artefacts to being used between the 2nd-3rd centuries AD. It was quite a large structure with dimensions of 29m x 12m. It was a dual purpose building, housing both people and animals, as well as grain storage etc.

If you’d like to read more about the excavation, here is the reference:

Palfreyman, A. 2001. ‘Report on the Excavation of a Romano-British Aisled Building at Little Hay Grange Farm, Ockbrook, Derbyshire 1994-7’. Derbyshire Archaeological Journal 121: 70-161.

The Moravian Settlement

The 18th century saw the beginnings of what has come to be known as ‘The Moravian Settlement’ at Ockbrook. The story of the Settlement can be found here. Today it covers an area of approximately 6 acres and includes the Moravian Church, Manse, school, private residences and a lecture hall. This enclave of central European origin is of both historical and architectural interest. Benjamin Ingham and Jacob Rogers introduced Moravian tenets by 1739 and Rogers was the first preacher. Religious services first took place in a barn lent by local man Isaac Frearson on whose land the settlement was subsequently built. The society was formed into a regular congregation in 1750 and the chapel was built in 1751-2.

The Chapel.

The chapel, which is a Grade II* listed building, is at the heart of the settlement and the other buildings respect it, and form an inward facing plan. The chapel itself has been described as “a neat commodious chapel of brick”. The building has five bays and three arched windows, with two arched entrances to the left and right. There is a pediment and white timber cupola above. It was enlarged to the rear, heightened and refitted in 1875-6 including a wide pediment and bell-cote. The latter probably replacing a similar feature on the original, more steeply pitched roof.

The growing community need houses of course, and houses for single brethren and single sisters were opened in 1759 and buildings for boys, and girls, day and boarding schools were subsequently provided. In 1867 the brethren’s house was replaced by a Sunday school. The main buildings of the settlement, of brick with slate roofs, are aligned on sloping ground facing south-east with the chapel near the centre, houses of two and three storeys, to the right which include the former single sisters’ house, and to the left the minister’s house of three storeys, dating from the mid 18th century.

The War Memorial

The village War Memorial.

This quick tour of some of the archaeology of the parish would not be complete without the War Memorial. Sited near the A52 in the south of the parish, it is as you can see, a fairly plain, modest monument to the men who fought and died in WWI. The use of an obelisk was quite common, as was the cordon of chains to demarcate the area. It may be worth comparing the names on this with those on the memorial in the church. Sometimes names were added or missed accidentally. There is grave to a victim of the war in the graveyard who is on neither. Can you find it?

In conclusion

So there we have it, just some of the archaeology that can be seen in the parish of Ockbrook. There is more of course, and you can walk around the village to see if you can work out how the village grew by looking at the style of houses for example. How does it compare to where you live?

We hope you’ve found this useful, and don’t forget, if you’re a Derbyshire teacher let us know if there’s a parish you’d like featured in our blog!


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