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Derbyshire Archaeology Day 2017!

Updated: Oct 19, 2021

Large upright stones (orthostats) forming part of a linear feature at Gardom’s edge near Baslow.

Yes, it’s that time of year again already. On Saturday I made the annual pilgrimage to the Pomegranate Theatre in Chesterfield home of Derbyshire Archaeology Day for a number of years now. This year I had an extra reason for attending . . . I was giving a presentation on the work we’ve been doing at Peeling back the Layers. More of that later. As ever there was an eclectic mix of subjects representing some of the archaeological, and heritage, work carried out in the county – from the Romans to 20th century quarries and WWI practice trenches. I hope to give you a flavour of the day.

First up was Ian Thomas, former director of the National Stone Centre who spoke eloquently of the interest now being shown in quarries. Derbyshire is ‘blessed’ with hundreds, if not thousands of quarries of all sizes, some dating to the Roman period. Driving around the countryside the chances are you have driven past quite a few of them, without realising it. Quarries are, it seems, a largely neglected aspect of our heritage. They can provide information on the use of stone through the ages – for building, chemicals and more – as well as more indirect information such as trade, transport routes and social history. There is now a research framework being developed which seeks to address this oversight in the heritage of this and many other counties. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for examples near you.

The next presentation was by Reuben Thorpe of ARS Ltd. Reuben gave us lowdown on the discovery and partial excavation of a Romano-British site at Wingerworth. Not known for its Roman connections, the site clearly takes the history of Wingerworth back several more centuries. It might not be a sumptuous villa, but amongst the ditches and pits pottery originating in southern France was found, identifying it as a location connected to the Roman Empire beyond these shores. Not only that, the pottery dates some of the site to the 1st century AD, making it a relatively early example of the presence of the Romans in Derbyshire. It was handily sited around 250m from the known route of the Roman road between the Roman forts at Little Chester in Derby and Chesterfield. There are many such small sites close to Roman roads in Derbyshire, Staden near Buxton is one that springs to mind. If you’d like to find out more visit the Rural Settlement of Roman Britain where you will find resources including an interactive map.

It was then my turn! I was there to present the story of the community-based archaeology project based at Under Whitle in Sheen. Now some of you might know that Sheen is in Staffordshire, however, Derbyshire Archaeology Day is flexible and often includes Peak District based projects, and that’s how we were invited along. For those of you who don’t know about the Under Whitle project, there is a lot more detail available at the project website – follow the link above to see more. Briefly, the project was exploring the history and heritage of a farmstead in the Dove Valley. It was very much a community project, with the landowners and a local interest group – the Tudor Farming Interpretation Group – teaming up to develop it. Eventually over 50 other ‘non-archaeologists’ volunteered for the project.

There were two key strands to the work – historical and archaeological. Initially led by a professional historian, the volunteers visited local, diocesan and national record offices to find the stories of the people of Under Whitle over the past 600 years. Rather surprisingly three families dominate the story during this time, and the archaeological excavation we undertook was to prove most useful in understanding ‘how’ and ‘where’ they lived.

From the outset, the project was aimed at engaging young people from the area. Local schools, home-educators and Young Archaeologists took part in different ways. The youngsters helped with geophysical and tape & offset surveys, excavation, artefact analysis and heritage interpretation. There were students from Lady Manners school in Bakewell gaining work experience, and post-A level students going on to study Archaeology at university. KS2 students really engaged with the work, and of course found getting dirty the most fun! All the schools gave us excellent feedback and look forward to more projects like this.

After my presentation the stage was set for Sue Woore and Mary Wiltshire to tell us more on the work on the medieval landscape of Derbyshire, and particularly that of Idridgehay. The village name is thought to bear both Saxon and medieval influences with Idridge being a corruption of Saxon name Eardric and hay referring to a clearing in the forest/woods. There were still extensive woodland areas in the medieval periods and many were designated as ‘parks’ for hunting, reserved for the nobility and of course royalty. Sue and Mary have been investigating the landscape of Derbyshire for evidence of the medieval period for a number of years now and have published their findings. In the village there is a double boundary bank around part of the village which is evidence of animal husbandry  from medieval times. Livestock such as sheep, cows, pig and horses would be corralled here.

Following up from last year Paul Flintoft of Trent & Peak Archaeology gave us an update on the Our City, Our River project in Derby. Part of a flood defence scheme, the project has been exploring the Roman site at Little Chester. This year we heard that the team had uncovered sections of the fort rampart, as can be seen in the image above. A pretty impressive piece of work it must be said! Elsewhere on the site, the quayside from which boats un/loaded cargoes was discovered. Research as revealed that Derby was about the highest navigable point of the Derwent by typical cargo boats of the period. So, it makes sense that bulk cargo such as pottery, wine and other imports were unloaded here, and exports such as lead left Little Chester on their way to the Humber and beyond. All the images here are courtesy of Trent & Peak Archaeology.

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One of the most accessible prehistoric sites in the county featured next, with Dr Bill Bevan reminding most of us about the work undertaken at Gardom’s Edge in the 1990s. The good news is that a new book on the project is soon to be published. For those of you who don’t know it, Gardom’s Edge is a shelf on the gritstone above Baslow, and very close to Chatsworth. It was here in the Bronze Age, and again later the iron Age, that people lived, worked and made art. The remains of houses, fields and their art can still be seen if you know where to look. There are guides available from Moors for the Future. The original project was a joint venture between the Peak District National Park and the University of Sheffield. It was also a great example of community archaeology with a number of groups involved. I for one am looking forward to the book!

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The final presentation of the day was given over to the indefatigable John Barnatt of the Peak District National Park. John has been a senior survey archaeologist at the Park for over 30 years, and I suspect there isn’t an archaeological site in the Peak that he hasn’t been to! This was his farewell (possibly!) as he retired from this role just after Christmas, so we were treated to some of the high points of the last five years. Unsurprisingly, given his love of industrial archaeology in general and mines in particular, underground scenes featured prominently! You’d be surprised what you can find underground in the Peak District. There are cranes, derricks, tracks and even the first example of an underground generator to be seen if you know where to look and have the right equipment. We also learned of the recently recorded WWI trenches above Burbage in Buxton. Here there are practice trenches dug for Tommies to begin to experience life in the trenches. There are different examples recorded, including ‘forward’ trenches, machine gun placements and command posts. John freely admitted to having walked straight past them on numerous occasions before they were recognised! So much for having a well trained archaeological eye!

More seriously, John is a whole library of information and will be a great loss to the Park and is not being replaced as part of cutbacks. We can only hope that the Park can find some way to overcome this situation as there is a need for someone as knowledgeable, helpful and  supportive of archaeology and those interested in it, from seasoned professionals to the absolute beginner. Give the current emphasis on engagement and outreach, perhaps the appointment of a Community Archaeologist would be a step in the right direction?

So, another busy day with lots to ponder. looking forward to next year’s event already!


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