Later Medieval

1066 – 1540 CE

The remains of the church of St Mary Magdalene, Doncaster (Jackson 1853; Doncaster Archives)


The following narrative broadly outlines the perceptions of the medieval period, nationally and regionally, much of the insight being drawn and inferred from historical analyses based upon the increased documentary evidence available from 12th century onwards. Since the 1950s archaeology has increasingly complemented the documentary sources towards a better understanding of the period.

The Norman Conquest saw the displacement of the Anglo-Saxon lords by the followers of William I, setting in motion a period of settlement change, the creation of new manorial units, the building of castles and the introduction of feudalism. A trend towards smaller secular manorial estates (needed to reward William’s followers), was mirrored in the administrative system of the church, where large pre-Conquest Minster churches were replaced with a system of smaller parishes, each with its own church. Consequently, many new churches were built in the early post-Conquest period, and there was also an increase in monastic foundations, as Norman lords invited new orders from the continent to establish themselves. The new order thrived throughout the 12th, 13th and early 14th centuries, which appears to have been a period of population growth, a trend that may well have started before the Conquest. Population growth at this time is regarded to be a consequence of agricultural success of the villages within the manorial system, operating a mixed economy that provided a high level of wealth. Rural populations are typically seen to have been concentrated in nucleated villages, although dispersed populations existed in more remote marginal and upland areas.

Many of the motte and bailey castles of the early Norman period did not develop, and high status was manifested in the halls and moated residences which became common in the 13th and early 14th centuries. Invariably these were part of manorial complexes that also featured a variety of ancillary structures, such as stock houses, barns, mills, malting houses, breweries, dovecots, kilns, gardens, yards, orchards and fishponds. The same range of structures will have existed at many monastic administrative centres and granges. Very wealthy lords also created formally bounded landscapes, with deer parks.

The successes in the countryside resulted in the evolution and growth of the towns from the 12th to early 14th centuries. These ranged from large regional administrative centres to local market towns, serving the surrounding agricultural villages. Nevertheless, whilst these centres were centres of population, they represented a small percentage of the overall population, which remained overwhelmingly rural. Towns became centres of trade and production, particularly for the widespread cloth and leatherworking industries, which accounted for the largest number of allied small-scale urban crafts and industries. The 13th century saw the establishment of urban friaries in many towns; established to provide support to the urban poor and merchant classes alike. However, by the late 13th century, the foundation and growth in towns is thought to have peaked, as key industries, such as cloth fulling and potting, relocated to the countryside, which itself suffered from a succession of poor harvests in the early 14th century.

The perceived downward trend in the early 14th century was compounded by the Black Death (1348–9), which is thought to have killed perhaps a third of the population. Many rural sites suffered severe depopulation and consequently many settlements were abandoned. Feudalism broke down and the control of the lords was weakened, as a diminished peasant labour force gained greater leverage. As more land became available there was a trend towards larger farm estates, and a transition to pasture for sheep farming as a more reliable source of income (given fluctuating corn prices), involving fewer workers – a development which resulted in further settlement shrinkage and/or abandonment. The Black Death had an equally marked impact on towns, which shrank in size and population from 1348, although some believe its impact may have been overestimated, and that the Black Death may have hastened a pre-existing trend in urban decay that a consequence of overcrowding and poverty. Decline was still occurring in the early 16th century, when the Dissolution of the 1530s provided that trend with additional impetus.

The degree to which the medieval evidence from South Yorkshire adheres to the above paradigms is unclear, the County’s medieval archaeology not having featured prominently in any previous national or regional assessments or research agendas. The Yorkshire Archaeological Research Framework (YARF) ‘Resource Assessment’ (Roskhams and Whyman 2005), notes that data for all periods is sparse for South Yorkshire, including most categories of medieval site. This view is adopted partly by comparison to West Yorkshire, which has similar topography and geology, and urban and industrial land use. Manors, halls, moats and ridge and furrow field systems are all documented within the South Yorkshire Historic Landscape Characterisation reports, in so far as they contribute to the character of the different landscapes, but this does not constitute a medieval appraisal. Whilst South Yorkshire has not had the benefit of the in depth research, as carried out mainly from documentary evidence for the rural landscape for the West Yorkshire (Moorhouse 1981), it should be noted that researchers have benefitted enormously from the work of David Hey, whose books provide excellent overviews of medieval South Yorkshire (Hey 1979; 1986; 2003; 2015).

Research Agenda

There is today a marked disparity between the levels of medieval urban and medieval rural archaeology being undertaken; there being, understandably, more resources committed to urban archaeology due to the greater levels of development taking place in the towns and cities. This is broadly true for South Yorkshire, although it would have to be admitted that it has not yet, with the exception of Doncaster, translated into anything like a clear archaeological understanding of the medieval towns, which remain seriously under-investigated. Schofield and Vince (1994, 205–11) present a 3-stage process in the investigation of medieval towns: 1) data gathering; 2) construction of chronologies; and 3) the study of specific activities. Doncaster apart, it could be argued that we are still at the data gathering stage – working towards constructing chronologies, for South Yorkshire’s medieval towns.

How the towns functioned within their rural hinterlands in itself begs a greater level of investigation of the medieval countryside, not least because this is where it has been estimated 90% of the medieval population resided. There does not appear, however, to have been even an earlier tradition for this in South Yorkshire, as Clarke’s (now out of date) distribution map of the excavation of DMVs reveals (Clarke 1984, fig. 9). The work on manorial and moated sites would seem to be only marginally better. Most proposed agendas for medieval rural archaeology have been considered for areas where there has been a significant amount of work already carried out (such as East Yorkshire and The Dales). With these areas in mind, Moorhouse (2003) has advocated a documentary-led survey approach to landscape history, looking at settlements as part of townships, which, to a degree, echoes the ideas of Hurst (1986, 235). However, Hurst saw research directed at whole landscapes as a culmination of study that had already seen the investigation of peasant houses, whole enclosures, and large-scale areas of different elements of villages. None of this has yet occurred in South Yorkshire. Such an approach will inevitably be a longer-term objective and Wrathmell (2003) has proposed starting with a geographical analysis of settlement type distribution, giving equal priority to investigating different types, that is ‘nucleated’, ‘dispersed’ or ‘merged’, although it should be noted that ‘dispersed’ and ‘merged’ categories particularly may take more than one form (Wrathmell 2018, 3). Establishing a better understanding of settlement types with regard to their topography, geology, soil and location, is an important beginning in understanding manors, and how the various manorial components worked together. Such an approach, which could then be followed by targeted multi-disciplinary investigations on a range of different types of sites, is probably more appropriate to South Yorkshire, where so little quality evidence is available.

Building chronologies for both rural and urban sites requires well-provenanced diagnostic data. Much of what has been identified as medieval in South Yorkshire is reliant upon pottery. The presence of the local pottery industries makes this particularly pertinent in also establishing distribution and trade patterns, but there must be an awareness of false chronologies created by residuality and those created without the endorsement of scientific dating techniques. Roskhams and Whyman (2007, 37) propose comparing artefact distributions relating to functional categories associated with specific industrial or craft processes, with respect to township units, which could provide insights into patterns of economy and trade. Such an approach seems somewhat idealistic for medieval South Yorkshire. For example, the poll tax returns for 1379 show high concentrations of weavers, fullers and tailors in South Yorkshire (see Moorhouse 2003, figs 55-7), which are not reflected in the archaeological record, and may well remain invisible.

Pottery apart, bulk assemblages that are most likely to be recovered, and that are important for gaining insights into life in both rural and urban contexts, at different social levels, are those of animal bones. Supposing that these can be securely dated, it is reasonable to expect to be able to comment upon the range of livestock being reared, their comparative sizes and usefulness for various tasks, culling regimes and, not least, diet and the exploitation of wild species. Fish bones are less commonly recovered, but are useful in revealing the types of fish being acquired for consumption from fishponds, river fisheries and as imported marine species, the products of an otherwise intangible medieval industry.

Much of what might be possible must viewed as long-term goals in South Yorkshire, and it remains to be seen just how much potential survives, particularly with respect to urban centres. More documentary research is essential, but more targeted site investigation is required. Ideally, large-scale multi-disciplinary projects (involving aerial reconnaissance, LiDAR, geophysical survey and earthwork survey in rural areas), which will provide excavations the scope to provide unequivocal data-sets towards building chronologies of growth and decay in both urban and rural settings. It is important that interpretations are not straight-jacketed by the conventional narrative for the medieval period, regarding the agents of urban and rural growth and decline, settlement economies, particularly the impact of the Black Death, for which there is little direct archaeological evidence. These trends surely occurred, but the evidence for what caused them, and to what degree, remains to be proven in South Yorkshire.


Following the Conquest the Normans acquired lands in South Yorkshire that had been held by some of the most prominent Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Scandinavian lords, including those of King Harold at Conisbrough. Military and political reorganisation saw three substantial castles built at Conisbrough, Sheffield and Tickhill, each castle controlling a new administrative area. The northern part of South Yorkshire fell into Staincross wapentake, and was part of the de Lacy honour of Pontefract (Hey 1979, 42). These three major castles all went on to develop stone phases by the later 12th century. However, there are also thirteen earth and timber motte and bailey castles which did not develop, and these may have gone out of use by the 13th century.

Motte and bailey castles

Conventionally, motte and bailey castles are viewed as a product of the late 11th century conquest period, although some will have had their origins in the civil war in the reign of Stephen (1135-54). Of the thirteen motte and bailey castle sites listed in the HER, with the exception of Bradfield and Thorne, their locations lie generally within a broad north-south corridor in the central part of the county, strategically positioned to control roads, river crossings and key settlements. Two of the sites, Beighton and Hickleton, have been totally lost, the latter to recent quarrying (Hey 1979, 45; Magilton 1977a, 49–50). Others have been encroached upon by development and have been partially destroyed (e.g. Kimberworth). Only three motte and bailey castles have received any notable archaeological investigation.


The motte and bailey castle at Doncaster was situated on the south bank of the River Cheswold, where it probably took advantage of the former defensive circuits of one of the former Roman forts (and perhaps the subsequent Anglo-Saxon burh). There is no documentary evidence to indicate when the castle was founded, and nothing to confirm that there was a motte, rather than just a ringwork. Assuming a motte had existed, it would appear to have been levelled in the early 13th century (Magilton 1977a, 36), possibly after the documented town fire in 1204 (Barber 2007, 5). By comparison, traces of bailey ditch could have survived until the 16th century, when Leland might have observed it (Toulmin Smith 1907, 34). It is difficult to evaluate the reliability of antiquarian observations, due to the ambiguity created by Roman remains and the scope for misinterpretation (Buckland et al. 1989, 86–7). There would not appear to be any evidence for a medieval stone phase, although this notion does persist due to a property boundary document of 1416, referring to the ‘castle wall’ (Barber 2007, 4). The motte is thought to have been located to the west of the present Minster, the plan of the bailey having been informed by a number of archaeological investigations between 1970 and 1994 (Buckland et al. 1989; Pollington 2007; n.d.).

Between 1970 and 1972 the line of the bailey ditch was detected at locations to the east, south and south-west of the church. The work revealed the ditch to have been almost 4m deep, 9.7m wide at the top and 3m wide at the base (Buckland et al. 1989, 88–90). It was the 12th– early 13th-century pottery found at this time that indicated that the castle had probably gone out of use early in the 13th century, consistent with a church having been constructed on the site of the flattened motte by c.1220 (Buckland et al. 1989, 98). Subsequent excavations on Frenchgate (Little 1986), and at Church Street (aka Askews Print Shop) in 1994 (Webster 1996; Chadwick et al. 2008, phase 3A, fig. 14), have also identified what was thought to be the castle ditch.

Peel Hill, Thorne

The site at Peel Hill, Thorne was evaluated in 1994 when it was concluded that there had been a high degree of disturbance to the medieval deposits (Atkinson 1994). This interpretation was further endorsed in 2008 when two trenches excavated to the south-east of the ditch, as part of a community excavation project, demonstrated severe truncation and residual medieval pottery occurring in 16th–18th-century deposits. The remains of a rectangular stone tower on the motte had been repaired in the 13th or 14th century, before being demolished in the 17th-18th century (Harrison 2010). The excavation of a trench though the moat has shown it to have been cleaned out regularly, with the earliest finds dating to the 14th century (Strafford 2018).

Laughton en le Morthen

A geophysical survey by Bishop Grosseteste University has identified a series of anomalies thought possibly to be elements of the Anglo-Saxon manorial residence, some of which seem to extend beneath, or are interrupted by, the motte and bailey earthworks. Excavation is proposed for April 2019 to try and ascertain the nature and date of these features (Duncan Wright pers. comm.).

Stone castles

Conisbrough Castle

The distinctive, and largely intact, cylindrical keep at Conisbrough was the focus of the stone castle built adjacent to the River Don by Hamelin Plantagenet in the 1170s. Much of the late 12th century curtain wall and the mural towers around the inner bailey remains intact and many of the late 12th century buildings within the bailey have been revealed through clearance and excavation. These include a hall, kitchen, service range and domestic quarters (hall and solar). The only additions, a chapel and barbican were made in the 13th century, with some further small additions in the 14th century. The relatively good preservation of this castle is largely due to it having been abandoned in the 15th century, so avoiding the ravages of the English Civil War. An outer bailey to the west does not appear to have been walled.

Excavations were carried out in 1968 and 1969 and between 1973 and 1977. The 1967–8 work is notable for the identification of a single-aisled hall (Thompson 1968; 1969). The 1973–77 investigations were focussed upon the gate towers and gate passage and the structures against the curtain wall immediately to the west of the gate. The latter revealed the remnants of mortar floors, rubble-filled pits and stake-holes. A chamber found on the west side of the gatehouse may have been a basement prison. Dating was mainly by pottery, the majority being later medieval. A sherd of late 11th-century pottery was recovered from the clay supporting the west gate tower (Johnson 1980, 67; Kenyon 1990, 136–7). There was little recognition of early pottery at the time of the excavations, but a recent reassessment has identified a significant quantity of Anglo-Saxon material (Cumberpatch and Young nd).

An external geophysical survey, to the south and west of the castle has identified a potential wall, a fishpond and buildings of unknown date and function. This work was carried out to inform an earthwork survey which identified putative evidence for pre-Conquest features, as well as those interpreted as being medieval and later (Johnson and Ambrey 2009). Small-scale monitoring of groundworks has generally only encountered residual pottery and animal bones (SYAU 1991a; Antoni 2005; Moretti 2010); the larger-scale investigation related to the new visitor centre in the outer bailey has identified deposits of 12th and 13th century date, which may be associated with the early outer bailey of the timber castle (Scurfield 2011; 2014).

A geophysical survey within the inner bailey has obtained responses that were thought could indicate the location of the 11th century bailey ditch and the motte, but interpretations were equivocal (Adcock 2011). This ditch was one of the archaeological targets of a three-year community archaeology project carried out in the inner bailey between 2014 and 2016. Small-scale trenching established the presence of a ditch, 4.3m wide and 1.58m deep, which produced pottery of 11th to 13th century date. This project also investigated various locations within the inner bailey with the aim of establishing the nature of the foundations of known walls, and the presence of unknown walls, as well as the presence and depth of archaeology in previously excavated and unexcavated areas. Generally, the archaeological deposits were found to be at a relatively shallow depth and to have high potential for future work. Also of note from this project is the recovery of two sherds of Anglo-Saxon pottery, as well as a Roman grey-ware sherd (Buglass 2015; 2016; 2017).

Tickhill Castle

Tickhill may be equated with a place called ‘Dadsley’ in the Domesday Book; a new Norman settlement attendant upon the castle established by Roger de Busli (Hey 1979, 47). The original motte and bailey castle was substantial, the earthworks of which are still largely intact. The outer bailey is defined by a massive rampart and deep outer ditch that holds water in its western and southern parts. The stone phase of the castle is represented today by a large Norman gatehouse, built in 1129–30 by Henry I, who had taken control of the honour 1102, since when the castle has belonged to the Crown. Documentary evidence indicates work on a stone keep on the motte, a stone bridge and a curtain wall constructed on top of the bailey rampart. The concentric stone footings of the (eleven sided) keep, along with a well shaft, are still visible on the motte. Apart from the gatehouse, the only extant medieval fabric is the western and northern stretches of curtain wall. This picture is broadly consistent with the drawing of c.1560, when the castle was recorded as being in poor repair. Following the defeat of Royalist forces holding the castle in 1648 the keep and much of the curtain wall was dismantled.

Very little reported archaeological work has been carried out at Tickhill Castle. An un-reported excavation, carried out in the 1980s or 1990s, produced a significant assemblage of pottery (now in Doncaster Museum), which may yet provide insights in the future. Otherwise, there is only the drawn and photographic record that was made of the masonry footings of the keep in advance of consolidation work (SYAU 1990). A more recent evaluation at Tickhill Cottages has provided the opportunity to investigate the southern part of the moat, which was excavated to a depth of 1m, for 2.83m of its width – a full profile was not obtained. The earliest pottery from the moat dated to 10th to 12th centuries, and dressed stone, thought to be from the curtain wall, was also recovered (Hunt 2018). The 2018 report alludes to archaeological excavations carried out in the 1960s and 1980s, which do not feature in the HER.

Sheffield Castle

A motte and bailey castle was allegedly built on the ruins of Waltheof’s hall in c.1100. This castle, sited at the confluence of the rivers Sheaf and Don, is thought to have been destroyed by fire in 1266 and replaced on the same site in c.1270 by a stone castle. Fifteenth-century documentary evidence records a ditched and walled inner bailey containing a great tower, a great hall, chapel, kitchen and bakehouse, prison and hospiteum. An outer bailey to the south contained barns, stables and a granary. During the English Civil War the castle changed hands several times and clearly suffered damage. It was slighted by Act of Parliament in 1648–49 and systematically dismantled. The castle site was subsequently lost to Sheffield’s industrial landscape, the site being occupied by a steelworks and slaughterhouse in the 18th and 19th centuries, before being cleared in the early 20th century to make way for the Castle Markets (SY HER 00242/01; Wessex Archaeology 2019).

The earliest formal excavations of the site, between 1927 and 1929, revealed parts of the curtain wall and the remains of the gatehouse and a drawbridge pier, as well as evidence for a rock-cut moat (Armstrong 1937). They also revealed the remains of a large timber building, thought at the time to be of Anglo-Saxon date, an interpretation which has since been reassessed and reinterpreted, as a 7m-long 13th century structure (Richardson and Dennison 2014). The site has been the subject of several assessments, observations and evaluations over the years, which have demonstrated the good survival of structural remains and the excellent potential for artefact recovery (Latham and Atkinson 1994; Davies and Symonds 2002; McCoy and Stenton 2009; Richardson and Dennison 2014; Dennison 2015; Cumberpatch 2014a; 2017; Bartlett and Brien 2013). The most comprehensive evaluation yet, carried out in 2018 (Wessex Archaeology 2019), involved ten trenches descending to depths of up to 4m, encountering the remains of earthworks, a rock-cut ditch, substantial stone remains and cobbled surfaces. Notable assemblages of artefacts were recovered, and, although much was of post-medieval date, there is good medieval representation from stratified deposits and ditch fills. Dating evidence in the form of 12th to 15th century pottery will eventually be supplemented by radiocarbon and other dating determinations. Animal bones, and charred wood and plant remains from 13th to 15th century deposits demonstrate excellent potential for environmental reconstruction.

Other castle sites

The smaller motte and bailey castles of South Yorkshire have seen little investigation. Consequently, they are largely undated and with unrealised potential. Thus, they assume a high priority for research, towards a better understanding of their function and role, whether that be in providing insight into the transition at the time of the Conquest (some are superimposed upon late Anglo-Saxon centres), or in providing evidence of the role of the fortifications during the Anarchy of Stephen (1135-54). The origins of the castles that went on to became the foci of medieval towns, are equally vague in terms of their chronology and development. Apart from perhaps Conisbrough, little has been done to understand landscapes of castles, in terms of their wider non-military relationships with their hinterlands.


  • To better understand of the chronology and status of castles, particularly with respect to their creation and their impact on pre-Conquest settlements;
  • The lay-out of both earth and timber, and stone castles, needs to be better understood, particularly their bailey areas. Identification of evidence for timber structures is a priority;
  • The landscape context of castles, and the influence they had on post-Conquest villages, manorial sites and town development, both geographically and through the economic pressures of provisioning them, is a high priority for future research;
  • Some castle ditches could have waterlogged ditch deposits with excellent palaeoenvironmental potential. An assessment is required to establish which ones have the greatest potential, focusing further research;
  • It is desirable to have an appropriate level of reporting carried out for previous un-reported work, such as the excavations at Tickhill in 1980/90.

Rural Settlement


The majority of South Yorkshire medieval villages were probably already in existence by the Norman Conquest, and feature in the Domesday accounts, their place-names often being indicative of their pre-Conquest origins (see Faull and Stinson 1986; Smith 1961; Hurst 1986, 204–5). 

Medieval village plans in the South Yorkshire region have not received specific detailed study, but are regarded as having been predominantly nucleated, either as a result of planning or infilling/merging of earlier more dispersed settlements. South Yorkshire falls almost entirely within Brian Roberts’ ‘Central Province’ of nucleated settlement, with more dispersed settlements in the western Pennine areas and eastern fenland margins (Roberts and Wrathmell 2002, figs 1.1, 1.2, 1.3). Further consideration of settlement form and distribution has been provided by the South Yorkshire Historic Landscape Characterisation Project, although the general impression remains little changed. 

The highest density of population in the 11th to 13th centuries seems to have been on the fertile soils of the northern Magnesian Limestone, where completion for land was high and parishes consequently small, with little scope for expansion (Hey 2003, 161). The 13th-century consequently saw rural expansion into marginal and waste lands, reflected in both documentary references to assarting and certain place-names. This process is thought to have been checked by the 14th-century recession, and the Black Death, but to have resumed in the 15th century when suitable arable land was in short supply (Hoskins 1988, 67; Hey 2003, 158–9).

Documentary evidence (principally taxation assessments and returns from the 13th and 14th centuries), reveal how villages, saw a period of great success in terms of population increase, expansion and in development as commercial centres, many competing with larger towns. For example, some of the biggest medieval market centres in terms of trading privileges and taxation were Hooton Pagnell and Campsall, the latter paying the fourth highest tax in South Yorkshire in 1334 (Hey 1979, 65; 2003, 152).

The nationally documented arable and livestock disasters, between 1315 and 1322, are regarded as having been particularly severe in South Yorkshire (Hey 2003, 151). This saw the regional economy go into decline well before the Black Death, which in many cases resulted in the abandonment, or contraction of villages already weakened by the earlier 14th-century recession (Hey 1979, 79; 2003, 151, 156). As well as the 14th-century recession and plagues, and the subsequent later medieval evacuations for sheep pasture, Beresford and Hurst (1971, 4–8) considered the possibility of early medieval desertions, due to the Conquest, the civil wars of 1135-54, and depopulation caused by monastic grange farming in the 12th century.

Medieval farming is thought to have been mixed with grain cultivation taking place alongside cattle and sheep rearing for dairying and beef and wool and mutton respectively (Hey 2003, 160). The supposed decline in arable farming is reflected in Roberts and Wrathmell’s view of South Yorkshire as an area of predominantly stock fattening, horse breeding dairy, fishing and fowling by 1500–1640 (Roberts and Wrathmell 2002, fig 3.1), reflecting the gradual conversion of land to pasture following the recessions that started in the 14th-century (e.g. Hoskins 1988, 116, 124, 140).

Nucleated villages were typically surrounded by a 3-field regime of cultivation rotation (one field fallow) of intermingled strip fields, the demesne land of the lord being contained within these strips. A system known as solskifte (sun-division), ensured that land was divided equally between the farmers, so that all had a share (collectively an oxgang) of the good quality land and a mixture land that lay towards the sun, and land that lay towards the shade. The earliest documentary evidence for a 3-field system in South Yorkshire relates to Wadsworth, on the Magnesian Limestone, in c.1240, whilst evidence for solskifte may be seen at Harthill (Hey 2003, 161–2).

Detecting medieval villages can be difficult, especially ones that did not become abandoned, and have since been enveloped by modern development. One such is Arksey, where excavation has revealed property boundaries and associated features relating to two medieval tenements. The ditches, gullies, sub-dividing post-hole alignments and particularly the pits, have produced significant assemblages of animal bone, metal-working waste, waterlogged plant remains and a pottery assemblage that indicates two main phases of property organization: 10th to 14th centuries and 14th to 17th centuries (NAA 2005). It is conceivable that the 14th-century hiatus seen at Arksey are associated with the aforementioned mid-14th-century disasters, but much more data is needed before it can be certain that this phenomenon is represented widely in the archaeological record.

Surviving villages, which have not expanded significantly from their original medieval cores, often display their medieval origins through the remains of their fields, in the form of ridge and furrow plough strips. These may still be extant as earthworks, or visible on air photographs or in geophysical data, even if flattened. Medieval ploughing was carried out on a clock-wise spiral that produced a reverse ‘S’ plan and strips up to 7m wide, that is distinctive from the straighter and narrower post-medieval ridge and furrow regimes that predominate in the lower lying north-eastern part of the county. Deserted medieval villages (DMVs) will invariably have some evidence of their open fields, houses, house platforms, fishponds and roads or hollow-ways preserved as earthworks. In some instances a DMV will be indicated by an isolated medieval church or moated site.

When Beresford and Hurst published their gazetteer of DMVs known up to 1968, only 10 of the 75 sites recorded for the West Riding lay in what is now South Yorkshire (Beresford and Hurst 1971, 211–2, fig. 13). More sites have been identified since the 1960s, the HER listing 18 DMVs and 21 shrunken medieval villages (SMVs), many of the new sites the result of Magilton’s work in Doncaster District (Magilton 1977a). In addition there are four effectively lost medieval villages, although their general locations are known, giving a total of 43 sites.

The majority of DMVs lie in the central part of the county, on, or close to the Magnesian Limestone, to the north of the River Don (Hey 2003, 157). This pattern reflects a similar distribution in Late Iron Age and Romano-British exploitation of the limestone, although elsewhere there seems to be no evidence for correspondence between earlier regimes of land division and later medieval ones. The higher Magnesian Limestone to the south of the Don seems to have remained more wooded in Roman and medieval times (as suggested by place-names), and less attractive to the lower adjacent areas of the sandstone geologies. Such avoidance seems to be reflected in the pattern of ridge and furrow regimes near Maltby and Edlington, which appear to stop abruptly at the edge of the limestone geology (Roberts et al. 2010, 83-5, figs 103, 107).

Of the 43 known sites only three have received any archaeological investigation, which has achieved little towards advancing our knowledge of the sites, or their potential. Geophysical survey and field walking have been conducted at Scawsby and Newton (ASWYAS 1998;1999; Wheeldon 2011), with the only excavation work being at Long Sandall, where a trial trench evaluation found a large rectangular pit, that yielded 12th–14th-century pottery and charred wood and plant remains, which it is assumed was associated with the SMV there (Wessex Archaeology 2015). Additional lost settlement sites may still be added to this total, e.g. evidence for 12th-14th century settlement was found during sewer refurbishment works near Rough Wood, Firbeck, for which no documentary reference has been found (Trent and Peak Archaeological Unit, 2001, The Discovery of a Medieval Settlement Focus in Firbeck Parish

Ridge and furrow earthworks feature regularly in the HER, in association with both DMVs and SMVs, but also with manorial sites. These agricultural regimes have not been the subject for any archaeological investigation, but others have been detected incidentally during geophysical surveys and earthwork surveys. These cannot generally be equated with any of the known deserted or shrunken settlements, and could therefore relate to concealed (over-built) medieval settlements or manorial centres (see also ‘Field Systems’ below). Portable Antiquity Scheme (PAS) data might increasingly prove useful in identifying the locations of lost rural village sites, particularly those of a dispersed nature, although not, as things stand, on a county-wide basis. At present PAS coverage has a distinct bias to Doncaster District, to which 83% of the reported finds are attributed, almost certainly reflecting metal detectorists’ activity areas. The majority of the reported finds are naturally metal finds, which reflect casual losses of a mainly affluent domestic nature.

By virtue of Domesday we are provided with a view of the relative values and populations of the main rural settlements at the time of the Conquest, but apart from those settlements which became urban, there is little evidence from which to chart settlement history during the medieval period. Clearly some villages became deserted, shrank or migrated, but many more continued to form the cores of modern settlements. Remarkably, we know so little about any of them archaeologically that there can be no proper debate about how, when and why South Yorkshire’s medieval villages’ fortunes fluctuated.


  • To map the pattern of the different types of settlements, prior to considering their individual histories of growth, decay, migration, abandonment or continuation. A combination of documentary, cartographic and field survey would inform a targeted programme of LiDAR, enhanced earthwork survey, geophysical survey and excavation work. Investigation of the histories of villages that were based around castles or churches, or became monastic granges, may reveal important differences in their development;
  • Dispersed settlements could represent a higher proportion of the medieval settlements of the county than is currently thought. Isolated farmsteads of potential medieval origin should be investigated, particularly in upland areas where extractive industries were located;
  • A programme of trial trenching at selected sites, both abandoned rural settlements, and those within suburban village cores, will be useful for establishing the survival of medieval archaeological deposits, their depth, and their potential and date range. Test pitting through community archaeological projects in modern villages with medieval predecessors may be able to assist in this;
  • Only larger-scale excavations are likely to provide information about the changing lay-out of medieval rural settlements, the range of peasant buildings, and whether there was a change to the economic base of the village over time (using functional analysis of artefacts, statistically viable animal bone assemblages and, where possible, preserved plant remains).

Manorial sites

Manors varied in size and character. The estate centres of the great lords will have originally been castles, the lesser ones often being succeeded by moated sites. The breaking up of larger estates into sub-manors in the 12th century saw lesser lords creating small manorial centres to emulate those of the upper echelons in society, whilst Norman grants to monasteries resulted in granges that to all intents and purposes mirrored the secular manors. Only the most powerful and wealthiest lords had the ability and resources to develop their manorial centres in an exclusive way, beyond the mixed farming economy. This saw the creation of aristocratic hall houses with associated out buildings and barns, often with adjacent deer parks, and opportunities to supplement income through commercial enterprises such as milling, fisheries and mineral extraction. Thirty manorial sites and manor houses are recorded in the HER, the majority (15), being in Doncaster District, and over half of them moated.

Relatively little work has been carried out towards a better understanding of the early development of manorial complexes, how they functioned and how they were laid out. Such sites have the potential for a rich diversity of evidence that could provide insights into the changes in the medieval rural economy. Few timber-framed structures relating to manorial sites are known.


  • To achieve a better understanding of the early development of the manor and manorial estate is needed, and to gain a better understanding of manorial complexes, and changes to them over time;
  • There is a need to try and reconcile documentary records, particularly those which exist for monastic estates, with the archaeological evidence;
  • An assessment of upstanding structures at surviving manorial sites would increase knowledge about hidden timber-framed buildings and provide scope for dendrochronology;
  • An assessment of any surviving excavation archives from the unreported work at manorial sites (Kimberworth, Hatfield, Thornhill and Orgreave), will help inform a strategy for future investigations;
  • It desirable to have the un-reported work at Thundercliffe Grange, Thornhill Manor and Wath appropriately reported.

Houses (see also Secular Buildings)

The majority of surviving houses are of high social status and of timber-framed construction. Stone houses are mainly found in the upland areas of the Pennines, or in first-floor hall houses associated with defence. There was little use of bricks (Ryder 1982b, 128; Hey 1979, 105. Ryder has outlined the principal house types of the county, which apart from the 12th-century first floor stone halls, are timber-framed forms (post-and-truss and cruck-frame design), of 14th and 15th-century date. The remains of early timber-framed halls are rare and fragmentary, whilst stone use in the 14th and 15th-century is uncommon and restricted to larger manorial establishments and monastic houses. Many medieval timber houses are difficult to detect externally because their wattle and daub walls and jettied frontages have been walled-up. In many cases, confirmation of documented dates has been achieved by dendrochronology.

The investigation of manorial sites should also take into account the work carried out at moated sites (below). Although over 20 investigative events have taken place in medieval manorial complexes, or different elements of them, only a small number have provided significant archaeological evidence. The archives of five older investigations, carried out in the 1980s and 1990s (at Kimberworth Manor House, Hatfield Manor House, Hatfield Manor Garden, Thornhill Hall, and Orgreave Hall), could hold interesting data, but do not appear to have been fully reported. A number of other investigations (at Owston Hall, Aston Hall, Scawsby Hall, Todwick Manor House, Thorpe in Balne, and Bentley Old Hall), have all proved to be of limited value, producing either late post-medieval material or nothing at all. Building Recording episodes at Barbot Hall Farmhouse (RCHME 1991), New Hall Farm, Ardsley (AOC 2005), and Swaithe Hall Farm (Landward Archaeology 2000), have only been able to date the houses with any certainty to after 1500. Arguably the most useful contributions have come from the excavations at Barnburgh Hall, Sprotborough, Laughton en le Morthen and Bolsterstone.

Barnburgh Hall

An open area excavation revealed five phases of activity. The earliest activity was of Roman date. There was no evidence for continuity into the medieval period which, was represented by the post-holes and associated features of a medieval timber-framed building, which was replaced by a late medieval stone-walled structure (ASWYAS 2005b).


Activity dating from the mid-12th to the early 13th centuries was principally represented by the stone rubble foundations of a high status rectangular building, which contained a stone-lined well (Fenton-Thomas 2007).

Laughton en le Morthen

Excavations have revealed a number of linear ditches, a number of pit/post-hole features representing a rectangular timber structure, and two kilns (dated to the 12th–13th century and 13th–14th century respectively). A wattle and daub kiln of Anglo-Saxon date was also present. The numerous find reflected everyday activity, but also the high status occupancy of the nearby manor house (Roberts et al. 2006; Roberts and Rose 2007).


Tradition has it that there was a castle here, although there is, as yet, no evidence to support this. Recent excavations in the village have identified elements of what appears to be a high status residence, possibly a fortified manor house, dating to between the 13th and 16th centuries (Merrony et al. 2009).

Thundercliffe Grange

Several seasons of excavations by Rotherham Archaeology Society in the 1980s and 1990s have gone unreported. Some of the substantial masonry remains are thought to be associated with the grange built by the monks of Kirkstead. A geophysical survey has identified magnetic anomalies consistent with kiln sites, possibly forges from which the site allegedly derives its name (Whitely and Cumberpatch 1994; France 2000).

Moated sites

Thirty-three moated sites are listed in the HER, the majority being concentrated on the clays and glacial drifts in the north and eastern parts of Doncaster District (Hey 1979, 78; Roberts and Wrathmell 2002, fig. 2.12). Le Patoruel (1973) has dated virtually all moats to the period 1250–1325, largely on the basis of documentary evidence, as they gradually succeeded motte and bailey castles as manorial centres, and became fashionable with minor lords and monastic institutions as a matter of prestige, rather than security. Few could be regarded as having been well defended, but some contained fortified houses (Ryder 1982b, 108). In so far as we understand them, moats seem too have enclosed a range of structures, depending upon their status and function (including houses, farm and ancillary buildings, and fish ponds), but too few of these documented structures and features survive to ascertain what might be regarded as the norm. The moat at Thorpe in Balne enclosed a farm and a Norman chapel-of-ease. Other notable examples include Tankersley, which enclosed a rectory and a glebe farm (and originally a manor house); Langthwaite, where the moated site replaced an adjacent motte and bailey castle; Langliffe, which is a converted motte and bailey castle; and Braithwaite, a former grange of Lewes priory, enclosing a stone hall recorded in 1427, of which only one arch remains extant, whilst the moat at Warren Hall, Sykehouse is thought to have enclosed a hunting lodge of the de Warrens. Oher good examples exist at Bentley, Tilts and Fenwick (Hey 1979, 78–9; 1986, 97–8). Only eight of the known sites have been subject to any archaeological investigation, the results of which have been variable. 

By virtue of their nature moats should have good potential for palaeoenvironmental analysis; however, no comprehensive survey has been carried out. The moat at Fenwick was included in the Historic England ‘Heritage at Risk: Humber Pilot Study for Moats’, which saw its south-eastern corner cored, but was, disappointingly, deemed to have no potential (Hammon 2015). Generally, observations and small-scale excavations have provided few notable insights. Some of the best results have been achieved at Thorpe in Balne, where a trial trench has encountered undated wall footings and cobbled surfaces, although residual pottery is indicative of occupation in the Middle Saxon period, the late 11th century and the late 13th century (Rowe 2008). A subsequent watching brief showed that the moat had been cleaned out and revealed earthwork and stone wall remains surviving on the moat platform, in disturbed deposits sealed by considerable post-medieval dumping and ground levelling (Jobling 2016). The most investigated moated site, at Wath upon Dearne, has been the subject of two geophysical surveys (SYAU 1991b; ASWYAS 2005a) and trial trenching. The trenching has been able to confirm the lay-out of the moat and found archaeological deposits sealed by a rubble fill, but has been unable to date the structures detected (Lee and Signorelli 2006; Scott Wilson 2006). It seems likely that the unreported 1978 excavations at Wath, which found part of a kitchen block with evidence for 15th-century ovens, was also within the moated area. Elsewhere, small-scale investigation at Roundabout Moat, Arksey, and at Bentley, have found evidence of medieval occupation and have highlighted the varying potential of moats; Arksey’s having good organic survival, whilst Bentley’s has been partly lost to a refuse tip (Sydes 1989; Davies 1996).

Moated sites appear to be one of the more vulnerable rural sites, often being encroached upon by development and detrimental landscaping. If not compromised, moats have the potential for well-preserved waterlogged deposits preserving important medieval organic material. Well-dated organic deposits will help answer questions about the date and range of uses moated sites were used for, and could be particularly important for those that were manorial sites. Preserved organic remains also offer the potential for comparison with other sites (moats, defensive and urban sites) where similar preservation occurs. Small-scale in investigation with the interiors of moats has proved the existence of structures, but the lay-out and range of the buildings are largely unknown.


  • A condition survey of moated interiors would inform a programme of geophysical survey and trial trenching that would help determine the dates of the development of building complexes, functions, lay-outs and subdivisions;
  • An up-to-date field assessment would inform a programme of coring and/or excavation to prioritise moated sites for palaeoenvironmental assessment and future research. Such work might also produce samples for a programme of scientific dating so that those sites with deposits that are demonstrably medieval might be afforded greater protection.


The number of timber-framed barns existing in South Yorkshire is unknown. Like houses, they have invariably been externally clad in the post-medieval period and so are difficult to identify. Most are of late medieval date, although lacking in specific documentary references, and therefore they can also be difficult to date without the employment of scientific dating techniques. The HER only records seven barns, three of which relate to the conversion of medieval stone chapels. Of the five investigation events relating to medieval, four relate to barns of post-medieval date, which may have had earlier origins. Of note is the dendrochronological date for the manorial barn at Whiston, whose original timbers have been dated to between 1233 and 1252 (Tyres 2002).


Dovecots were maintained at most medieval manors, and monastic house or granges, to provide additional meat, eggs and dung. They do not survive in great numbers, but 12 are known for South Yorkshire; five at monastic sites. Some are only know from documentary references and place-names, and few are accurately dated. No specific archaeological work has been carried out associated with medieval dovecots in South Yorkshire.


Most manorial sites, secular and monastic, had fishponds for the provision of fresh fish, as an alternative to meat for religious observance. Twelve fishponds sites are recorded within the HER; five at monastic locations. They are known mainly from documentary and cartographic references, and as surviving earthworks. Recent discoveries have been made through contour survey at Blue Man’s Bower (WYAS 1995), and geophysical survey at Conisbrough Castle (Johnson and Ambrey 2009). Only one fishpond, at North Anston, has been the subject of excavation – a limited trial trench excavation following an RCHM survey and magnetometer tests. The trenching produced pottery dating back to the 14th century, but little evidence of the structure, with no mention of the environmental potential (Crossley 1966). 

Field Systems

The most evident remains of medieval field systems are the ridge and furrow earthworks which are a legacy of the communal open strip field regimes surrounding nucleated villages, although many been destroyed by subsequent post-medieval ploughing. In the majority of cases these have been identified from air photographs, which, in having limited coverage, means that our understanding of the extent of ridge and furrow regimes, or indeed the settlements that they were associated with, is incomplete. Medieval ridge and furrow regimes have also been found incidentally through woodland or geophysical surveys, or can be implied by their distinctive reverse ‘S’ plans (created by ploughing on a clockwise spiral, necessary for the turning of the oxen), being reflected in subsequent mapped field boundaries (e.g. Norton; Roberts et al. 2010, 80). No comprehensive documentary or field investigation has been undertaken to investigate the ridge and furrow regimes of South Yorkshire, and therefore they can only be dated generally to the medieval period, and pre-Conquest origins may only be surmised through parallels with the work undertaken in the East Midlands (see Lewis 2006).

Irregular field systems are even less well understood, and are invariably identified from early mapping. Their creation up to the mid-14th century is thought to have been slower, partly as the product of extensive incremental assarting of the waste and woodlands on the edges of nucleated field systems, or the exploitation of detached, more marginal, lands of the Pennine foothills. They are often associated with dispersed settlements, resulting in detached assarts, linked by winding lanes through the waste. Sometimes such enclaves are implied by anomalous enclosure complexes within later expanded field systems.

Medieval field systems in South Yorkshire have not received investigation in their own right, and their understanding is generally by proxy, relying upon work carried out elsewhere. Their mapping and investigation has been variable, yet, as elsewhere, they should be an important potential element in understanding landscape transition, particularly that which followed the late Roman period, and the impact of the catastrophes of the mid-14th century. 

There is little or no evidence for continuity from the enclosed ditched field systems of the late Roman period to the open field regimes of the medieval period, in the way that can be demonstrated for the post-medieval enclosures. Nor is there any proper understanding of how field systems may have changed to reflect the upheavals of mid-14h-century population change and farming practices. Essentially this is largely an issue of determining chronology, which is problematic for unenclosed (i.e. un-ditched) land holdings, without a receptacle (ditch) for accumulating undisturbed archaeological deposits and artefacts – the finds from the repeatedly churned plough soils of ridge and furrow understandably offering only broad chronologies for medieval usage. 

Building up a comprehensive plan of the extent and pattern of medieval field systems is an essential pre-requisite to devising a strategy for further research. At a very fundamental level this should imply the existence of a settlement in the vicinity, or even clearly show its core(s) through the presence of anomalous areas and trackways within the filed systems (as has been the case at Fenwick, Kirk Sandall and Scawsby). 

As well as documentary/cartographic searches and conventional air photography, the employment of LiDAR and earthwork surveys must be employed more routinely to detect and record extant evidence (particularly in woodlands), whilst cropmark plots and geophysical surveys, complimented by field walking and metal detecting, offers complimentary methods of detecting ploughed out ridge and furrow field systems.


  • A programme of work is required to map the extent and nature of field systems associated with known medieval villages, and those without known associations as a predictive tool for identifying possible locations of unknown villages.LiDAR
  • The date of use of medieval ridge and furrow field systems is only broadly understood, and often supposed. Complimentary multi-disciplinary survey techniques should be used to identify excavation targets that have the potential for providing better chronological data: for example features that are unequivocally overlain by the field system, or which clearly cut or truncate it.

Parks, Woodland and Rural Industry

Deer Parks

Eight of the medieval deer parks in South Yorkshire are represented on the post-medieval maps of Christopher Saxton (1577) and John Speed (1610), although the HER contains references to 27 parks. The largest deer parks, at Sheffield and Conisbrough, possibly pre-date the Conquest, but the majority of parks came into existence under royal licence in the 13th and 14th centuries. The earliest documentary references to most of the South Yorkshire deer parks is in the early 14th century. Deer parks were not just seigniorial status symbols for aristocratic recreation, but important facilities which provided and additional income. The lords’ exclusive right to hunt in their demesnes was reinforced by the enclosing of parks with a bank and internal ditch, topped by a timber fence or palisade (pale), hedge of stone wall. Features of the deer parks included hunting lodges, deer leaps, fish pond, and warrens. They were also an important source of building timber and charcoal. In addition parks would be used for cattle and sheep grazing and pannage. By the late medieval and early post-medieval periods these formally bounded landscapes were also a source of raw materials, such as stone, ironstone and coal. Many medieval deer parks ceased to exist in the post-medieval period, but their associated features are often reflected on old maps and in place-names.

Some deer park boundaries, or elements of them, survive visibly in the modern landscape as earthworks or as land boundaries. Targeted archaeological excavations of such have not taken place in South Yorkshire, although work that may have involved deer park boundaries has been circumstantial and mainly the consequence of speculative interpretation of linear features, often of unproven date. Such is the case for sites at Balby Carr (Webb 2004; Brown 2005), Conisborough Cemetery (Milstead 2011) and The Moor, Sheffield (Gregory 2009). Hunting lodges are documented in association with several parks, though only the site of Manor Lodge in Sheffield, first mentioned in the 15th century, has seen any excavation work. Disappointingly four episodes of investigation have failed to find evidence earlier than the 16th century (SYAU 1991c; McCoy 2009; Wessex Archaeology 2010; 2011). It is, however, possible that more useful information might yet be extracted from the archives of the un-reported excavations carried out in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s under the auspices of Sheffield City Museum.

Rural Industry

Medieval extractive industries for stone, coal and iron ore are either documented, or implied from earthworks at several sites, invariably manorial and monastic holdings, although without excavation dating is often a problem. Moreover, as many of the mines and quarries of the medieval period usually expanded during the post-medieval period, they are effectively lost. Much of the most recent evidence has come from historic woodland surveys, particularly the HLF-funded ‘Fuelling the Revolution’ project, which has provided good evidence for woodland management and associated woodland industries dating back to the medieval period.


The approximate locations of medieval stone quarries might be established through a combination of documentary research and geological identification from medieval stone buildings, as only a handful of potential stone quarries can be identified on the ground. We know from documentary sources that there were a number of medieval stone quarries on the Magnesian Limestone, especially to the north of Doncaster. Limestone from this area was prized and was regularly provided for prestigious building projects in the south of England. In 1395 stone from a quarry at Marr was used to heighten Westminster Hall, and to repair royal manors in 1444. In 1417 ships were sent to the north, including to Doncaster, to fetch stone for the construction of Sion Abbey, whilst in 1513 Hampole stone was being used for the porches of King’s College chapel (Salzman 1952, 131). 

A group of quarries whose locations are known are the millstone quarries which lie on the Burbage Moors on the western boundary of South Yorkshire (Bevan 2006). These, in fact, are dated to the 16th century, but it might be reasonable to suppose extraction in the late 15th century.

Iron and Coal

Ironstone extraction and furnaces are documented or inferred from earthworks and surface finds at a number of sites, such as Kirkstead Abbey Grange, High Wood, Kexborough and Burbage Brook, Sheffield. At Burbage Brook mounds of bloomery slag and a hearth have been found, and although these are attributed to the medieval period, they remain undated (Welsh 1979). Excavations at three other sites (Ecclesfield, Wales, and Wortley Low Forge) has, however, produced pottery evidence that confirms their operation in the medieval period. (Atkinson 1993b; Merrony 1990; Scurfield 2009), whilst a site at Brampton, has produced evidence of a bloomery that has been radiocarbon dated to c.AD 1000 (Network Archaeology 2002).

The extraction and use of coal in the later medieval period was probably widespread on the coal measures in the western part of South Yorkshire, but relatively few records exist to attest to this, such as the record of three deaths during coal mining at Silkstone and Masbrough in the 13th century. Coal pits are mentioned in 14th-century deeds at Cortworth, Nether Haugh and Silkstone, while 15th-century records refer to coal mining in Sheffield Park and at Grenoside, Roherham, and Greasborough (Hey 2015, 175). Some of the earthworks in Buck Wood, Sheffield have been interpreted as coal prospection pits, whilst coal was present with the slag found at the Wales site (Merrony 1990). Coal was also one of the fuels used in lime kilns (e.g. Salzman 1952, 150; Blair and Ramsay 1991, 203), and it is not surprising that coal should have been found in one of the lime kilns found at Sandy Lane Bramley (Howell and Morris 1999). Coal also believed to have been used to fuel some local late medieval pottery kilns (Hey 1986, 84; Cherry 1991, 203), although no definite archaeological evidence has for this has been reported. Bell-pits are known at several locations in South Yorkshire, although their date is unknown. Such pits in the parks of Tankersley and Worsley (for coal and ironstone extraction) are thought to date from the post-medieval period (Hey 1975; 2015), but it is highly likely that at these, and at some of the other sites, coal extraction began in the late medieval period.


Charcoal was particularly important to the iron smelting process, and was the only fuel used in furnaces until the 18th century. Earthworks at Bradfield, Buck Wood and West Haigh Wood have been interpreted as terraced platforms for medieval charcoal burning, but both this function and their date remains notional, and it would appear that no medieval sites of this type have been confirmed in South Yorkshire.


Lead was an important building material that was mined and smelted in the Pennine region of South Yorkshire, from where it is known to have been transported down river, on the River Idle from the port at Bawtry in the 14th century. Three lead working sites are recorded in the HER, although only that at Howden Clough has been dated. Here, the remains associated with smelting to create lead pigs has been dated to the early 13th century (Archaeological Service Peak National Park 1997). Lead smelting is also thought to have been carried out at Abbeydale, Sheffield, although details and date are unknown, and at Lodge Moor, Ughill, where mounds of slag and some evidence of burning have been recorded with the aid of geophysical survey, but a medieval date is only assumed (Vernon and Powell 2016).

Lime kilns

Lime was essential for building in stone (cement), as well as having a role in the tanning process (hair removal) and an agricultural use in combatting acid soils. Lime kilns are occasionally mentioned in documents, usually in relation to the construction of high status buildings, but their temporary nature, and mundane purpose, is counter to regular and detailed referencing. The kilns do however leave a lasting imprint on the ground and, whilst they are generally found by serendipity, they are significant features with dating potential. Eight lime late medieval kilns have been excavated in South Yorkshire – seven of them at Sandy Lane, Bramley. At Bramley, radiocarbon and archaeomagnetic determinations have provided dates of last firings for two of the kilns as 1546 and 1535 (Staddon and Webb 1993; Howell and Morris 1999). The Bramley kilns were probably producing lime for agricultural use, as there was no evidence for a structure nearby. However, another lime kiln, at Barnburgh Hall, was almost certainly producing lime for building work. An archaeomagnetic date in the range AD 1590 to 1625 for the last firing suggests that this kiln might have been operating at the very end of the medieval period (ASWYAS 2005b). Interestingly, neither of these kilns lie on the limestone geology, both being on the adjacent sandstone to the west.


The cloth industry was mainly carried out in the towns, but in the late medieval period the fulling process, mechanised by mills, moved outside the urban areas. The South Yorkshire HER records the existence of four fulling mills dating to the 14th century; at Nether Walk Mill Sheffield, Oxspring, Monk Bretton and Sprotborough. The earliest documented fulling mill is Walk Mill, Sheffield, which is first recorded in c.1250. No archaeological investigations have taken place at a medieval fulling mill site.


Parks were an important component of a lord’s estate, both recreationally and commercially, but relatively little investigative work has taken place to identify and date associated features and the sites of the industries that took place within them.

  • Carry out systematic interrogation of LiDAR data, in tandem with air photography, documentary search and cartographic analysis to identify potential earthwork locations for field assessment;
  • To identify and date deer park boundaries and associated features (e.g. lodges);
  • To identify ironworking sites with dated evidence for roasting and smelting processes;
  • To obtain more documentary and archaeological evidence for medieval coal extraction and its uses;
  • It is desirable to have a reports repaired on the excavations carried out at Sheffield Manor Lodge in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Urban Settlement

On the basis of the values recorded in the Domesday survey, the largest pre-Conquest settlements in South Yorkshire were Hexthorpe (Doncaster), Dadsley (Tickhill), Laughton en le Morthen, Conisbrough, Hallam (Sheffield), and Hooton Pagnell (Faull and Stinson 1986). Whilst all were certainly large high status settlements or villages, there is no evidence, with perhaps the exception of Doncaster (an Anglo-Saxon burh), to suggest that they might have functioned as towns. Conventionally, the criteria used in defining medieval urbanism include town defences, an internal street plan, a market, a legal existence (e.g. a borough charter), a position as a route centre, a high population with a range of social classes, a diverse economic base, burgage plots or tenements, the presence of one or more religious establishments, and perhaps a court. By the 12th century only six places meet sufficient of these criteria to be regarded as towns: Doncaster, Tickhill, Bawtry, Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley. The most important towns were those associated with the Norman castles at Doncaster, Tickhill and Sheffield. Despite having a major castle, Conisbrough did not become the focus of a town.


Doncaster was the only South Yorkshire town that ranked against the important boroughs in the rest of England in the medieval period. It is regarded as the wealthiest borough in South Yorkshire and the sixth most important in Yorkshire as a whole (Hey 2013, 135). As an Anglo-Saxon burh, it features as a place-name in Wulfric Spott’s will of 1002-4, but subsequently became obscure, and is not mentioned in Domesday. Instead, the church, two mills and 40 sokemen of the burh are listed under Hexthorpe (later to become a suburb of Doncaster), presumably because Hexthorpe was the site of the lord’s residence (Parker 1987, 36; Hey 2003, 130).

Medieval Doncaster’s location was important as a crossing point of the rivers Don and Cheswold on the Great North Road, and as the highest navigable point from the Humber estuary. The site of the Anglo-Saxon burh, and the 11th century motte and bailey castle both lie in the area of the earlier Roman fort, with earthworks probably seeing successive re-use, although views on where these were vary (cf Barley 1975, 62; Hey 1979, 53; Buckland et al. 1989a, fig.1; Schofield and Vince 1994, 27). It was once proposed that the burh dated from the 6th or 7th century (Buckland et al. 1989a, 72, 84), although the re-dating of the pottery from the supposed burh defences as Romano-British coarse wares (Vince 2003, 1–3), has since invalidated the supporting evidence for this.

The first town defences were established around the time the town charter was granted in 1194. The town is recorded to have been destroyed by fire in 1204, after which new ditch and rampart defence was created (by 1215), with substantial stone gate towers at each of the four entrances, on the main thoroughfares (Hey 2003, 132; Pollington n.d. 15–18). Claims for a town wall at Doncaster (Aston and Bond 1987, 104), would seem erroneous. 

The earliest settlement is thought to have influenced by the site of the castle, before it was abandoned in the 12th century. The lay-out of the street pattern to the south of the castle site focused on a triangular market place (created in 1190), and is in contrast to the more regimented burgage plots that developed along Frenchgate, High Street, St Sepulchre Gate, Baxter Gate and Scot Lane – burgesses being mentioned in a document dating to between 1136 and 1152. The urban areas extended beyond the defensive enclave to create external suburbs along Marsh Gate, East Laith Gate and Hallgate, the latter being the focus of a major 12th to 14th-century potting industry.

For a time medieval Doncaster had two churches. The church dedicated to St Mary Magdelane, probably that mentioned in Domesday, was situated in the triangular market place, within its own burial ground, and was the parish church until the later 12th century, when it was reduced to the status of a chapel (and by the 15th century a chantry), in favour of St George’s church on the site of the castle. Following the Dissolution, the Romanesque remains St Mary’s were lost from view, consumed within the Elizabethan town hall and grammar school, only to re-exposed when these buildings themselves were demolished in 1846. Burials from the churchyard have also come to light at different periods. The date of the establishment of St George’s church is unclear but it is likely that it succeeded as the parish church when the market was expanded in the 12th century, when St Mary’s could no longer provide sufficient burial space. Today St George’s displays evidence of a 13th-century stone structure, enlarged in the 15th century.

Nothing now remains of the town’s two friaries: a Franciscan friary (founded in 1284), situated in the marsh area to the north of the town, and a Carmelite friary (founded in 1350), located in the southern angle of the town’s defences. Nor does anything remain of the documented medieval hospitals of St Nicholas (founded in the late 12th century), St James’ (a leper hospital outside the defences by in existence by 1223), and St Thomas’ (documented in 1588). A bridge chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Bridge has also disappeared.

Several medieval building along the burgage frontages survived until the 1970s, but only one known listed medieval timber-framed building now survives, at 4–5 High Street (Pollington 2007). Other medieval buildings that are known to have existed include a moot hall, situated to the east of St George’s church, reputedly built in 1194 as a consequence of the new town charter, and four manorial mills, in existence by 1279.

The medieval town’s role as an important inland port and, a key commercial and route centre, is reflected in the documentary evidence. The poll tax records of 1379 are particularly informative in revealing its broad economic base, there being 50 different occupations listed for Doncaster (Martin et al. 1994, 64). Over 20% were victuallers (taveners), and an ostler, reflecting the town’s role in provisioning travellers on the Great North Road, whilst almost 16% were involved in leather production, reflected in the presence of a guild of tanners. Other trades include several involved in the textile industry, potters, metalworkers, beast merchants, merchants and pedlars. Its importance as an inland port for riverine trade is reflected in the presence of a shipwright, a shipman and a fishmonger. The profile of Doncaster at this time is similar to that of Pontefract, a town of similar size and status on the Great North Road (Roberts and Whittick 2013, 89–90).

A good overview of the archaeological work carried out in Doncaster up to 2007 is provided by Pollington (2007); very little work of note has taken place since. Virtually no investigations had taken place before the 1960s, and the majority of archaeological excavation prior to the 1990s were of a ‘rescue’ nature, relatively small-scale and often poorly dated.

The burh defences may have been located in High Fisher Gate in 1970, and in Baxtergate in 1972, when they were perceived to be following the Roman fort defences (Webster 1996; Chadwick et al. 2008). The medieval town defences were thought to have been revealed in 1829, and again in 1868, when the truncated ditch was recorded to be 3m wide and 2.1m deep. More recent work in Cleveland Street, in 1996, showed that it survived as an 8m-wide earthwork, 2.4m deep (Francis 2006). Evidence from an investigation of the town ditch at Doncaster Interchange indicates that it was probably flooded regularly from the River Cheswold and that re-cutting of the ditch probably ceased in the 14th century (Lewis 2003; Lewis and Walsh 2005). The fragmentary remains of a ditch pre-dating the burgage plots in Frenchgate has been viewed as possible evidence for an earlier defended enclave for the Norman French ‘colony’ (Finlayson 2005).

The small-scale excavations around the town have discovered features within parts of burgage plots, but no complete plots have been investigated. One discovery of note was the limestone footings of the late 12th-century Moot Hall, discovered in 1970–2, partly overlying the infilled castle ditch (Buckland and Magilton 1986, 101–5). 

No evidence of the church of St Mary Magdalene has been found since its destruction in 1846, when numerous burials were unearthed. More recently small groups of medieval graves have been reported by Belford (1996, 39–40) and Bell and Mincher (2002). No investigation of the friary and hospital sites has taken place. The site of the Carmelite friary is now covered by modern development and the only recorded evidence for it is an observation of the road to its gatehouse, made in 1976–7 (Buckland et al. 1989). A medieval cemetery encountered in West Street in 1957 may have been associated with either St Nicholas’ or St Leonard’s hospital, whilst four burials found at Shakespeare Dock in 1961, may have been part of St James’ hospital cemetery.

Evidence for pottery production in late 11th –early 12th century was found in the market place in 1977. The industry was seems to have been relocated to Hallgate, to the south-east of the town by the mid-12th century, to become an important local pottery industry of the 12th to 14th centuries (Little 1986; Buckland et al. 1989, 51–7; Atkinson 1995). Potting apart, the industrial and commercial activity within the medieval town has generally been discovered in a piecemeal way. Tanning evidence having been found in Fisher Gate and Church Walk (see below), and in Hallgate (Richardson 2004), whilst horn cores have been discovered in High Street (Buckland et al. 1989). Notably, evidence for copper working in was been identified in Grey Friar’s Road, broadly dated to between 12th–16th century (McCluskey 2005). A greater insight into the industrial and craft activities in medieval Doncaster has been provided by two large-scale excavations carried out in the 1990s; at Low Fisher Gate in 1993–4, and Church Walk (aka Askews Print Shop), in 1994, both in advance of the North Bridge Development. These results from these projects have provided a remarkable information relating to the survival and potential of the archaeology along the medieval waterfront.

Low Fisher Gate

Preserved timbers of the medieval waterfront and associated structures were located at depths of up to 3.4m below the modern ground surface, about 200m to the north-east of St George’s church. The sequence of urban deposits dated from the late 11th century, and included riverside structures of early 13th-century date, made in part with re-used ships timbers, and a series of tenements dating from the 13th to 16th centuries. In the 12th and 13th centuries the river had still flowed within the excavation area, but as this silted up the land was reclaimed, and by the 13th and 14th centuries tenements extended down to the river. These tenements were not primarily domestic and there is evidence of a range of industrial and commercial activities. These included boat repairs, corn drying and milling, spinning, smithing, lead working, tanning and leather processing. Evidence for leather working, shoe-making and shoe repairs was found in the mid-15th to early 16th century deposits (McComish et al. 2010, 81–5; see also Brown 2004).

Church Walk (aka Askews Print Shop)

The excavations carried out in 1994, less than 50m to the north-east of St George’s church, revealed three distinct phases of post-Conquest medieval activity. The earliest, dating to the 12th and 13th centuries, were manifested primarily in the form of 22 tanning pits, many with multiple fills and timber linings. A 14th/15th-century phase is represented by a wall positions, two wells and 20 discrete features that include both tanning and cess pits with organic content. Fewer tanning and cess pits were also present in the 15th to 16th-century phase, the deposits of which had been severely truncated. Whilst the environmental/biological potential of this site was apparent, they had been compromised by the 12-year delay in their processing. Although dominated by cattle bones, the animal bone assemblage did not reflect the tanning industry, and was more consistent with butchery for meat. Fish remains reflected both marine and freshwater species (Chadwick et al. 2008).


Tickhill was the second ranked medieval town in South Yorkshire and one of England’s most successful planted new towns, although it did not develop beyond the medieval period (Butler 1975, 47). The town’s origins are obscure and its limited development a matter of debate. Tickhill features in Domesday under Dadsley, which was a village to the north-west of Tickhill, with a church dedicated to All Hallows. Tickhill itself is not documented until the early 12th century, but it was probably created, together with the castle, around the time of the Conquest (Magilton 1977b, 344–5; Parker 1987, 36; Beresford 1988, 526). It seems likely that the two settlements co-existed for a time, as the new 12th-century church of St Mary in Tickhill appears to have been superimposed upon a pre-existing lay-out (Magilton 1977b, 346), probably at a time that Dadsley formally migrated to Tickhill and All Hallows ceased to function (see Hey 2003, 135–7). Apart from the castle and church, Tickhill’s status is reflected by its Augustinian friary, founded in 1260, and three hospitals: a Maison Dieu founded in c.1199, St Leonard’s, a leper hospital, founded in c.1225, and a hospital to the east of the town at Tickhill Spital. 

Butler saw Tickhill’s curtailed development as either an unfulfilled grid system design (common in planted towns), or the consequence of linear expansion where space was at a premium (Butler 1975, 47; Magilton 1977b, 345). The latter might certainly explain one anomaly in the town’s topography, whereby the leper hospital of St Leonard’s is situated just off the market place, rather than in a more usual marginal location (Magilton 1977b, 346). Magilton has also drawn attention a semi-circular topographic feature defined by Church Lane, St Mary’s Gate and the backs of properties fronting on to Sunderland Street, which could be extrapolated into an oval enclosure. The enclosure could be an early outer earthwork of the castle, to which it would appear to be appended, which must have gone out of use by the time St Mary’s church was created – its churchyard being superimposed upon the north-west course of the putative enclosure (Magilton 1977b, 346–7, fig. 1).

By the late medieval period Tickhill was a significant market town. The poll tax returns of 1379 list six shoemakers, five barkers (tanners), four tailors, two smiths, three websters (weavers), two drapers, two spicers, two carpenters, two ostlers (taverner), a miller, a mason, a mercer (cloth seller), a merchant, and a goldsmith (Hey 2003, 138), suggesting a town whose economy was very much dependent on the leather and cloth industries.

In 1977 Magilton briefly documented the only three excavation to have taken place in Tickhill at that time; two of them negative. The only one to have encountered archaeology was that to the rear of the burgage plots to the south-west of the market place, where the 13th-century town ditch (over 3m wide and over 2m deep) was found, (Magilton 1977b, 348). Since then only three more investigations have taken place. The discovery of a late medieval building behind The Red Lion public house, off the market place (Atkinson 1993a), and the investigation of medieval ditches pits and wells (possibly associated with burgage plots) off Sunderland Street, to the north of the castle (Oakley 2012), are of some significance. However, only the excavation of a late medieval tannery at Stonebridge House and Sunnyside, to the west of the castle, has revealed the archaeological potential reflected in the documentary record (Wiles and Burgess 2012; Burgess and Andrews 2017). Unfortunately none of work carried out to date has been able to elucidate the issues surrounding the town’s creation and development.


Bawtry is first documented in 1199, but it was evidently in existence before the Conquest, even though it was not named in Domesday. With respect to this, Beresford (1988, 523) thinks that the town may have been planted in the waste of Austerfield (itself part of the manor of Hexthorpe). Pre-Conquest origins are hinted at in the location of St Nicholas’ church, on quayside on the west bank of the River Idle, which probably existed before the town was planned (Hey 2003, 145). The new town was established on a rectangular grid to the west of the river within a decade of 1200 and had become a borough by 1213, with a charter confirming burgesses’ rights being obtained between 1223 and 1238. The hospital of St Mary Magdalene was established to the west of the market place in the 13th century. The Great North Road was diverted through the new town’s market place to make it more attractive to merchants, but the market town’s success owed as much to its role as a river port (as the highest navigable point on the River Idle) as it did to being a market and route centre (Butler 1975, 39). There are documentary references to both wool and lead being shipped from Bawtry in the 13th and 14th centuries (Hey 2003, 145). By 1379 the poll tax returns suggest a town with a wide range of merchants and craftsmen.

Surprisingly few archaeological investigations have taken place within the town, the most notable being those at Church Street and the site of the St Mary Magdalene cemetery, which resulted the exhumation of 29 medieval skeletons dating from the 13th and 14th centuries (O’Neill and Jackson 2007; Hadley 2007; McIntyre and Hadley 2010). Excavation at Church Street investigated six burgage plots of 13th century date with evidence of ironworking and other industrial activities. The burgage plot boundaries here appear to have been superimposed on earlier 11th century properties (Cumberpatch and Dunkley 1996).


The medieval town was probably founded alongside the castle in the early 12th century. A large rectangular market was laid out on the hillside to the south-west, with burgage plots, fronting onto High Street, stretching back to the present day Norfolk Street. From documentary evidence it is known that there was a mill, a bridge (Lady Bridge), on the south side of which was situated the chapel of Our Lady. Beyond the bridge, on Spitall Hill, was the hospital of St Leonard, founded in c.1160. The new town was also furnished with a new church, at the western end of the town, and by the 13th century there were formal entrances (town bars). Development of the town was restricted by its natural topography, the castle and the River Don to the north, and the hunting park and the River Sheaf to the east (Hey 1979, 54–5; 2002, 140–2).

There is some evidence that the Sheffield cutlery industry had medieval origins, Thomas le Cotelar appearing in the tax returns for 1297, whilst throughout the Middle Ages Hallamshire cutlers were known for their production of cheap knives (Hey 2003, 140–1). It is also possible that the early cutlery industry is reflected in the poll tax returns of 1379, when eight ‘smyths’ are recorded.

Few investigations in Sheffield have encountered medieval features and deposits. An evaluation at Broad Street encountered well-preserved medieval remains at a depth of 5m below ground level (Belford 1999), whilst on Fargate in 2006, a well containing pottery of 12th to 16th-century date contained good waterlogged deposits with palaeo-environmental potential (Baker 2006). Excavations at Norfolk Street in 2007 found a sealed medieval deposit containing 13th to 15th century pottery, with wasters and kiln furniture, suggesting the presence of a former pottery production site in the vicinity (Baker and Baker 2007).


Rotherham appears in Domesday as a place with a mill, but with little else to suggest that is was anything more than a notable village. Before 1066 it was valued at £4, significantly less than other large villages, for example Hooton Pagnell (Faull and Stinson 1986). Its lowly status in the post-Conquest period is almost certainly why it did not attract the foundation of a motte and bailey castle, and it did not begin to develop urban attributes until the early 13th century, when the lord of the manor gave it, with all tithes and manorial rights, to the Cistercian monks of Rufford Abbey (Nottinghamshire). A market was established by 1207, next to All Saints’ church, and rights to hold fairs granted in the 13th and 14th centuries. A charter of 1408-9 refers to ‘burgage service’, indicating that the town had borough status, by then at least, and the 1774 town map reveals the presence of burgage plot-like tenements fronting on to High Street and Church Street, and possibly West Gate and Well Gate. The poll tax returns of 1379 suggest a market town with a typical range of merchants and craftsmen, the majority seemingly involved in the cloth industry. The Norman church was replaced in the 15th century (it is possible that it had replaced an Anglo-Saxon church given its dedication), when the bridge chapel over the River Don was built in (1483) -– one of only five surviving in Britain. The College of Jesus, founded in 1482–3 lasted only 64 years before it was dissolved by Henry VIII, to be lost in a series of re-uses and conversions, only to re-emerge in 1984 during alterations to Woolworth’s department store (Hey 1979, 55–7; 2003, 42–5).

Excavations off High Street, immediately to the south-east of All Saints’ church, have revealed some limited evidence for medieval Rotherham. Late medieval features of 14th to 15th-century date (including wall foundations and clay floor of a domestic dwelling, and oven and external cobbled surfaces), cut or overlay earlier deposits, thought to be of 13th to 14th century date. The late medieval deposits had been severely truncated by post-medieval activity and cellaring (Whittaker 2004).


Barnsley features as little more than a hamlet in Silkstone manor in Domesday, and did not rise to greater prominence until the mid-12th century, and then not on the Domesday site. In 1150 Barnsley was given to the Cluniac monks at Pontefract, in addition to the manor of Silkstone that had already been bestowed on them in 1120. The monks built a new town near Domesday Barnsley (henceforth ‘Old Barnsley’), at a cross-road location with important connections to other medieval towns in the West Riding. A market place was established in 1150, and old maps show long, narrow property divisions on either side of West Gate and between Kirkgate and Back Lane, which might reflect burgage plots, but there is no known supportive documentary evidence. The low status of the early medieval town is reflected in the failure to provide a new parish church, Barnsley having only a Norman chapel-of-ease (St Mary’s), the parish church remaining at Silkstone. Essentially, without documentary evidence, medieval Barnsley is a town only in the sense that it was bigger than the surrounding villages. We do not know whether it was a borough, or if it’s supposed burgesses had similar rights to others in the region. In 1379 the poll tax returns reveal a market town with a smaller range of industries and services than seen in other towns in South Yorkshire, but with the usual onus on the cloth industry, leather and shoe-making, smithing and hospitality (Hey 1979, 57–8; 2003, 148–50).

The HER has no record of any archaeological excavations of medieval deposits for Barnsley. Hey (2003, 150) reports that several timber-framed buildings survived well into the 20th century, and that that when the one surviving (on Well Gate), was renovated in 2002, it was found to have a substantial cross-wing, the dendrochronological felling date for the timbers being 1460.


The industrial development in towns since the 19th century has had a significant impact upon the medieval urban stratigraphy. This impact has not been uniform, although large areas of medieval towns may survive. In some places it is apparent that islands of medieval archaeology still exist, and, in parts of Doncaster and Sheffield, medieval deposits, sometimes with good waterlogged organic preservation, do survive up to 4m below ground level, actually protected by post-medieval build-up. Nevertheless, most of South Yorkshire’s medieval towns have provided nowhere near enough data to warrant a detailed synthesis of the evidence. Only Doncaster has seen a significant level of excavation, although even this only allows for an outline understanding of medieval survival and town development (Roskams and Whyman 2005, 85). Essentially, the outstanding urban research questions are largely common to all the South Yorkshire towns, Doncaster’s being rather more specific.

  • To achieve a better understand the topographical and chronological development of the medieval towns; particularly with reference to their defences (if any), street plans, and the extent of their burgage plots; 
  • To better understand the influence of castles, religious houses, industrial areas and waterfronts on urban development;
  • To gain a better understanding of domestic life and living standards at all levels of society. The excavation of complete burgage or tenement plots in different parts of towns would provide insights into relative standards of living, how these units developed over time; looking at houses/shops on street frontages, boundaries, yards, ovens, wells, middens, cess pits, etc. and the evidence for later structural infilling in the rear parts of the plots;
  • Given that some of the early medieval towns may have been little more than large villages, what evidence is there for open space (in the form of gardens, allotments, fields), and subsequent internal colonisation and abandonment of such areas reflecting population growth and decline in the later medieval period;
  • More evidence is needed for industrial and craft activities to reflect early medieval artisan street names, and for the later medieval documented activities and industries which remain virtually invisible in the archaeological record;
  • The docks, quays and waterfronts of Doncaster and Bawtry were commercial hubs that must be a high priority for further investigation. These sites are especially important given their potential for organic survival in areas that attracted industrial and craft activities;
  • Identification and investigation of the fabric of surviving medieval buildings, represented either as concealed stone or timber-framed structures, and/or below-ground cellars, is a priority.
  • There is a degree of uncertainty with regard to the course of the motte and bailey castle ditch at Doncaster, borne of the fact that there are thought to have been ditched circuits for two Roman forts and an Anglo-Saxon burh, which may or may not have followed/re-used the same defence lines; the problems have been outlined by Chadwick et al. (2008, 5, 177–9). Clarification of the situation is required for all periods;
  • Identification of the documented 1204 fire horizon at Doncaster has only been made in one location, near St George’s Church. Further recording of this horizon would help to gauge the extent of the fire, and whether it was the catalyst for the reorganisation of the town in the early 13th century;
  • Evidence from Frenchgate has been interpreted as an enclave for Norman colonists, pre-dating the burgage plots in that area. Further investigation is needed to confirm the presence of such a ghetto, and possibly provide evidence for the date of creation of the borough;

Secular Buildings: medieval and sub-medieval 

Leaving aside its castles, churches and monasteries South Yorkshire has no more than a handful of stone-built medieval buildings. Hatfield Manor House embodies a 12th-century hunting lodge, and was recorded in detain during refurbishment in the 1980s; there are also apparent 12th-century remains in what is now a farm building at Hooton Levitt. Campsall Old Rectory is an important survival of an upper-floor hall house of c.1400, which never seems to have had the benefit of a detailed study, and there is what appears to be a stone priest’s house on the edge of the churchyard at Thorpe Salvin, which has a blocked ogee-headed doorway. Manorial houses at Denaby and New Hall, Darfield, both appear to have had courtyard ranges with stone outer walls and part timber-framed inner, but the remains of both are little more than fragmentary. The Courthouse at Midhope Hall is a significant but puzzling structure, stone but with traceried timber windows; its floor is carried on a spine beam with a central post; details suggest a 14th-century date. Another intriguing property is ‘Kirkstead Abbey Grange’, formerly ‘Monks’ Smithy Houses’ at Thorpe Hesley; as its names imply it has traditional links with medieval monastic iron working but is again a very puzzling structure. Stone built, it has some architectural features, such as its round-headed windows, which at first glance look 12th century, but might really date to an early post-medieval revival of some medieval styles. It also has an interesting roof structure that looks late medieval, but which might be ex situ.

Turning to brick, the county had one outstanding and high-status early building in Rotherham College (1482), which gave rise to the saying ‘as red as Rotherham College’ but its remains are today hidden from view, encased in modern buildings. All else is of timber. The county has a large number of timber-framed houses and barns, which tend to be of post-and-truss construction in the east and of cruck construction in the west, which span the medieval/post-medieval divide. Only a few appear to be of pre-1400 date. The Whiston Barn, although considerably altered, is of national significance, having parallels in some of the earliest known barns in Essex, and 4 Walseker Lane in Woodall is a hall house which may be of the 14th century, as may be a house at Castle Green, Tickhill; both of these have crown-post roofs. Most of the timber-framed houses in the west of the county fall into the Yeoman farmer class, even better exemplified in the West Yorkshire Pennines although the fully-aisled hall houses of this area do not seem to extend further south, bar a fragmentary truss with the stylistically-early feature of passing braces recorded at Crossroads Cottage, Sutton.  A later, and high-status building, is the Bosvile’s mid-16th century great aisled barn at Gunthwaite. Single-aisled halls occur at Barnby Hall, Cawthorne, and Brampton Bierlow Old Hall, the latter having perhaps replaced an earlier cruck-framed hall block.

Perhaps the outstanding theme in the vernacular architecture of South Yorkshire is that of its cruck buildings, with around 180 examples known, all in the western third of the county – a concentration only rivalled by parts of the Welsh Borders. Popular opinion had dated these to anything between the 8th and the 18th century, but the introduction of dendrochronological dating has clarified the situation. The first cruck dated, from Hangram Lane, Fulwood (Sheffield) was dated to 1541, and this is about central to the date range shown by another dozen or so more recent dates.  Hall Broom, near Bradfield, is one of the earliest (1496) and is also one of an interesting group which has domestic accommodation in one end bay of the building, in the long-house tradition.

South Yorkshire is an interesting area when it comes to cross-overs between different building traditions. The occasional building mixes post-and-truss and cruck trusses (e.g. a barn at Onesacre near Sheffield) but there are more significant hybridisations between the ‘Highland’ and ‘Lowland’ forms of carpentry, the former characterised by heavy principal rafter trusses, initially often with king posts, the latter by common-rafter roofs of various types, some earlier examples with crown posts and others with raking struts carrying purlins on which the rafters rest, but without any ridge. A roof dated to c.1507 at Broomhall, Sheffield, has principal rafter trusses but no ridge, the individual rafter pairs being halved and pegged together at the apex. There are a number of interesting building hybrids between the timber-framed and stone-walled traditions. The courtyard houses of Denaby Old Hall and Darfield New Hall have already been mentioned in this context, but the Gunthwaite Barn has its side walls stone to mid-height, and stone gable ends. Oxspring Lodge, a hunting lodge of the Bosvile family, of around the same date (mid-16th century), was a particularly interesting building, stone externally but with an internal timber frame; it is now no more than overgrown foundations, although a series of early 20th-century photographs, which show it as a standing ruin, allow it to be reconstructed on paper.

Although the Yorkshire Vernacular Building Study Group has an ongoing project in South Yorkshire, focussing upon potential medieval buildings listed Grade I or II*, the Sheffield and Doncaster districts remain to be addressed. Consequently, a number of important buildings have not yet been properly recorded.

By its very nature timber framing is not always apparent, and in some cases is only revealed during either structural works or demolition. Ideally, any buildings in which framing might be suspected should be closely monitored, and an ability cultivated to be able move rapidly and record significant structures which have to be demolished. Such buildings may presently be only listed Grade II, or could even be unlisted.

Whilst dendrochronological dating over the last thirty years or so has shed important light on the development of the cruck tradition (and proved the age of the Whiston Barn), its use needs to be encouraged.

The very origins of the different building traditions remain somewhat unclear. Cruck buildings for instance occupy such a distinct geographical area that there must be some factor(s) operative when the choice to construct in this style was made, which remain to be understood.

It should not be forgotten that full understanding of a building’s history may only be attained through complimentary archaeological excavation, which may be able to confirm previous structures, former ground plans, lost wings etc., and provide alternative methods of dating.


Relatively few upstanding medieval buildings are recognised in South Yorkshire, and many of these are yet to receive adequate recording. Timber framing is not always apparent, and in some cases is only revealed during either structural works or demolition. Dendrochronological dating has increased over the last thirty years, but remains under-used. As a consequence the very origins of the different building traditions of South Yorkshire remain somewhat unclear.

  • Appropriate investigation needs to be carried out for the known medieval buildings yet to be recorded;
  • Buildings in which timber-framing is suspected (including Grade II or even unlisted buildings) should be monitored during any modifications to the fabric; whilst an ability to move rapidly to record such needs to be cultivated;
  • Greater use of dendrochronological dating of old timbers (and other appropriate dating methods) needs to be encouraged; 
  • Research towards a better understanding of the limited geographical distribution of cruck buildings needs to be carried out;
  • Wherever possible the investigation of extant medieval structures should be complimented by appropriate excavations to confirm interpretation and dating.

Religious Sites

Previous investigations at religious sites

Archaeological investigations in the churches and churchyards of South Yorkshire have invariably been piecemeal and small-scale affairs (often for floor repairs and to facilitate new toilets and service trenches), designed to keep disturbance to a minimum. Consequently, those investigations that that have taken place have generally been shallow and limited in what they are able to achieve. Dating is often problematic and encountered human remains are often undated or regarded as being post-medieval. Nevertheless, some small-scale excavations have proved useful in providing details and dating for structural foundations (e.g. SYAU 1992; Dennison1996). In churchyards, geophysical and topographical survey can sometimes provide an insight, such as at Barnburgh, where a sub-circular feature has been interpreted as the location of an earlier church site (Anderton and Merrony 1996). Investigating medieval human remains in churchyards is problematic, as a case can rarely be made for it and, moreover, in burial grounds of any longevity, medieval remains (if indeed they can be dated), are often cut and truncated by later post-medieval graves. The only unequivocally medieval populations of any size, excavated from a medieval churchyards in South Yorkshire, are the modest returns from the lost churchyard of St Mary Magdalene in Doncaster (Belford 1996; Bell and Mincher 2002), and the burial ground of St Mary’s Hospital in Bawtry (O’Neill and Jackson 2007; Hadley 2007; McIntyre and Hadley 2010).

Given the apparent amount of excavation that has taken place at Roche Abbey, more ought to be known about its archaeology than is seemingly the case. Three excavations undertaken in the 19th and early 20th centuries (1857–67; 1884–1914 and 1924–35), are of unknown extent and details of the finding are limited (Jones 1996). More recent work has seen geophysical survey work to the west and south-west of the ruins identify potential ponds that could be associated with the abbey (McNeil and Whiteley 1999). Monk Bretton Priory also saw notable work carried out in the early 20th century (1920s and 1950s). An archive of this work survives and has been re-evaluated as part of the analysis of more recent excavation work carried out in 2010. This excavation reinvestigated an area first dug in 1950, identifying three structural phases of the 12th to 14th centuries (Wilmott and Townsend 2014; 2016). Geophysical survey has been instrumental in identifying both buried structural remains and graves at Monk Bretton. Elsewhere archaeological investigations of religious sites have either been of more limited value or completely negative. Some fieldwork at Beauchief Abbey, by Sheffield University, has yet to be reported, although small-scale trenching has identified the wall of what was interpreted as a possible high status building (McNeil and Whiteley 1995), whilst none of the county’s friary sites have been enhanced by archaeological investigation. The cemetery excavations at St Mary Magdalene’s hospital, Bawtry (O’Neill and Jackson 2007; Hadley 2007; McIntyre and Hadley 2010), represent the only investigation of a medieval hospital site in the county.

Churches and chapels

South Yorkshire has 71 churches that preserve medieval fabric. Three of these are certain pre-Conquest buildings – Bolton-on-Dearne, Conisbrough, and Laughton-en-le-Morthen – of which Conisbrough, an early minster in the Northumbrian style, at the centre of a royal estate, is the most important and a church of national importance. Another nine have possible or ‘Overlap’ fabric, of c.1100 or earlier (Ryder 1982a). The parish system as it exists today would seem to have been established by the early 12th century, and a large number of churches (another 40) retain work of pre-1200. Broad groups of churches correspond with the underlying geology; the Pennine west has, in common with West Yorkshire, several churches built or rebuilt in the times of later medieval prosperity (Bradfield, Darton, Ecclesfield, Penistone, Rotherham, Sheffield and Silkstone) and they are constructed in sandstone or gritstone, the coarse-grained stone often restricting architectural detail. More amenable to the mason was the Magnesian Limestone with its smaller parishes, where there are still a number of good 12th-century buildings (Campsall, Edlington, Finningley and Thorpe Salvin), and in the east, where stone would have had to be carried some distance, some more largely late-medieval churches often distinguished by fine towers (Arksey, Bawtry, Fishlake, Hatfield and Thorne), although Fishlake retains what is probably the most lavishly-decorated Norman doorway in all of Yorkshire.

Almost all medieval churches have now been granted statutory protection as listed buildings, and threats to their fabrics and underfloor deposits only arise when schemes, often to introduce underfloor heating or provide a new church hall or vestry, are being carried out.  Occasionally some specific threat such as mining subsidence necessitates more extensive structural works which border on rebuilding; to date this has only happened at Hickleton in the mid-1980s; the works were accompanied by a detailed archaeological investigation, but thirty years on no comprehensive report has been published.

The Hickleton works showed that beneath the later medieval church lay an early chapel with a significant burial at its centre. This is to date the only church to have had its actual origins probed; much scope remains for further historical and archaeological works on other buildings.

A series of churches have been looked at in some detail, with modern measured plans being made, but many others await proper analysis, including some large and complex fabrics like Arksey, Campsall, Darfield and Tickhill where complex structural histories may be disentangled. There also exists scope for documentary research into faculty papers and old illustrations, to recover details of churches lost to Victorian restoration (or to conflagration, as in the case of the major late-medieval St George’s Church in Doncaster – burnt in 1853), and perhaps to allow their structural histories to be better reconstructed.

Another area of potential research is in church towers. The earlier church towers of Lincolnshire, and the motivation for their construction, has recently been discussed by David Stocker (Stocker 2006). Whilst there are only a handful of 11th/12th-century towers of this type in South Yorkshire, there are a number of interesting late medieval towers, which often share distinctive features (e.g. twin openings in each wall of their belfries), especially in the east of the county, a group which might benefit from a detailed study.

The interest of medieval churches is not of course restricted to their fabric. Many contain remains or evidence of medieval fittings and furnishings including choir stalls, doors, stained glass and fonts. Medieval monuments survive in a variety of forms; the c.1984 works at Hickleton revealed a remarkable semi-effigy, a combination of an effigy and a cross slab, with in inscription to Robard Haringel. Later medieval effigies survive at quite a number of churches, some of alabaster, including the important Fitzwilliam monument at Tickhill, thought to be of c.1530 (although the Thomas Fitzwilliam commemorated died in 1478), and an early example of Renaissance art. There are timber effigies at Barnburgh (14th century), and the rather ghoulish double-decker example at Worbrough where a figure of Robert Rockley (d.1534) as he appeared in life, is set above a depiction of his decaying corpse.

Most medieval monuments have attracted little antiquarian attention since the 19th century, with the exception of the humbler cross slab grave covers, over 400 of which were recorded by Ryder in the 1970s (Ryder 1980).


In principle, medieval churches and churchyards are sites of huge archaeological potential that can rarely be realised. Churches are virtually immune to loss through major development, and represent buildings where deposits can have been afforded centuries of protection, notwithstanding Victorian rebuilding programmes. Churchyards on the other hand have been susceptible to encroachment and, more significantly, have been liable to repeated disturbance and truncation by post-medieval grave cutting. The greatest opportunities arise when church reordering involves the renewal of the church floor, which can often reveal the footprint of earlier churches on the site.

  • To find evidence to confirm the foundation dates and various additional phases of medieval churches;
  • To take opportunities to identify the plans of early churches, during major re-ordering works;
  • Phasing church development, where this is presently not understood, through architectural, geological and various aspects of constructional analysis;
  • It is desirable to have the 1980 excavations at Hickleton properly reported;

Medieval Monastic Houses

South Yorkshire has two monastic houses – the Cluniac (and later Benedictine) Monk Bretton and the Cistercian Roche – in English Heritage guardianship. The main claustral buildings of each have been fully excavated. At Roche the transepts of the church and gatehouse are well preserved, at Monk Bretton much of the west and south ranges (along with a gatehouse and adjacent administrative building) stand high. Less survives at the Premonstratensian Beauchief, where the lower stage of the west tower and some footings of the cloister buildings are all that remains above ground. Ecclesfield has a rare survival, the buildings of a small alien priory, a cell of the Benedictine St Wandrille’s Abbey in Normandy, somewhat disguised by its post-medieval remodelling into Ecclesfield Hall. The Cistercian nunnery of Hampole, best known as the home of the anchorite and author Richard Rolle, was the scene of two rather unsatisfactory early 20th-century excavations, but a scatter of loose architectural fragments are the only visual evidence today. The recent 2019 work has, however, revealed parts of substantial ashlar walls which are thought to be of medieval date (Soldier On! project, in prep.).

There were three friaries within the county, the Franciscan and Carmelite houses in Doncaster, of which absolutely nothing remains above ground, and the Augustinian house In Tickhill, parts of which – including some quite elaborate architectural features – survive in the present house (The Friars), but it is difficult to interpret what is in situ and what is re-used.


Monastic complexes provide good targets for geophysical survey, especially resistance and GPR, and such work should be undertaken on a large scale whenever possible, in order to understand the full extent and arrangement of the below-ground stone structures within monastic precincts. There have been several excavations of note carried out at Roche Abbey and Monk Bretton Priory, but only the work at Monk Bretton appears to have been appraised and reported. However, the excavations carried out in late 19th and early 20th centuries at Roche Abbey appear not to have been reported, even though it is alleged that 30% of the precinct has been investigated.

  • There is scope for multi-disciplinary projects at several of the lesser known sites (e.g. Beauchief, Tickhill Friary, Hampole and Ecclesfield), involving analysis of the extant fabric, documentary and antiquarian research and previous excavation records, towards providing a more coherent understanding of the sites and directions for future research;
  • A programme of geophysical survey should be carried out at monastery sites to establish the extent and complexity of their precincts and provide targets for future research excavations;
  • More information is needed about the wooden structures within monastery precincts – which tend not reveal themselves in geophysical data; 
  • Evidence for industrial activity within monastic sites is a priority, particularly processes associated with construction (e.g. bell-making, window glass, lead water pipes);
  • An assessment is needed for any surviving archives relating to the three excavation campaigns at Roche Abbe, with a view to ascertaining its value and suitability for publication;
  • It is desirable to see the previous work at Beauchief Abbey appropriately reported.
  • At Monk Bretton a considerable amount of architectural fragments, probably from the badly-ruined monastic church, survive – including a large collection in a garden a few miles away, and some 12th century capitals re-used at Wentworth. Further study of these might allow a reconstruction of elements of the lost medieval building. There are also peripheral buildings associated with the Priory, such as the Priory Mill (which may retain medieval fabric and is linked to the monastic drainage system) and these may repay further investigation.
  • At Roche Abbey the main claustral complex has been exposed, but there are other buildings both to east (the infirmary) and west (a possible lay brothers’ cloister?) which have not been examined, and might benefit either from geophysics or from direct investigation.
  • At lesser known sites such as Beauchief, Tickhill Friary and Hampole there is scope for combining a study of the above-ground fabric with antiquarian records and excavated evidence. Ecclesfield in particular is a real rarity, the substantial survival of the buildings of an alien cell, which appears to have had no study since the 1880s. Medieval building, early 18th century house and Victorian restoration really need to be disentangled.


While several hospitals are documented in the HER records, only that at Bawtry has seen any investigation. Useful research by Stella McGuire (2001) could form the basis of future South Yorkshire projects.


  • Historical research is required to identify the range and location of sites to inform the agenda for further multidisciplinary investigation, to include further documentary research, building recording, remote sensing and excavation.

Human remains

Opportunities to carry out meaningful archaeological investigations in medieval churches and churchyards are rare, and, when permitted, need to be carried out with sensitivity. The research potential is great, as human remains represent the direct consequences of medieval life, but analysis will be most useful when the remains form a well-dated viable data-set that will eventually allow for the comparison of contemporary rural and urban populations, in different social tiers. 


  • The identification of viable populations at different periods for analysis for the purpose of comparing general health, stature, life expectancy, infant mortality, evidence of work-related pathologies, and the incidence of various diseases. Where appropriate techniques such radiocarbon dating, DNA and stable isotope analysis should be employed. It may be appropriate to employ any archived collections, if their provenance is deemed reliable.


For a discussion of medieval pottery please see the page here discussing the medieval and later pottery traditions of South Yorkshire.

The key issues to be addressed in future medieval pottery research include:

  • A full revision of the Doncaster pottery sequence to take account of work since 1979 (Buckland et al. 1979, 1989), and the problems associated with the existing scheme.  Work on this is in progress (Cumberpatch 2016; in prep 1) but a lack of time and resources means that it has yet to be finalised and prepared for publication.  It will include both a re-dating of the principal early medieval (late 11th to late 13th century) wares manufactured within the Doncaster and the drafting of a series of horizons similar to those proposed for Lincoln (Young and Vince 2005).  A preliminary scheme was proposed in the report on the excavations at Church Walk (Cumberpatch 2007) but this was limited in scope and requires expansion to incorporate data from other sites in Doncaster and the surrounding area;
  • The dating and significance of Yorkshire Gritty wares and related gritty wares with a view to establishing their geographical origins and chronological range as well as their relationship to the Doncaster medieval pottery industries and the regionally significant Buff Gritty / Buff Sandy ware industry which dominates the ceramic record in West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire and neighbouring areas;
  • The petrographical and chemical characterisation of Stamford type wares from sites in South Yorkshire (including Doncaster and Barnburgh Hall) to establish their relationship with known Stamford ware potteries (Stamford and Pontefract) or with suspected but as yet unknown potteries in the Nottingham/Derby area (Cumberpatch and Roberts 2013; Cumberpatch, in Roberts et al. 2013);
  • The identification (at the desktop assessment or evaluative excavation stage) of sites which might include medieval phases and the preparation of project designs and written schemes of investigation to include the  full excavation of burgage plots with a view to obtaining sealed groups of pottery from pits and other cut features.  There should be no repeat of the situation in High Street Doncaster (Cumberpatch 2004c; Archaeological Services WYAS 2008: fig. 3) in which the excavation strategy was focussed on burgage plot boundaries rather than on the cut features within the burgage plots themselves, thus missing a rare opportunity to obtain significant and useful pottery assemblages from sealed contexts;
  • While some form of publication (either in full or in the form of grey literature reports) has been achieved for many sites investigated in the county, a number of sites remain outstanding. These include Tickhill Castle and the medieval phases of Sheffield Manor, both of which remain largely unknown even within the profession. The assessment of the pottery assemblages should be considered a priority as should efforts to obtain funding for full reports and publication at an appropriate level.  A model might be the recent work on the Armstrong and Butcher archives undertaken by Sheffield University, Wessex Archaeology and the author to inform ongoing work on the site of Sheffield Castle (Cumberpatch 2017).  Extensive excavation and survey undertaken by Sheffield University, in partnership with Hull and Cardiff Universities and local heritage groups as part of the Brodsworth Community Archaeology Project has generated considerable archives (including notable assemblage of medieval pottery), which have yet to be the subject of a detailed report. Liaison with Sheffield University and the provision of appropriate funding from the University is required to bring these sites to archive-level reporting and eventual publication;
  • The proposed HS2 railway line will run close to the Conisbrough Parks area which may, as a result be subject to severe impacts related to the HS2 railway scheme and it is essential that adequate provision should be made for survey, excavation and, most significantly, the subsequent archiving of assemblages in advance of the construction of the railway line and ancillary facilities, including temporary facilities required for engineering purposes.
  • The study of the distribution of pottery and its relationship to larger social and economic structures has been somewhat neglected since the early work of Moorhouse (1978; 1983) and Le Patourel (1968; 1979) despite the significant role played by pottery in trade and exchange.  The geographical position of South Yorkshire, the role played in international trade by Doncaster and Bawtry during the medieval period and the widespread distribution of South Yorkshire wares all suggest that this is a subject worthy of further research.

Archaeobotanical Issues

More evidence from South Yorkshire is needed to investigate regional differences in the crops cultivated and crop husbandry practices during the later medieval period (Van der Veen 2013, 172). For example, samples from 12th to 15th century contexts at Sheffield Castle produced evidence for rye, hulled barley, bread/rivet wheat and common oat, with associated wild or weed plant seeds indicating the cultivation of crops on the local acid sandy soils typical of the Coal Measures (Simmons and Jones 2020).  Any finds of significant quantities of emmer or spelt wheat are a priority for analysis and dating, to investigate the continued cultivation of hulled wheat at in some areas (Carruthers and Hunter Dowse 2019, 147).  Finds of diagnostic oat floret bases are a priority for analysis, to provide evidence for the cultivation of oat as a cereal crop rather than the presence of wild oats as a weed (ibid., 124).  Finds of well-preserved diagnostic barley rachis are also a priority for analysis, to investigate the use of two row barley in the medieval period (ibid., 124).  Identification criteria for barley rachis fragments can be downloaded from Academia (

Rich assemblages of charred wild or weed plant seeds are needed to investigate crop husbandry practices such as the cultivation of heavy soils, deep ploughing, and crop rotation (Van der Veen 2013, 171).  The appearance of seeds of cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) and thorow-wax (Bupleurum rotundifolium) in the archaeobotanical record is significant as these are likely to be introductions from the continent (Preston et al 2004; Grieg 1991).   Corn marigold (Glebionis segetum) is also a frequently occurring taxon in medieval archaeobotanical assemblages from the northern England and appears to be an indicator for post conquest deposits in York (Tomlinson 1989, 22).  Later medieval archaeobotanical samples which include chaff and wild or weed plant seeds are however rare, which is likely to be due to the same problems of differential preservation which affect earlier medieval charred plant macrofossil assemblages.  Any later medieval archaeobotanical assemblages which include crop processing by-products are therefore a priority for analysis. 

The recovery of waterlogged plant remains is also a priority, particularly from rural sites, to provide evidence for fruit, vegetables, and fibre crops as well as herbs, medicinal plants, and imported/exotic foods (Van der Veen 2013, 164).  Wells, latrine pits, moats, deep pits/ditches and fishponds are a priority for sampling, as are urban deposits with deep stratigraphy where anoxic conditions may result in the preservation of uncharred plant material in the absence of full waterlogging (ibid., 164). A high-density deposit of waterlogged hazel nutshells was found at Sheffield Castle, indicating the processing of hazel nuts at the site (Simmons and Jones 2020).  Rich assemblages of waterlogged plant macrofossils from Sheffield Castle also indicate damp, muddy, disturbed, and nutrient enriched soils, which are typical of medieval urban deposits.  Waterlogged plant remains from Broad Street Car Park, Sheffield include seeds of hops and again indicate open, disturbed and nutrient rich soils (?Simmons in Belford 1999).  Well-preserved waterlogged plant remains and pollen from the fills of a 12th -16th century well on Fargate in Sheffield again indicate open, disturbed and nutrient enriched soils.  Wood, leaf material and seeds, which include oak and birch, were found in the basal deposits of the well, indicating trees growing nearby or material dumped into the well (Simmons in Baker 2006).  

Palynological evidence for the medieval period in northern England is needed as many pollen sequences are missing evidence for later periods due to erosion or peat cutting (Huntley 2010, 33).  Evidence from wood charcoal assemblages can complement evidence from pollen sequences or provide evidence for woodland availability where pollen evidence is lacking.  Rich assemblages of wood charcoal have the potential to provide evidence for the uses of wood and the management of woodlands during a period when demand for wood for use in construction and as fuel for industrial processes such as pottery manufacture and metal working would have been in high (Rackham 2001, 63; Rackham 2003, 134). Charcoal burning platforms, smelting and kiln sites are therefore a priority for sampling, alongside hearths and other domestic contexts, to compare the use of fuel in industrial processes with fuel used in domestic contexts (Huntley 2010, 63).  Rich assemblages of waterlogged wood and wood charcoal from 12th to 15th century contexts at Sheffield Castle provided evidence for the utilisation of mature oak during the later medieval period, along with hazel, Pomoideae, alder, ash, field maple, holly, birch, poplar/willow and elm (Simmons and Jones 2019).  Closely spaced annual growth rings on many of the oak charcoal fragments indicate restricted growing conditions, such as would result in well-established dense woodland, although this may also be an indication of poor growing conditions caused by factors such as poor climate or the local environment.  

Larger numbers of charred plant macrofossil samples from later medieval sites are needed to provide good quality data which can be used to make reliable inferences regarding agricultural practices or diet (Van der Veen 2013, 165).  The collection of large numbers of samples is particularly important for the medieval period due to the low density of by-products from crop processing at many sites (Van der Veen 2013, 172).  Evidence from later medieval rural sites is also particularly sparse (Van der Veen 2013, 156) and such sites should be intensively sampled.  Even small-scale excavations in currently occupied rural settlements can provide data which is useful when combined with data from other small-scale excavations (Wrathmell 2018, 7).  Analysis of plant macrofossils and wood charcoal from such sites is therefore a priority even when only small numbers of samples have been taken. 

A sufficient number of samples from each phase, feature type or area of the site need to be taken, in order to provide evidence for patterning within the assemblage (Carruthers and Hunter Dowse 2019, 47).  It is important that negative evidence is recorded, to understand differences in plant use in different areas of a settlement or between settlements (Van der Veen 2013, 177).  Material should be collected from different areas within a context, to obtain a representative sample (Campbell et al 2011, 9).  Multiple samples should also be taken from occupation deposits, to explore variation in different areas of the deposit (ibid., 9). Samples need to be 40-60 litres in size (ibid., 12) to achieve recovery of at least 100 specimens of charred plant material, which is necessary for statistical analysis (Van der Veen 2013, 176). Processing of large sample volumes for the recovery of charred plant macrofossils is also more likely to produce sufficient charcoal fragments to provide a representative sample of woody taxa utilised for fuel. For urban medieval sites, where the concentration of charred remains is more likely to be high, smaller samples of 20 litres may however be sufficient (Carruthers and Hunter Dowse 2019, 10).  Sorting of the heavy residues of flotation samples can also be useful for the recovery of small artefacts such as hammer scale or beads or organic material such as molluscs or fish bone (Campbell et al 2011, 12).  Charred plant remains such as cereal grain, hazelnut shell and small diameter wood charcoal fragments, which are preserved in acidic soils (ibid., 5), also provide dating evidence which may not be available from other material such as bone, which is poorly preserved at sites on the acidic soils of the Coal Measures.


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Original text by Ian Roberts (2019) with contributions from Peter Ryder (buildings), Chris Cumberpatch (pottery) and Ellen Simmons (archaeobotany)