2017 Dig

A successful year at the Castleton Dig – May/June 2017              Angela Darlington

This year Castleton has had several more holes dug in it – test pits in fields and gardens, and two large trenches, one on the medieval hospital site opposite Losehill Hall and the other behind the Methodist chapel on the site of New Hall, built around 1500.

The Spital Field trench was placed to pick up fragments of possible medieval walls excavated in previous years, with the aim of hopefully “joining the dots” to find the foundations of the fourth wall of a building that might be the hospital chapel. The trench overlapped trenches from previous years that could be identified from the black membrane used to protect features such as walls before back-filling. A couple of wet days held up progress slightly but with the efforts of a lot of first year students and many volunteers, by the end of week 2 the trench was criss-crossed by walls.

During the last two weeks of the dig it was largely dry, which brought its own problems. The clay hardens and cracks and it’s much harder to see any archaeological features. However with some light rain to soften the ground it was possible to trowel more productively and more areas of interest were revealed. While the large student contingent had mostly left by then to do exams, the volunteers ended up with most of the interesting work towards the end of the dig, when they removed overlying sections of wall, cleaned up the foundations of the south wall of the chapel and discovered a new area of burials outside this wall.  Medieval pottery was found in context with the foundations and other finds in context included fragments of a copper alloy cross, and a metal button. In addition two pieces of antler were found as well as the usual (for this site) lumps of melted lead.

At New Hall we were also looking for walls and the job was made considerably easier by a photo (originally sourced by Kay Harrison) of the hall taken shortly before its demolition. What remains of the walls lies beneath layers of demolition rubble which contain a lot of pottery, ornate plaster, and rusty metal as well as the odd animal bone. The abundance of finds on this site made it very popular with Castleton School children who had a lovely time trowelling back in the trench, and at least as much fun sifting through the spoil heap!

On the New Hall site, a large shallow trench was the final result. The ornate plasterwork found in the demolition layer was of particular interest as some of it was reported to be replicated at Losehill Hall when it was built by Squire Ashton. The external walls that were the objective of this year’s excavation appear to have been mainly robbed out but internal floors and the remains of an external staircase were found.

A number of test pits were also dug around the village – in the Spring Field to the north of Buxton Road, in Seven Roods near Spital Bridge and at two houses on How Lane. Overall, the finds weren’t enormously interesting but they did include a lot of clay pipe fragments, commonly found on fields and possibly the result of waste from middens being spread on the land.

Thanks to all those who have helped in any way, providing access to land, shelter for the archaeology team and including (once again) Stephen for enabling us to avoid that back-breaking manual back-filling at both the Spital Field and the New Hall sites.