Walk and Talk – Wednesday 5th June 2019
As part of the Skelton Townscape Heritage Scheme, Tees Archaeology has been working with local people to investigate the deserted settlement of Boroughgate in Skelton. This is the site of the medieval borough of Skelton founded by the Bruce family and which has completely disappeared.
On Wednesday 5th June, Robin Daniels of Tees Archaeology led a guided walk from the High Street to Boroughgate field. He explained the significant aspects of the village’s features and how things might have been in the medieval period. The walk was attended by 33 members of the public.
Over the last three years we have carried out an earthwork survey, done a geophysical survey and, in the summer of 2018, parts of the site were excavated. On the evening of Wednesday 5th June 2019, to an audience of 31 interested individuals in North Skelton Village Hall, Robin gave an illustrated talk explaining the background to the archaeological investigations and how the results had helped our understanding of Skelton in the Norman period.
Archaeological excavation 2018
Week 2 Day 5 (Friday 6th July) – A sad day. The last day. A day of frantic recording: getting plans and sections drawn, before the trenches were backfilled and the turves replaced.
Week 2 Day 4 (Thursday 5th July) and another very hot day. The focus now was on getting all the loose ends tidied up. That meant putting in sections through or along various features within the trenches. The sections had to be measured and drawn and everything had to be put on the plan views. Yesterday’s finds had to be washed, new finds had to be photographed before they were lifted. Amidst all that, one trench produced the most impressive post hole of the dig.
Week 2 Day 3 (Wednesday 4th July) and a most welcome reduction in temperature; at least, until lunchtime! As we slowly realise that time is starting to run out on us, we have to cut back on the heavy digging and concentrate on other things such as: completing the taking of the soil samples for XRF analysis and cracking on with the marking up of each find. This latter involves applying a patch of clear nail varnish and then, when it is dry, writing the details onto that patch. It is very painstaking work, best suited to young eyes. The complteted material is then bagged and the bags labelled before being placed into the storage boxes for transport off-site. The metal detectorists were sweeping the floors of the cleaned trenches to check we hadn’t missed anything. (N.B. the lengths of string visible in that photo indicate where sections were to be cut across features within the trench). Each feature was then photographed to the standard required for archaeological recording. The corners of each trench were captured using GPS units. The day was not without a find of interest: half of what may be a mortar (as in mortar and pestle), a crucible or a stone oil lamp.
Week 2 Day 2 (Tuesday 3rd July 2018) The day started by continuing to investigate the interior of the medieval longhouse that we have found. Once again we had a special visitor, a young cat who was very curious as to what we were doing. We also had a PhD student onsite collecting soil samples for X-Ray Fluoresence testing. But for some, this is all getting a bit too much!
Report and images from Week 2 Day 1 (Monday 2nd July 2018): Firstly, an update on yesterday’s Open Day. We estimate we had 150-200 visitors to the site between 10:00am and 3:30pm. It was a bit manic at times!
The images from Monday 2nd July 2018 include: an on-site review of last week’s achievements and a briefing of the outline plan for this second week; the incredible detail on the bowl of a clay pipe revealed by the pot washers; and the find of the day – pieces of a large, early medieval pot.
A great start to the week!
Open Day – a great success!
Sunday 1st July 2018 – Fine, sunny weather, a cooling breeze, and lots of visitors. What more could we have asked for? And we still managed to get some trench recording done, too!
Images from day 5 (Friday 29th June) below: stone feature in trench C; excavation trench D; a sample of finds; a piece of East Cleveland ware; yesterday’s “barley sugar twist” piece after washing; a surprise visitor – Steve Sherlock of Saxon Princess fame; and cleaning trench B prior to recording it.
Images from day 4 (Thursday 28th June) below: Radio Tees interviewing Robin Daniels of Tees Archaeology, the site director, with John Haw, the Townscape Heritage project manager, waiting his turn; test flight of a drone for aerial image capture; recording a stone feature in trench A; a “barley twist” pot handle (5-6 cm long); a totally unexpected Neolithic flint blade (2cm long); and the star find – walls of a medieval building!
These images are from day 3 (Wednesday 27th June): finds trays, washing the finds, recording a feature in trench A, metal detecting the spoil heap and recording a stone feature in trench A.
The following five images show the workdone in the first two days (Monday & Tuesday 25th & 26th June): deturfing, mattocking, trowelling, a “find” – a piece of medieval pottery, trench “A” cleaned at the end of day 2.
Between June 25th and July 6th, 2018, Tees Archaeology will be working with local people and volunteers to explore the lost medieval town of Skelton. This community was developed as a major medieval centre by the Brus family. A junior branch of this family is better known for one of its descendants: Robert the Bruce.
The Bruses built a great castle at Skelton and this was served by a village which has developed into the modern town. However, the medieval town was in a completely different location. It was opposite the southern entrance to the castle in an area now known as Boroughgate ( which means “town street”).
For the past two years, Tees Archaeology has been working with volunteers to record and investigate this lost town, surveying the earthworks and carrying out a geophysical survey. We are now going to carry out archaeological excavations.
These will explore some of the buildings of the town and try to establish when they were abandoned. We know that in 1301 there was a merchant, fuller, weaver, potter, tanner, baker, smith, butcher, carpenter & 3 carriers and later records mention an innkeeper and goldbeater and we will be looking for evidence of these activities
There will be an Open Day for people to visit the excavation on Sunday 1st July between 10 am and 3.30pm, when there will be an opportunity to view finds from the excavations and to handle a variety of archaeological finds. You can also have your finds identified by the Finds Liaison Officer from the Portable Antiquities Scheme https://finds.org.uk/ .
More details about the Open Day can be found here. A poster can be found here. If you have any questions about any of the above, please contact the Project Office or contact Robin Daniels at Tees Archaeology.
Tees Archaeology’s report, combining information from 2017’s earthwork survey with that from 2016’s geophysical survey, is available for inspection in the Project Office.
The medieval borough of Skelton
Creating a medieval borough was a way to try to establish a town. The intention was that people would earn money from crafts and commercial activity, rather than work the land. This would generate cash in the form of taxes for the lord of the borough (de Brus).
The borough of Skelton was established at the gates of the castle with the intention of providing a range of services for the castle inhabitants. At least sixteen properties were all laid out along the west side of a routeway that led away from the castle up to Skelton Green.
In 1301 a merchant, fuller, weaver, potter, tanner, baker, smith, butcher, carpenter and three carriers lived in the borough. Later records include an innkeeper and goldbeater.
This attempt to found a borough at Skelton was ultimately unsuccessful, and the site was slowly abandoned. The area reverted to farmland and now shows the ridge and furrow of medieval ploughing. However, the earthwork remains of houses and property boundaries can still be clearly seen. The Skelton Townscape Heritage project will be working with Tees Archaeology and volunteers better to understand how these earlier inhabitants of Skelton lived.
Earthwork survey (2017)
In May 2017, Tees Archaeology led a two week long survey of the earthworks that are visible in these fields. Each day, staff from Tees Archaeology worked with volunteers from the community, to produce a formal, detailed survey of the “humps and bumps”. This information will then be combined with the geophysical survey data from 2016 (see below), plus aerial photographs and other relevant sources, to allow a better interpretation of these earthworks, and to help with the selection of the locations for excavation activity next year.
The site cabin was delivered, with some difficulty; the activity being overseen by a four-legged health & safety inspector! The first morning’s survey work took place in bitterly cold conditions. But what a change 24 hours made!
Geophysical survey (2016)
A geophysical survey of the area was carried out in November 2016 by a team from the Archaeological Services unit at Durham University. Two techniques were used: geomagnetic and electrical resistance. The images below show some of the activities that were undertaken during the survey work. A copy of the report produced from the survey work is available for inspection in the Project Office.