In a return almost as eagerly anticipated as your first coffee of the day, here is the second part of our Historic Environment Team’s top 10 countdown of archaeological sites in the National Park!
Remember, each team member was asked to pick two of their favourite landscapes, sites or finds, and then we had a team video call to decide our overall ranking. These picks are only our personal favourites but we thought it would be fun to share with you all. If you missed part 1 you can find it here. This time we will be looking at highlights six to four.
#6 Bolton Castle and its landscape
Described as “…a climax of English military architecture” (Pevsner 1973: 104), Bolton Castle was built at the end of the 14th century by the Scrope family (whose descendants still own it today).
It is a Grade 1 listed building and a scheduled monument, and has been involved or linked with several key events in British history – including the Pilgrimage of Grace, Mary Queen of Scots’ house arrest by the English and the Civil War. The castle’s imposing silhouette, which “…still gives something like the shock of power and menace…” is visible for miles around, an evocative image provoking thoughts of what it must once have been like to live and work in its shadow.
But it is not the castle itself that has earned it a place on this list – it is the fantastic landscape around it.
Landscapes are a vitally important part of the historic environment, forming the context that sites and finds should never be considered without. To the east lies the village of Castle Bolton, to the west and south-west lies the extensive agricultural field system and medieval quarry, and to the north and north-west lies Bolton Park and Bolton Park Mine.
The village of Castle Bolton in its current form was most likely built at the same time as the castle, or shortly after, but evidence suggests that a settlement may have existed in or around its current location before this point. The houses, built out of sandstone quarried from close to the edge of the village, were probably constructed by the Scrope family to house workers for the agricultural field system to the west and south west.
This field system is the result of perhaps hundreds of years of human activity. It is a complex area of landscape that includes built structures, livestock pens, plantations, lynchets, and ridge and furrow. It is an extremely finely preserved example – though its exact development is not yet fully understood.
Like many noble residences, the castle was associated with a park or series of parks, some walls of which still survive. The park was used to enclose (and sometimes hunt) livestock like deer and boar as well as valuable resources like timber and minerals. Hunting towers may have been built on the land to allow views of the park and act as look-out posts for any poachers.
The park also includes the Ellerlands Rabbit Warren, which is a large artificial warren made up of pillow mounds (various sized and shaped mounds of earth for the rabbits to burrow in). Such warrens were common features of deer parks, which in turn were once important and highly valued features of the Yorkshire Dales.
Also situated within the park is Bolton Park Lead Mine, one of many lead mines in the surrounding area (and, of course, one of hundreds of mining sites in the Dales as a whole). It was only in operation for a short period, but it managed to produce 1,400 tonnes of lead. Two settling ponds, a two-storey building (used as an office/shelter/store) and the remains of a reservoir, sluices and leats can be seen on the site.
#5 The Crosby Garrett Helmet
The Crosby Garrett Helmet is a late 2nd/early 3rd century copper alloy helmet found near the village of Crosby Garrett in 2010. The helmet is an incredibly rare find – perhaps only two other similar items have ever been discovered in Britain, and neither of them was as intact as this one. As such, it has been described as a find of “international significance”.
The helmet is in the style of a Phrygian cap and would have been used for ceremonial, rather than military purposes. The identity of the face remains debated – although the fact that the helmet appears to have been deliberately deposited, possibly when it was already an antique, may hold a clue.
After the helmet was discovered it was reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, but unfortunately the 1996 Treasure Act did not apply to it. This allowed the finder and landowner to sell it at auction. The Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery secured £1.7 million in funding (much of which was made of up donations from members of the public) and attempted a private settlement, but the helmet was eventually sold to a private collector for over £2 million.
The artistry and beauty of the helmet is undeniable, but it is the rarity of this object, along with the controversial circumstances of its acquisition by a private collector, that has given it a place on our list.
#4 Gamelands Stone Circle
Gamelands is an embanked stone circle in Cumbria. It is a prehistoric monument which consists of circa 40 boulders and three smaller stones arranged in a large slightly irregular circle between 43m and 38m in diameter. There are two gaps in the circle, although it is not clear if there was an entrance originally.
The schedule listing notes that most of the stones have fallen, and appear set into a low bank, although it is not known if they were all actually set upright originally. The stones, one limestone and the rest Shap pink granite, are probably glacial erratics. There is a length of bank on the southern side which continues beyond the circle and is also overlain by a later wall, which may be a later feature (Clare 2007: 106).
Stone circles are rare features nationally. They generally date to the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods, somewhere between c. 3000BC and 1500BC. It was most likely used for ritual activities, perhaps for marking important events, cycles (eg. passing of the seasons) and celebrations. Some stone circles were also used as places of burial.
The first recorded investigations at Gamelands in the 1880s included a detailed measured survey and some excavation (Bland 1881; Ferguson 1883).
No detailed records were published of the excavation, but it is recorded that two flints were found along with a buried stone slab found lying adjacent to one of the circles stones. This was interpreted as possible evidence that a cist (see Giant’s Grave) might have once existed in the centre and been disturbed by ploughing (Ferguson 1883: 184). Ferguson also notes that c.18 years previously the land was ploughed and some of the stones were removed, rolled into pits and buried, whilst others were blown up with explosives (1883: 183). There are two noticeable gaps in the circle today, and some of the stones still show evidence of attempts at their destruction.
More recently, Tom Clare has dismissed the perhaps over-optimistic interpretation of a central cist (Clare 2007: 105). He noted a slight palaeochannel leading east away from the circle with a slight depression at its centre, suggesting the site may have been situated close to a natural route through the landscape and constructed around a spring, rather than on nearby flat ground (Clare 2007: 105, 107). So the purpose of the site could be connected to the wider landscape significance as a gathering place and the importance of features like springs.
Despite previous damage it is one of the best preserved prehistoric monuments in the National Park. It is a scheduled monument of wider regional and national significance.
Well, that’s it for Part 2 of our Top 10 historic environment highlights. Hopefully, you are now looking forward to the final installment, where of course we will be revealing the winner of the coveted number one spot!
Remember that these are only our personal choices and favourites, they are not in any way a definitive or official list of the most significant features. See you soon for Part 3, heading to our blog site in the not too distant future.
By Dr Douglas Mitcham and Lily Mulvey
Sources and further reading
Please note: the main source used for information was the YDNPA Historic Environment Record (HER). Additional sources are listed below. We have done our best to access information and look up relevant sources. However, please keep in mind that due to the recent government restrictions, we have not been able to consult the physical HER or our reference library held at our offices in writing this blog.
Bland, F. 1881. A Link between two Westmorlands. Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society Volume 5: 24-25.
Clare, T. 2007. Prehistoric Monuments of the Lake District. Stroud: Tempus.
Ferguson, R.S. 1883. Stone Circle at Gamelands, Bland House Brow, Township of Raisbeck, Parish of Orton, Westmorland. Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society vol. 6: 183-185.
Pevsner, N. 1973 (2nd ed.). The Buildings of England, Yorkshire: The North Riding. Middlesex: Penguin Books Ltd.