January sees the annual Derbyshire Archaeology Day where members of the public have the chance to catch up with some of the most interesting and even exciting archaeological news from around the county and the Peak District. This year saw a move from the Pomegranate Theatre to the Winding Wheel Theatre in Chesterfield and the audience were treated to a really varied programme covering sites and projects from the Iron Age to WWII hangars.
First up were Carina Summerfield Hill and Kristina Krawiec of York Archaeology who gave us a detailed talk on a site near Swarkstone Bridge. There an alignment of posts had been discovered during preparations for quarrying. The alignment looks impressive, containing the remains of 219 timber posts made from Oak and running in a broadly northwest to southeast over several hundred metres. Interestingly, the team from York Archaeology didn't find any evidence of a superstructure as might be found on a causeway for example, suggesting that people weren't using it as such. The remaining timbers were short but substantial and relatively evenly spaced, with only a few seemingly missing from the sequence. The posts offered up more clues to their making, with those examined more closely showing blade marks giving the team valuable information on the size and shape of the axes used and the direction of working. The whole alignment has been dated to the Iron Age, but there are still no firm ideas as to it's function. It seems to respect a sandstone headland or bluff to the southeast and some of the palaeochannels known from earlier work in the Trent Valley.
This year saw a couple of presentations from one of the main archaeological contractors in the county, Archaeological Research Services of Bakewell. From Tom Parker we heard about the work undertaken
at Glapwell Hall near Bolsover. There is a history of a manor there dating back to the late 12th century, with a chapel constructed there in the mid-13th century. However, much of the project focused on the later extensive rebuilding of the manor, particularly in the 19th century. As is to be expected given the longevity of such a structure this re-working saw phases of activity, often with a different focus. Doorways were blocked, fire places and ovens added and water management became something of an issue it seemed with new channels and a tank added in the third phase of development. The hall was demolished in 1952 and it was interesting to hear that those responsible for the demolition may well have had something to do with the 'recycling' of much of the lead piping...
The second ARS paper was from Joseph Empsall and featured something just around the corner from the ARS offices! Hiding in plain site in the Riverside Business Park in Bakewell is the last of three 'Blister' Hangars. These were originally designed in 1939 by British architect Graham R Dawbarn patented by Miskins and Sons in 1939. They were the largest hanger made by the firm and were 90 feet wide and provided a large, relatively open space inside. Originally made of wooden ribs clad with profiled steel sheets, steel lattice ribs and corrugated steel sheet cladding later became the norm. As their name suggests, they were originally used to store small light aircraft during WW2 but afterwards many saw use for storage or light industry. There were originally three hangars on the site, but this is now the sole survivor.
Bolsover featured again with a paper from Gavin Kinsley on developments at the Morrison's supermarket. The site contained evidence from the late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age but the material of interest here was the medieval period in the form of houses and ceramics. One source of information was the 17th century Senior map showing buildings had been set back from the street frontage and this may have been evidence of possible shops. There was no sign that these had been built in phases, rather they were a single development. The team recovered fired clay and this was dated by OSL (Optically stimulated luminescence) dating which provides a measure of time since sediment grains were deposited and shielded from further light or heat exposure, which often effectively resets the luminescence signal. The result was given as mid-12th century which concurred with the construction type of the houses and the range of pottery recovered. Although this work tells us more on the settlement here, there are still questions about the boundary of the site and how this appeared. Interestingly, there is still some of the boundary evident in the form of a bank near the car park entrance, but the full extent remains unknown. Watch this space...
Ed Simons took us back to Swarkstone with a talk on the site of what is thought to be a rare example of an Anchorite church just a few hundred metres from the Iron Age post alignment! The site has long been thought of as a folly, but recent work by Ed points towards a very different story and you can read more of it here. Needless to say, this could be an exciting development in the story of the site, and Ed is undertaking more work on this and other similar sites in Britain. We were later treated to a personal view of the use of Lidar by a self-confessed 'armchair amateur' Mick Parker a post-graduate student at the University of Derby who has been combing the treasure trove of Lidar data in the public realm, and unsurprisingly come across a range of features and potential sites across the county, ranging from henges to Roman forts/camps. There was certainly some food for thought on some of the examples he gave, so much so that the last speaker of the day is excited enough to put boots on the ground to survey it soon!
Our last speaker of the day was the indomitable Colin Merrony who spoke about some of the recent work and re-interpretation by his team of perhaps Derbyshire's most famous castle - Peveril. A really interesting note was the observation that for the most part it has been thought that the area to the west of the castle had been the site of more buildings, but recent surveys showed this wasn't the case. Another seemingly obvious finding was that the area to the east was in fact higher than the castle, not the other way round as has been the orthodox view of the site. Sometimes it seems things are hidden in plain sight. Mind you, Peveril is not the only Norman castle which is overlooked by higher ground, take Pilsbury for example. But more of that later.
There was another speaker on the day, but that was me, and there's a whole blog post coming on that!