Castle Hill, Almondbury, Excavation Committee: Report of the First Year's Excavations (1939) by W.J. Varley

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Castle Hill, Almondbury,

Excavation Committee.

Report of the

First Year’s Excavations 1939.

By W. J. VARLEY, M.A., F.S.A. Director of Excavations


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A brief report on the Excavation of Castle Hill, : _ Almondbury, 1939. A Sy I. VARLEY, M, ee FS. A. (Director)


The first season’s excavations at Castle Hill,

carried out between August 7th and yth, 1939- han

The following table gives a list of what was done and the names of those who were in charge. The accompanying plan shows the.

location of the sites referred to in the table.

The plans and sections were surveyed by Miss Maud ame ies,

and the Director; the finished drawings were prepared by . Miss: 243 Margaret Owen, Miss Margery Hall and the Director; the finds’ - _ were recorded by Miss Joyce Ashley, with the assistance of Miss _ Molly Walker and Miss Margery Hall; Dr. Grainger, Mr. Aubrook, Mrs. M. Grainger and Miss J. Grainger prepared a map of the vegetation of the interior, and Dr. Grainger has been res- ponsible for the conservation of the finds, as well, as for much. ae

assistance on matters relating to soils, etc.

‘In addition to the foregoing, who were responsible for. the Bie various tasks assigned to them, thanks are due to a great many who rendered voluntary assistance for varying periods. tate - In particular our thanks are due to the workmen, whose numbers

varied from six to fourteen, and especially to ‘hele foreman, ‘Mr. nae

Ss Luke Galvin, and the night watchman, Mr. Spivey.

I Finally, we must acknowledge the great assistance rendered ae by the Estates Committee of the Huddersfield Corporation 9

through their Manager, Mr. Taylor; by Dr. Woodhead, Dr. I Grainger and the entire staff of the Tolson Memorial Museum, I

“Mrs. Raffan, Mrs. Moofhouse, Mr. Ahier, Mr. Hadfield and I Mr. Townsend of the local committee, Mrsy Beaumont of the Castle Hill Hotel, and ms Miss Mary Kitson Clark and Mr. Kirk Horsell. I cd

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Site Number. _ Location. In Charge. SITE ONE. Section 1. North-Eastern Defences I Miss Betty Furness Strip 1. Interior. Mrs. Varley. Strip 2. — I Mr. M. Hodsman. — Miss Gwen Boston. TWO, Section 1. Eastern Junction of Mr. S. V. Morris. Section 2. Defences. with some assistance section 3. — from Mr. R. Lister. SITE THREE. Relation to Eastern De- I Mr. J. Scott, assisted : fences to Great Ditch. I by Mr. L. B. Darnton, SITE FOUR. Inner Defences on North Section I. West Side. Miss Betty Furness. Strip 1. Interior. Miss Nancy Hey. SITE FIVE. Outer Ditch of Eastern Miss Nancy Hey. Defences I Se Western Junction of Miss Betty Furness and I Defences. Miss Margaret Owen. bie I SITE SEVEN. Medieval Ditch at South I Mr. J. Scott and Section 1. I and Medieval Mr. M. Hodsman. Section 2. at Southern End. es MPS. Vey

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lhe excavations aroused great interest both in the press and among ithe general public, several thousands of whom visited the site. Accounts were published in the press, the Director broad- cast an account of the site from the North Regional Station, Postcards and Guide-books were sold on the site, lecturettes given to visitors and collections taken. The crowds were orderly and in no way interfered with the progress of the work, thanks largely to the way in which their needs were catered for by Miss Mary Kitson Clark and her voluntary assistants.

A detailed technical report is in course of preparation. In the meantime, the following brief account may be of some inter- est to subscribers and others, whose generosity made the work possible.

The following principal events in "the history of Castle Hill have now been established. I

‘Stave I. The Original Defences.

The earliest defences yet discovered consist of a bank ditch, running from Site Six to Site Two and bisecting the summit of the Hill. Very little of the bank remains, but it was made of earth with a back-revetment of timber. The ditch was narrow, rock-cut and V-shaped. No trace of these defences was found elsewhere, and it is probable that they belong to a simple prom- ontory camp, such as has been found elsewhere in the Pennines and on the edge of the Hambleton Hills, as for example at Boltby. No relics were discovered in association with these original defences, but by inference, they can be regarded as be- longing to the early Iron Age.

Stage II. The Extended Defences.

The original camp at the south end of the hill was trans- formed into a multivallate hill-fort enclosing the whole summit. The original ditch in Site Six was blocked, and the inner rampart of the new fort carried across it.

The new defences consisted of an inner rampart, a V-shaped ditch, a counterscarp bank and a second ditch carried right round the hill. On the north-east side, a third bank and ditch were added. The entrance to this camp was at the northern end. The defences were so arranged that they were dominated by the inner rampart which was elaborately constructed. The dore of the rampart was made of earth, and was laced by a timber framework, ‘the whole being cased within dry stone walls. An interesting on the method of construction was obtained on Site Four. Here we were able to show that the ditch was dug first while the site of the rampart was in use as a living floor, and then the rampart was added.

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From the occupation-floor contemporary with the construction of the new inner rampart, Miss Hey recovered part of a shallow quadrangular vessel together with its lid, and the lid of a second similar vessel—the first authentic Brigantian pottery. Vessels of this type are not common, but they have both a characteristic distribution and date. They have been found at Glastonbury Lake Village, Quiberon in Brittany, at Broadstairs in Kent, and on the Lincolnshire and Essex shores. In all cases, they belong to the closing phase of the Pre-Roman Iron Age, circa 56 B.C. to 42 A.D., which we can take, therefore, as the period of construction of the multivallate defences on Castle Hill.

The western parallels for the quadrangular pots are inter- esting because we know for certain from the distribution of Yorkshire horse-bits, that there were contacts between Yorkshire and the South-West by the way of the Jurassic escarpment, and it is to the west that we must look for the prototypes of the large hill-fort with multivallate defences and dry-stone wall and timber construction. Indeed, the similarity between the inner rampart at Almondbury and the ramparts of Eddisbury and Maiden Castle, Bickerton, Cheshire is very striking.

The Lincolnshire parallels for the quadrangular pots are also interesting in that we know from coin-finds that the Brig- antes had contacts with that area.

Stage ti.

The next incident in the history of Castle Hill was catas- trophic in its effects. In five out of the six sections cut through the inner ramparts there were indisputable signs of a great des- truction by fire. The oak beartis had been charred, in_ places literally burnt to a cinder, and the intermediate layers of earth fired to the colour of. brick. Experiments are now in progress to determine the conditions required to produce such effects, but from close observation on the site we came to the conclusion that the fire spread along the beams. and that these could onlv have been deliberately fired, after the encasing walls of stone had been partially demolished. In other words, it is our present ovinion, that the burning represents a deliberate attempt at destruction.

At present, we can only give very approximate and distinctly wide archaeological limits for the date of this incident. The site

was in occupation up to the period of the Roman Conouest.

as we know from a discovery (in 1829) of Brigantian and Re- publican coins, and a small fragment of Arretine ware (discovered on Site 3 bv the keen eve of Mr. Darnton in 1929), and its defences were then likelv to be intact. On the other hand, we know that the fire took place considerably before the Norman Conquest, for the


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defences of this period overlie a deposit of iron oxide which took a long time to accumulate, and which in turn overlies the tumbled ruins of the burnt rampart.

In all probability, the most likely time for the destruction of the ramparts, if it was deliberate as we think, was the Romar Conquest. According to Tacitus (Annals, xii, 32), the Brigantes first revolted against the Romans in the time of Ostorius Scapula, c.A.D. 49, but, as he says, ‘‘the Brigantes subsided when the few who had taken up arms had been killed and pardon had been granted to the rest.’’ Such a mild rebellion was hardly likely to necessitate the destruction of the Brigantian citadel. During the time of Cartimandua, the Brigantes seem to have been on good terms with the Romans, for according to Tacitus (Histories, III, 45,) she ‘‘increased her power after she appeared to have been the instrument of Claudius’s triumph, having caught Caratacus by treachery. Hence came wealth, and the luxury of prosperity’’ And in the final revolt of the Brigantes, led by Venutius, after his quarrel with Cartimandua, who had _ forsaken him for his armour bearer, Vellocatus, ‘‘help was sought from the Romans; and our auxiliary cohorts and cavalry, by fighting of varied success at least rescued the Queen from danger.’’ But, as Tacitus puts it, ‘‘the kingdom was left to Venutius and war to us,’’ which sounds as though Venutius was left in effective control of his country, and presumably his defended sites, of which Almondbury was at least one, and probably, the most im- portant.

The destruction of Almondbury was hardly likely to be effected therefore until the defeat of Venutius and the subjugation of the Brigantes, which according Tacitus, was not before the time of Petilius Cerialis, 71-74 A.D.

After the fire, the inner rampart tumbled into ruins and they became overgrown. The question of whether all occupation of the site ceased at this time remains to be answered by future in- vestigation. Mr. Richmond’s suggestion that Castle Hill, Al- mondbury, might be equated to the Camulodunum of Ptolemy and the Ravenna Cosmography, is still attractive and it would be not in the least unusual to find evidence of late Roman, and post-

‘Roman occupation in a ruined hill-fort. All we at the mo-

ment, is that the inner rampart was not rebuilt after the fire until

.the twelfth century, A.D.

Stage V. fa) The Medieval Earthwork.

The twelfth century found the Norman, Ilbert de Laci, the friend and supporter of Sittenhen, in possession of Almondburv. and it was probably in his time that Castle Hill was again made into a defensive site.

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The adaptation of the prehistoric earthworks to the require- ments of a Norman military baron was ingenious in its simplicity. A shale bank was piled up on the overgrown ruins of the pre- historic inner rampart throughout its extent, to form an outer enclosure and defence for the medieval settlement. The trans- verse bank and ditch of the original promontory camp were re- suscitated to subdivide the enclosure into two baileys, while a vast new ditch was dug to isolate the southern end of the hill. This thus became a ring-motte, an oval enclosure defended by an earthen bank, the central flat space being used for dwellings of wood. The well or rubbish-pit of this ring-motte was discovered and partially excavated, but the outbreak of war prevented the completion of this somewhat difficult and dangerous task.

Plentiful finds of pottery Prot various points on, in, and under, the shale banks, the rubbish pit, and the occupation area within the ring-motte, enable us to say with some confidence that the medieval earthworks belong to the early twelfth century, I circa 1135-1154.

(b) The Medieval Curtain Wall.

Sometime after the initial medieval occupation, a curtain wall of dressed and mortared masonry was dug into the earthen bank of the ring-motte; (on the east side the wall survives, over looking the great ditch it has been removed by stone-robbers. ) Considerable quantities of pottery were found in a deposit con- temporary with the curtain wall. Mr. G. C. Dunning, F.S.A., our premier authority on medieval pottery, suggests that most of the pottery from the second, and stratigraphically later deposits, is similar in form and fabric to that from the first medieval de- posit, that is to say that it suggests the continuance of a single tradition without the introduction of any new elements, and that the bulk of it he would accept as belonging to the twelfth century. Mr. B. H. St. J. O’Neil, F.S.A., of H.M. Office of Works who speaks with considerable authority on the subject of medieval earthworks and castles, gives it as his opinion that the curtain- wall was not likely to have been erected before 1154, and if, as seems to be the case, it is a simple wall without external towers, it is not likely to have been erected after 1200 A.D.

(c) Medieval Stone Buildings.

Finally, stone buildings, or buildings with stone footings, were erected over the debris of the earlier buildings behind the curtain wall. The debris contained sufficient wood ash and fire-reddened earth to suggest that the original wooden build- ings were destroyed by fire.

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The paucity of glazed ware, and a reference in an Inquisition of Edward III of 1340 A.D. which implies that the Castle at Almond- bury no longer existed at that date, suggests that the site fell into disuse at the end of the 13th century, or in the early 14th, poss- ibly as a consequence of the extinction of the male line in the De Laci family in 1312, for Alice, the heiress, married Thomas, Ear! of Lancaster, whose interests, presumably, lay elsewhere.


Any excavation necessarily brings problems in its train, and I should like to take this opportunity of enumerating the principal tasks yet to be attempted before our work can be considered reason- ably nae I

(i) It is desirable to obtain. occupation-material ary with the original promontory camp.

(ii) To examine the undisturbed portion of the interior for evidence relating to occupation.

(In both the above tasks, we have some useful pointers as to where to begin our search.)

(iii) To examine the ‘‘annexe’’ which lies outside the main inner defences to the north-east of the hill.

(iv) To examine the outermost pair of banks shown on the plan. These have been noticed before, notably by Mr. Cocking in his excellent plan, which came near to demonstrating their real character, and as our plan shows, their relationship to all the other defences is sufficiently curious to call for explanation. They close the original northern entrance in a way that suggests that the latter could not have been in use when these outer defences were built. Similarly they enclose the annexe referred to above, as if tc protect it. In order to complete the story of the evolution of the defences at Castle Hill, it is essential they should be examined.

(v) Ideally, it would be desirable to complete the examin- ation of the medieval rubbish pit and the curtain wall, and to take away more occupation material from the medieval ring- motte and its associated buildings. I have no doubt that it would give the Tolson Memorial Museum the finest collection of rath and 13th century pottery in Yorkshire, but it would be a consid- erable undertaking.

(vi) Ultimately, it will be essential to examine the northern entrance to the prehistoric camp.


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1340 Medieval defences in decay,

1310 buildings within] Pottery, mostly cook- I Extinction of male line of curtain wall at south pots and bowls, contain- I de Laci. end. a small proportion of 13th c. glazed ware. 5c I 1200 Pottery, ancestral to above, all without glaze. 1154 sb Erection of curtain Wooden buildings with- Accession of Henry II. , wall on summit of earth ia aalk I bank. i 1100 55 Shale bank over ruined Wooden buildings with- Civil wars of Stephen’s prehistoric rampart; in ring-motte. 3 reign. two transverse ditches. 1066 Norman Conquest.

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FOUR, concerning which nothing more is yet known than that the prehistoric defences were overgrown ruins.

80 A. D.


st A.D.

an A.D.

20 A.Di| 2

56 B.C.

71 A.D. 3

Destruction of inner rampart by fire.

Erection of multivallate hill-fort of ‘‘western-


Transverse bank and ditch of simple prom- ontory fort.

Hearths behind inner rampart.

Temporary hearths on site of rampart during construction of ditch.

Republican coins, and fragments of Arretine


Quadrangular vessels.

Agrigolan forts at Slack and Castleshaw. Conquests of Petilius Cerialis.

Revolt(s) of Venutius Cartimandua surrenders Caratacus. Claudian Invasion. © Pre-Conquest trade

andy Romans.

Contacts between Yorks. and Somerset.

Spread of hill-forts along Welsh Marshes Phase 2. ifs Simple promontory forts in use in Pennines and Hambletons.

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Tasks (v) and (vi) are beyond the resources of labour and money available in war-time. Tasks (i)-(iv) are within the powers of a small group of voluntary workers, supplemented, possibly by the efforts of a couple of paid workmen; nor would they cost very much, If circumstances permit, it would be desirable to carry on in this reduced way, first, with the object of bringing our task, not to a conclusion, but to a point at which a sound foundation of

_ knowledge will have been laid; secondly, with the object of keep-

ing alive the interest and continuing the training of those of our team of workers who are still with us and to whom the future of archaeology will be entrusted in the happier days to come. Many of them are engaged in National Service, but have expressed their desire to spend their leave in this way. We all have an obligation to the future as well as to the past.

For my part, I should like to conclude this somewhat informal report, by expressing my appreciation of the privilege of being allowed to direct your excavations on this remarkable site, and my deep gratitude to all those who took part.


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