1540-1720 CE


Here the Post-Medieval period is defined as roughly bounded by the dissolution of the monasteries and the associated Reformation, at its start, and the onset of the industrial revolution, at its end. The Post-Medieval is largely a period of transition, with society moving from a still partly feudal and Catholic society to one more market-orientated and with proto-industrialisation and increasing Nonconformity. Archaeological evidence is one of the keys to our understanding of this period of change and the processes involved, in a period that saw significant growth of towns and wider changes in the surrounding rural landscape.

As with any historical period, archaeological evidence can be used to re-examine information provided by documentary sources and to challenge assumptions arising from existing narratives. For this period, a key issue to investigate and understand will be the impact of the dissolution on both monastic sites and the wider landscape, as large-scale redistribution of land brought with it new opportunities. David Hey notes, for example:

before the Dissolution religious bodies owned nearly a fifth of the freehold land of that part of South Yorkshire that lay within the wapentake of Strafforth and Tickhill and over a quarter of the freehold land of the wapentakes of Staincross and Osgoldcross… By the end of the sixteenth century most of the land that had belonged to the dissolved religious bodies had been acquired by the local nobility and gentry.” (Hey 1979 ps. 113-114)

Research projects re-examining the archaeology of monastic sites, such as that led by Hugh Willmott, University of Sheffield, at Monk Bretton Priory, will be particularly relevant to our understanding of the re-use of monastic sites. Dr Willmott notes:

The Dissolution of the Monasteries is usually seen as the final event in the lifecycle of monastic sites, and consequently is often discussed in terms of the destruction wrought… However, the majority of former monastic sites continued to be occupied, maintained and developed in new ways for decades after these events.” (Willmott & Bryson 2013 p. 136)

The rural landscape

Agriculture & enclosure

Landowners were changing not just former monastic sites but also the wider rural landscape. Associated agricultural improvements could include evidence that will survive archaeologically. For example, a series of kilns found ahead of redevelopment at Sandy Lane, Bramley, had been used to burn lime – thought to be for agricultural purposes. Dated by the Midlands Purple Glazed pottery found in association as being 16th – 17th Century, archaeomagnetic dating gives a date for the final phase of use of the kilns as c.1560-1600AD (Howell & Morris 1999).

The open field agricultural system that had been in operation for generations was evolving. Enclosure was taking place of both open fields and commons/wastes. J C Harvey’s case study of the Dearne Valley noted that here:

Many of the plans attached to parliamentary enclosure awards of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries testify to the extent of pre-parliamentary piecemeal enclosure. Such enclosure, largely undocumented, is generally indicated by the long, narrow, often curved ‘ancient inclosures’ contained within the common-field area on the award plans… the rate and extent of piecemeal enclosure can be gauged over a period as at Shafton, near Barnsley, largely open in 1597, yet with only residual common field parcels by the late seventeenth century’. (Harvey 1974 p.110)

In this case study, Harvey noted a difference between the common fields in the easterly or downstream group of townships (between Brampton and Mexborough) and those in the westerly or upstream group. Of the 14 major settlements to the east of Barnsley, five (Little Houghton, Billingley, Goldthorpe, Darfield and Wombwell) had no evidence for common field later than 1700, whereas at that date, Mexborough had over 70% of its area still in common field (ibid ps.111-112). This difference, it was thought, could reflect the difference in topography and, therefore, suitability for arable agriculture; settlements above Brampton, with more land over 200m AOD, had always had smaller common-field areas, whereas settlements in the lower-lying Dearne valley had substantially larger areas of common land, which remained in such use for longer (ibid p.127).

Historic landscape evidence will have an important role to play in allowing us to recognise the areas where enclosure was taking place in this period. See the results of the South Yorkshire Historic Environment Characterisation project (SY HEC) available via for further information.

Drainage schemes

In lower lying areas, agricultural improvements taking place at this time included drainage as well as enclosure. Derek Holland notes “the greatest area of conflict surrounding enclosure and drainage centred on Hatfield Chase” (Holland 1980 p.6). According to Melvyn Jones, drainage for agricultural improvement was already taking place on the clays south of the River Went when in 1626 the Dutch engineer Cornelius Vermuyden was employed by the Crown to drain their marshy former hunting grounds at Hatfield Chase (Jones 2000 p.48). Vermuyden’s scheme included the diversion of three rivers: the Idle, the Torne and the Don. The Idle was diverted from its original northward course into a dyke that led east to the Trent; the Torne was diverted into a new channel that also led east to the Trent; the original course of the Don, eastwards to the Trent, was diverted near Thorne into the Turnbridge Dike, flowing north to the Aire (Gaunt 2012 p.73). Although this work was officially completed in 18 months, Gaunt notes “Much flooding ensued; some of it due to inadequate provision of washes and sluices, some to the narrowness, shallowness and insufficient embankment heights of the various courses, whether former dikes carrying increased volumes, or new channels” (ibid). One of the main alterations undertaken to address these problems, following a judgement in 1633, led to the River Don being re-diverted into two parallel channels that ran into the River Ouse, near Goole (ibid). 

Hey (1979) notes that of the many drains dug as part of the Hatfield Chase reclamation scheme “a surprising number… still fulfil their original function” (Hey 1979, p.129). The Sykehouse Barrier Bank, which lies to the south of the River Went, may well have been constructed or at least modified during this period; accounts of the period show that Vermuyden was paid to maintain banks around Sykehouse (ASWYAS 2002 para 2.3). Works by the Environment Agency allowed for investigation of a section of the barrier bank to the north of Pincheon Green. Here, the work revealed a succession of earthwork boundaries, the earliest of which was a ditch cut into natural (ibid 4.2.6 and 5.1.1); unfortunately, no artefacts were recovered to date these phases. A kink in the bank, slightly further east, was interpreted as a later rebuild following damage to the original linear barrier bank but again no dating evidence was recovered (ASWYAS 2003 para 4.1.2 and 5.1). Further archaeological investigation of such landscape features, including the application of scientific dating techniques, has the potential to clarify the nature and scale of reclamation works undertaken in low lying areas of South Yorkshire, in the Post-Medieval period.

Deer parks

Figure 1. Extract from Morden’s 1701 map of the West Riding, still showing enclosed deer parks, as well as two main N-S routes (from

Enclosure also affected former deer parks within South Yorkshire. Though Sheffield Park is known to have still contained 1000 fallow deer in 1637, 971 of its 2,462 acres had already been let to tenants (Jones 2000 p.95). Archaeological investigations at Ash House Farm, sited within the former Sheffield Park, have helped clarify the nature of the archaeological evidence that might survive from this period of disparkment. Building recording of two barns was undertaken, prior to their demolition, and the timber-framed elements were dated by dendrochronology to 1664 -1666, based on felling dates (Swan 2005 Appendix 3) On demolition of the adjacent mid-18th century stone-built farmhouse, excavation revealed an earlier stone-built cellar, presumed to represent remains of a farmhouse that would have been contemporary with the barns (Lee 2007 p.18). There is clearly potential for other farms sited within former deer parks to contain similar archaeological evidence, which could help clarify the process and date of disparkment across South Yorkshire. 

Historic landscape evidence will also have an important role to play in allowing us to recognise areas that have been disparked and to allow us to examine new landuses within former deer parks. See SY HEC & .

The growth of industry

Ironstone extraction

About 140 acres are known to have been taken out of Kimberworth Park for a farm by 1649; by 1671 the whole of the park had been leased “to a local ironmaster whose main interest was in the ironstone and coal that could be mined and the coppice woods that could be felled and made into charcoal” (Jones 2000 p.95).

Tinsley Park had been let for a similar purpose by the mid-seventeenth century: “In 1657 it was let by its then owner, the 2nd Earl of Strafford of Wentworth Woodhouse, to Lyonel Copley, the ironmaster, for felling for charcoal making. It then covered over 400 acres and comprised ten coppice woods and three holts [woods where trees were grown for timber]” (ibid).

Hopkinson states “the iron industry had been attracted to the area around Sheffield by its large reserves of ironstone, by its ample water power and by its extensive woodlands” (Hopkinson 1961 p. 122). Ironstone outcrops within South Yorkshire in a zone running north west to south east, from Hugset Wood, Barnsley, through Dodworth, Broom Royd, Friar Tale and West Woods and Tankersley Park to Greasbrough and Rawmarsh, in Rotherham (ibid ps.122-3). These deposits were certainly mined in the medieval period but mines and associated works within South Yorkshire are documented in the later 16th century, with rapid expansion recorded in the first half of the 17th century (ibid p.123). Hopkinson quotes from the Earl of Shrewsbury’s accounts for 1578, to indicate that by that date there were already smithies at Oxspring; by 1590, the Court Rolls indicate there were ironstone mines at Tankersley, a furnace at Wadsley and fineries at Kimberworth; in 1608 another furnace and a forge were erected at Kimberworth (ibid p.124).

Earlier research by Arthur Raistrick demonstrated the relationship between the ironstone outcrops and other components of the iron industry:

the main group of these furnaces [Barnby, Rockley and Chappel]… lie just on the outcrop of the Tankersley ironstone, and examination of the ground, along with the earliest large scale maps available, shows each furnace to be near a large area of bell pit workings, with old roads running through the pit areas to the furnace sites… It is rare indeed that the mines are more than two miles distant from the furnace” (Raistrick 1938 p.56). 

Accounts of the Spencer family of Cannon Hall, studied by Raistrick, provide some detail of mining operations in the early 18th century, which can be presumed to reflect earlier practices. The shaft mines gradually worked back from the ironstone outcrop until the cover became too thick for economic working of the ironstone seam. At this date, hand-powered windlasses would have been used to lift ore from the pit. It is not certain how long an individual mine might be in operation but one or two new pits could be expected to be sunk annually. The accounts indicate that associated activities would include: cutting of surface drains, to keep the pits free of water; fencing around the pits, for safety; repair of the roadways used for transporting ore away to the furnaces; infilling of old pits once they had been worked out; re-excavation of certain old pits for ventilation, where underground workings encroached on one another, or excavating special ventilation pits (ibid). 

Lidar (light detection and ranging) survey of the area around the Tankersley ironstone outcrop, particularly of woodland areas, has great potential to reveal the extent of surviving shaft mounds – outside of areas destroyed by modern opencast workings. Where early evidence survives, careful analysis will be required to distinguish mining evidence for the Post-Medieval period from that of other periods, as this mining technique is known to have continued in use well into the 19th century. Care will also be needed to establish whether and where mining was primarily for ironstone extraction, rather than for coal extraction (see later discussion). A complication here is that the multiple seams of ironstone that were worked from such shallow pits are not always depicted on BGS geological maps; relevant information can only be obtained by compiling dispersed evidence from historical reports and archived plans (John Hunter pers comm.).

Archaeological survey and investigation of surviving features, particularly within woodlands, could have a key role with such interpretation. For example, a woodland walkover survey carried out as part of the HLF-funded ‘Fuelling the Revolution’ project in Newbiggin Wood, Barnsley, identified that several shaft mounds along the south-western edge of the woodland were smaller than those found upslope and that two pits appeared to have been replaced by later shaft mounds [SYSMR 5015] (Gowans & Pouncett 2006 p. ). Further work to investigate such woodland evidence for distinct phases of mining is to be encouraged. In addition, opportunities for investigating below-ground remains need to be sought, for example in association with ground remediation works on development sites that had an earlier ironstone mining history.

Coal extraction

The location for early coal mining closely follows the pattern for ironstone mining (described above). Early coal mines were located close to the outcrop of the coal seam, where the mineral could be reached by shallow shaft mines or adits (Jones 200 p. 105). Hey adds:

The shallow pits for which there is documentary evidence before 1700 lay chiefly at or near the heart of the old [exposed] coalfield at Abdy, Ardsley, Barnsley, Brampton, Brierley, Cawthorne, Chapeltown, Crookesmoor, Cudworth, Darton, Dodworth, Ecclesall, Gleadless, Greasbrough, Handsworth, Hooton Roberts, Hoyland, Kimberworth, Kiveton, Monk Bretton, Mortomley, Rotherham, Shafton, Sheffield, Silkstone, Staincross, Swinton, Tankersley, Thundercliffe Grange, Thurnscoe, Underbank, Waleswood, Wentworth, Whiston and Worsbrough, though a few lay further east right at the edge of the Magnesian Limestone belt at Barnburgh, Denaby and Hooton Pagnell. There were undoubtedly other mines for which no records have survived” (Hey 1979 p. 121). 

Figure 2. Plan & section showing the exposed coalfield (amended from Jones 2000)

Hopkinson noted that in the 16th century, deeds and accounts indicate coal mining activity and added that by the 17th century, ‘deeds, rate assessments and mine accounts show how widespread coal mining was in the area. Judged by rentals, a fair enough guide, the most important pits in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire were those in Sheffield Park… Outside the town, collieries were much smaller in size’ Hopkinson 1957 p.297). Records of the Handsworth pits of Sir John Bright indicate the mining method in use at this time: 

In February 1651, the colliers began to sink three pits which were completed a year later. Ventilation was provided at this stage by “trunks” or wooden pipes, through which air was forced by bellows. One pit was on the outcrop of the coal and the other on the deep, so that the intervening seam could be extracted by driving benks [stalls] into the coal and then mining the seam between each pair. Such an arrangement provided natural ventilation. As the life of each pit was short, a third was usually being sunk while coal was being extracted from the other two…’ (ibid p. 301-302).

Brian Elliott provides further detail relating to Barnsley mines. He notes that ‘Before 1688 much of the coal bearing land was owned by the crown but mining rights were frequently granted. In 1578, for example, the Queen, by letters patent, demised… “all that her majesty’s mine of coal situate on Barnsley Moor”’; he adds, ‘by the late 17th century coal mining was an integral part of the rural scene but still only a handful of seasonal workers would appear to have been employed at each pit’ (Elliott 2004 ps. 70-72). 

A sketch map of Barnsley Colliery in 1719, produced by the mining engineer John Carr for owner Sydney Wortley, shows ‘a wave of workings advancing towards inclosures owned by local families’ west of Genn Lane, Worsbrough (ibid ps. 73-4). Earlier Carr had advised Wortley that a new sough [drain] was needed at the colliery, to deal with flooding; Elliott notes that ‘The success or failure of a mining enterprise was heavily dependant on keeping the workings free of flooding’ (ibid p. 72).

Figure 3. Sketch plan of Barnsley Colliery workings, 1719 (amended from Elliott 2004)

As yet, certain archaeological evidence in South Yorkshire for this early phase of coal mining is limited – there is potential, as discussed above, for Lidar analysis and other survey work to help identify surviving above ground remains, particularly within woodlands; opportunities for investigating below-ground remains also need to be sought, for example, in association with ground remediation works on development sites that had an earlier coal mining history.

Charcoal production

Coal as fuel was not yet a major factor in industrial development. It was woodlands that could be used for charcoal production that led to the success of the early iron industry. Jones notes that a list of the Earl of Shrewsbury’s coppice woods, written sometime between 1598 and 1616, describes forty three woods (in the manors of Sheffield, Ecclesfield, Handsworth, Tankersley, Kimberworth, Rotherham, Whiston and Treeton) as belonging to the Earl’s forges, with many being described as ‘coalable’ or ‘redie to be coled’, indicating that they were to be used for charcoal production – for the iron industry (Jones 2000 p. 102). 

The accounts of the Spencer family, studied by Raistrick, help clarify the scale and nature of this charcoal industry, in the early 18th century. Raistrick notes that woodlands used for charcoal production could lie at a distance of up to 10 miles from the furnace they served, with about two-thirds being within 5 miles of the furnace. Within a wood leased for charcoal making, the first stage of working would be clearing an area for ‘cording’ cut wood, and for the construction of a ‘coaling’ pit and associated colliers’ cabins, as well as clearing routes into the wood and constructing fences and gates, where necessary (Raistrick 1938 p. 59). To supply the furnaces, groups of colliers would work all winter on different leases, moving to fresh leases every two or three seasons; they would often return to areas previously cut on a fifteen-year cycle, when regrowth would be suitable to cut for further charcoal production (ibid).

Hopkinson notes “There can be little doubt that there was less charcoal available for the iron industry in the early eighteenth century than there had been a hundred years earlier… brought about by a decrease in the acreage of timber and by many competing demands for the existing supply” (Hopkinson 1963 ps.129-132). Reduced availability of wood for charcoal production may have resulted in some iron works having a relatively short life, e.g. Sheffield Forge was converted into a sickle wheel c1700 (ibid p.132) and Norton Forge is thought to have closed c.1690 (Hey 1991 p. 169). 

Lead and white coal production

A competitor for wood as fuel in the Sheffield area was the lead industry. Although mining of ores was restricted to the adjoining Peak District (South Yorkshire having no suitable orebodies), processing was attracted to the Sheffield area as it was on a route for onward transport out of the region. Lead smelting was traditionally carried out in a ‘bole’ or ‘bole hill’ – a smelting hearth located on a hilltop or ridge, to take advantage of prevailing winds. The bole hill itself consisted of ‘a composite structure of wood – its sole fuel – and ore surrounded on three sides by a stone wall’ (Kiernan 1989 p. vii), with the wind providing the necessary draught to allow smelting to take place. 

The bole hill was often accompanied by a smelting oven, where lead from slag, or ‘blackwork’, produced in the bole could be reclaimed. ‘The smelting oven was a low, circular stone structure in which the central slags were packed with a layer of charcoal, and the whole hearth was then sealed with a covering of clay’ (ibid p.47). This method of lead smelting is documented to have continued in use into the 1590s – it is possible the size of surviving bole hills may indicate their period of use, with earlier bole hills perhaps being of smaller dimensions than later ones (Kiernan & van de Noort 1992 p. 19). Survey of surviving remains at Totley Bole Hill (SYSMR 3823, Scheduled Monument 1009711) suggests, from its size, that the bole here remained in use into the 16th century. Remains of an associated blackwork oven are visible to the north and from the slag identified on site, it appears that a later slag hearth was also built nearby – to re-smelt slag left over from the earlier processes (ibid). 

The bole hill was superseded by the development of the ore hearth in this period and the bellows used to provide the draught for such hearths were primarily water-powered, meaning these later smelting furnaces needed to be sited on a river or stream rather than a hilltop. The earliest such hearth known to have been operating in this region was that constructed for William Humfrey c. 1572, at Beauchief (Kiernan 1989 ps.121-126). This smelting complex included both a water-powered ore hearth and a slag hearth (ibid p.126). The Earl of Shrewsbury, quick to follow, is known to have had a water-powered smelting mill at Totley by 1585 (ibid p.155). Kiernan notes that ‘Only a few [smelting mill] sites have survived, detectable mainly by their former watercourses, ponds and dams, and by their distinctive grey slags which can be found in small heaps and scattered in the stream beds downstream from the mills’ (ibid p.134). Crossley & Kiernan surveyed visible evidence for such sites locally (from the presence of slag and surveys of lead contamination) but not all recorded sites within Sheffield could be identified (Crossley & Kiernan 1992). Further work to re-examine the evidence and locate early smelting sites is needed. Interpretation of soil (and stream sediment) geochemical survey data could provide valuable information but interpretation of these data is not straightforward, and requires spatial analysis in conjunction with archived documentary evidence; distribution patterns of lead alone is often not sufficient and anomalous concentrations of other elements such as fluorine and barium are sometimes better indicators of early smelting activity (John Hunter pers comm.).

The lead smelting mill complexes required wood as well as water. The slag hearth used charcoal as fuel; the ore hearth used dried wood known as ‘white coal’, which burned at a lower temperature than charcoal (Kiernan 1989 p.141); this helped prevent the lead from evaporating. Crossley & Kiernan note ‘The remains of white-coal kilns – circular hollows approximately 3-4 metres across – can be found at smelting-mill sites and in nearby woods. Originally the kilns used a wood fire to dry the white-coal, but seventeenth-century accounts show mineral coal in use, and scatters of coalash can be seen at some kiln-sites’ (Crossley & Kiernan 1992 p.8).

Lidar analysis and archaeological survey within woodlands in the Sheffield area is key to our understanding of the scale of white coal production in this period – alongside evidence for wider woodland management activities, including charcoal production. Walkover surveys carried out as part of the HLF-funded ‘Fuelling the Revolution’ project in 2000/2001 identified white coal kilns (known locally as Q-pits) and charcoal burning platforms in a number of woodlands. For example, probable Q-pits, defined by a bank of soil with a gap downslope and 5 to 7m in diameter, were noted in Hang Bank Wood, Lees Hall Wood and Rollestone Wood, in Sheffield (Pouncett 2001, p94), while circular charcoal burning platforms, of between 7m and 9m in diameter, were noted in Lees Hall, Roe Wood and Woolley Wood, in Sheffield (ibid). 

Work within Ecclesall Woods, Sheffield, carried out with the Friends of Ecclesall Woods thanks to Local Heritage Initiative funding, allowed for detailed examination of two Q-pits. The features were shown to comprise rectangular stone-lined pits of about 2m by 3m, cut into the slope, with a bank built up on the lower sides and front – assumed to have been used to support now missing cross-timbers, on which the drying wood would be placed; a stone-lined flue was found at the lowest point of the bank (Gowans & Pouncett 2010 p 32). Further work is needed to better understand these features: ‘It is suggested that augering, combined with magnetic susceptibility survey, would allow a large number of Q-pits to be investigated rapidly. This would help establish whether the excavated examples are representative of the other Q-pits within the woods’ (ibid).

Iron production: furnaces

Like lead smelting complexes, iron furnaces needed to be located on streams that could provide water for power, as well as needing to be located near woodland that could supply charcoal – but they tended to be sited close to the ironstone outcrop that would supply them with ore (Raistrick & Allen 1939 p173). Technological developments saw a transition in this period within the iron industry, too,from the earlier bloomery technique to the later cold blast furnace – but both of these processes of iron production would be using water-power in this period. Evidence for the overlap of these two types of iron-making within South Yorkshire will be important in advancing our understanding of the developing iron industry.

In the bloomery process: ‘Water was used to power the bellows of bloomery smelting furnaces… and to power the hammers used during smithing to consolidate and shape the iron… evidence of water management, such as ponds, tail races and wheel-pits, is likely to survive at water-powered ironworks’ (Historic England 2018a ps. 4-5). Evidence for such a water-powered bloomery was recorded by David Crossley and Denis Ashurst at Rockley Smithies in Barnsley prior to the construction of the M1 motorway (Crossley & Ashurst 1968). Evidence for operation in the early 16th century was limited but substantial evidence was found for a phase of major rebuilding c1600, which included a bloom-hearth, probably two string-hearths – for reheating (with bellows powered by waterwheels), and an unpowered hammer (ibid p10). It is suggested that cinder tips within Cawthorne Park Woods could indicate further water-powered iron bloomeries, referenced in 1630 (SYSMR 3518).

Rockley is known to have gone out of use c. 1640 and the bloomery at Barnby, near Cawthorne, went out of use in the 1650s – Crossley suggests that these dates indicate a late adoption of the new blast furnace technology in the wider Sheffield region, which could relate to the nature of the demand for iron; local demand for nails, farm implements and domestic metal-work being met by the existing technology – only a growth in demand would make investment in new technology seem worthwhile (ibid p 35). 

Raistrick notes that ‘About the middle of the seventeenth century the change was being made to small blast furnaces furnished with water-driven bellows for the blast… In most cases the blast furnace necessitated the construction of larger dams, stream courses, and wheel pits, for larger wheels than were ever required in the bloomeries…’ (Raistrick & Allen 1939 p 176).

Ironmaster Lionel Copley of Rotherham leased ground for construction of a blast-furnace at Rockley in 1652 (Rockley Old Furnace SYSMR 4568) (Crossley & Ashurst 1968 p11). This furnace does not survive above ground, but a later blast furnace built nearby, perhaps as competition, does. The new Rockley furnace (SYSMR 2322; Scheduled Monument 1004820) was built c.1704. It has a structure typical of an early 18th century cold blast furnace, with a square stone-built tower, open at the top to allow for charging and to let gases escape, and with chamfered arches in the north and west elevations, to allow for blowing and casting respectively.

The new Rockley blast furnace was investigated by David Cossley between 1978 and 1982, with four main components being identified: the blast furnace itself, the wheel pit, the bellows house and the casting pit (Crossley 1995). These structures have been put into a wider context more recently by an earthwork survey carried out for the East Peak Industrial Heritage Support Programme, which recorded remains of the charging ramp and associated water management features within adjoining woodland (ArcHeritage 2012).

Iron production: forging and casting

Whereas the bloomery produced a ‘bloom’ of iron that could then be hammered to produce wrought iron, the blast furnace produced cast iron. Objects such as cooking pans could be directly cast by this method, but to produce malleable iron, the cast ingots (known as pig iron) had to be passed to a forge for processing. Geoffrey Hopkinson mentions five forges working in South Yorkshire by the end of the 17th century: Wortley, Wadsley, Attercliffe, Sheffield and Roche, with all but the forge at Sheffield continuing in use through the 18th century (Hopkinson 1961 p 146). As these forges needed more power than the blast furnaces, they were located on more major watercourses; Raistrick notes that the South Yorkshire forges connected with the Spencer family were all located on the River Don – at Wortley, Wadsley, Attercliffe, Masbrough & Kilnhurst (Raistrick 1938 p 69).

At each forge there would be at least two hearths, including a ‘finery’ and a ‘chafery’, for processing the pig iron into wrought iron. In the finery, the pig iron was melted in an open charcoal hearth, under an air blast provided by water-powered bellows; the hot ‘bloom’ produced was then taken to a water-powered hammer for forging, to remove trapped slag – the consolidated iron then being shaped into a bar under a further water-powered hammer, with periodic re-heating in the chafery hearth, also blown by water-powered bellows (Historic England 2015 p 29). Archaeological evidence for such forges could include the wooden foundations for the forge hammers and the wooden support for the anvil, as well as evidence for the water supply used to power the bellows and hammers; the hearths themselves are thought less likely to survive, being largely above ground features (ibid). Wortley Top Forge is significant as the site of a known mid 17th century finery with continuity in the production of iron from at least the early 18th century, through adaptation to wrought iron working (SYSMR 02313; Scheduled Monument 1018262).

Archaeological evidence from this period is more likely to survive where such sites have fallen out of use early. Where forge sites have a long history of continued industrial use, later activity may well have obscured earlier evidence. Detailed discussions on many such sites can be found in ‘Water Power on the Sheffield Rivers’ (Ball, Crossley & Flavell 2006). For example, Wadsley or Wardsend Forge (SYSMR 1683), which was first recorded in a Shrewsbury estate rental of 1581 and rented to Lionel Copley by 1646, had become part of the Wardsend Steel Works by the mid 19th century (ibid ps. 11-12); a dam and goits (mill races) shown on historic maps can still be traced as features on the ground (ibid p.11-12). A key archaeological question, as with other water-powered sites, will be how surviving water-management features relate to those for the early water-powered site. 

Arthur Raistrick’s study of the Spencer family archives has helped clarify the connections between the different components of the iron trade:

The collection consists… of accounts relating to ten furnaces, eighteen forges, and five slitting mills, along with ironstone mines and charcoal leases… The basic relation within each unit is that of furnace and forge with ironstone mines and charcoaling sites connected with the furnace, and charcoal woods, and occasionally slitting mills associated with the forge. The furnace produced pig iron which passed to the forge to be made into rod and bar iron which was then either sold in that form, or passed to the slitting mill to produce sheet and slit rods for nail making’ (Raistrick 1938 p 168). 

Figure 4. Map of iron industry sites in the Spencer MSS (from Raistrick 1938)

Nine groups of ironworks connected with the Spencer family were identified by Raistrick, of which the earliest records relate to Group 1, already well established at the beginning of the seventeenth century (NB bold = South Yorkshire sites):

‘Group 1. Barnby Furnace (pa. of Cawthorne, 4 miles N.W. of Barnsley). Kirkstall Forge (near Leeds). Upper Bank Furnace. Nether Bank Furnace (pa. of Emley, near Silkstone). Colnbridge Forge (near Huddersfield, pa. of Bradley). 

Group 2. Chapell Furnace (8 miles N. of Sheffield). Rockley Furnace (near Tankersley). Stainborough Forge.

Group 3. Wortley Forges (pa. of Wortley, near Penistone). 

Group 4. Barnage Furnace (Gloucestershire). Silkstone Forge and Slitting Mills (Silkstone, Yks.). 

Group 5. Bretton Furnace (pa. of W. Bretton, N.W. of Barnsley). Kilnhurst Forge (near Sheffield). 

Group 7. The “Sheffield” group, associated with Chapell Furnace. Wardsend Forge. Attercliffe Forge. Stone Forge. Masborough Slitting Mill. 

Group 8. The “Duke of Norfolk” group… Staveley Furnace (near Chesterfield, Derbyshire). Staveley Forge. Foxbrook Furnace (near Yks. border, N.E. of Staveley). Renishaw Slitting Mill (Derbyshire). Roche Abbey Forge (Yorkshire). Carburton Forge (Nottinghamshire). 

Group 9. Holme Chapel Furnace and Forge (pa. of Burnley, Lancs). Mousehole Forge. Seamer Forge. Seacroft Furnace.’ (ibid ps. 168-170).

Iron production: slitting

The final component of the iron trade mentioned and not yet discussed was the slitting mill, where ‘flat bars of iron were formed into plates between rollers and then passed between grooved rolls or ‘slitters’ to produce rod iron for nail-making… they were established in Yorkshire during the 1600s which led to a considerable expansion of the nail trade. The first slitting mill in the Sheffield district was probably the one built for George Sitwell at Renishaw [in Derbyshire] in the 1650s. The one at Masborough was recorded in 1678 and another at Wortley, next to the forge, was first mentioned in a lease in 1684’ ( accessed 28-7-19). 

Raistrick notes ‘Sea coal, or true mineral coal was used in the slitting mill and occasionally in the forges, but was not successful in the latter, as it is sometimes noted [in the accounts] that there is a quantity of spoiled metal from using sea coals’ (Raistrick 1938 p 74). Coal was, however, successfully used at the slitting mill to fire the re-heating furnaces – although water–power remained in use for rolling the rods and also cutting them into lengths suitable for nails. As a result, slitting mills at this time were located next to rivers that could provide the water required to provide this power (Hopkinson 1961 p148). Evidence for the water-management system that provided the necessary supply of water may survive, even if the mill sites themselves have been lost through continued industrial development. 

Nail making & wire drawing

Hopkinson notes ‘ironworks… were central to the economy of the whole district, the prosperity of which was largely dependent upon the capacity of these works to supply local factors and nail chapmen with forge and rod iron’ (Hopkinson 1961 p122). After 1700, iron produced locally was used for nail making, near Sheffield, and for wire drawing, in Barnsley (ibid p149); these were seasonal industries, carried out alongside farming in rural areas. In 1707, thirty-seven individuals were recorded as being in the nail trade in Ecclesfield, north of Sheffield, having between them forty-two hearths, each employing four hands (Jones 1956 p 150). Nail making, by hand on domestic forges, remained an important industry from Grenoside and Ecclesfield northwards into the 19th century (Bayliss 1990 p.25); Derek Bayliss notes that not many such forges survive (ibid) and those that do are likely to represent the later stages of the industry but clearly evidence for Post-Medieval nail making workshops may still survive below-ground.

Less is known about the evidence for the local wire-making industry of this period. Brian Elliott notes “of all the trades associated with Barnsley, the craft of wiremaking is the most difficult to appreciate and least understood. The fact that it… rapidly declined towards the end of the eighteenth century makes information difficult to come by’ (Elliott 2004 p 65).  Most wiredrawing probably took place in small workshops close to domestic properties, similar to those for nail making, but there is some evidence for a water-powered wire mill of this period at Thurgoland. Elliott notes that Old Wire Mill is believed to have been built in 1624, then rebuilt c.1850 before going out of use in the 1920s (ibid p 68). Peter Ryder and Stanley Jones investigated the site in 1983 and noted that the Wire Mill building itself contained no features earlier than the late 18th or 19th century – but Old Mill Cottages nearby (SYSMR 2202) are clearly earlier. The rectangular stone-built block had originally consisted of eight back-to-back cottages, the vernacular elements of which suggest a construction date early in the 18th century, if not late in the 17th century. This could make them an interesting and early example of purpose-built workers’ accommodation. Does archaeological evidence for similar purpose-built cottages survive near water-powered sites of this period elsewhere in South Yorkshire?

Edge tools and cutlery

One local landowner with a keen interest in promoting industrial concerns in the earlier Post-Medieval period was the Earl of Shrewsbury. A surviving rental from the Shrewsbury’s Sheffield estate for 1581 details at least 14 cutler grinding wheels working in Sheffield and Ecclesfied during this period (Ball, Crossley & Flavell 2006 p xv). For example, the Porter Wheel (still in existence as Shepherd Wheel – SYSMR 1606; Scheduled Monument 1002931), is first referenced in a document of 1566. 

Many of these water-powered grinding wheels stayed in use and then saw later industrial development, meaning that archaeological evidence for their Post-Medieval phase may be limited. On such sites evidence may primarily come from the associated water management features, as discussed above for other water-power sites. Where there has been less later development, more physical evidence may well survive. Research carried out as part of restoration works at Shepherd Wheel (SYSMR 01606; Scheduled Monument 1002931), funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund, clarified that the larger of the two surviving grinding hulls (the grinding workshop buildings) is likely to be later 18th century in date. However, building recording identified some projecting stonework out of alignment with other stonework – potential evidence for an earlier structure and possibly part of the ‘potar whele’ mentioned in the 16th century (Johnson & May 2012 p9). Any such surviving evidence could be key to our understanding of this crucial phase in the metal trades’ history.

This certainly appears to have been a period of growth in the cutlery industry. Following the death of the seventh Earl of Shrewsbury and the arrival of an absentee Lord of the Manor, calls for more regulation led to the foundation of the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire. The Act of Incorporation of 1624 gave the Cutlers’ Company jurisdiction over:

‘all persons using to make Knives, Blades, Scissers, Sheeres, Sickles, Cutlery wares
and all other wares and manufacture made or wrought of yron and steele,
dwelling or inhabiting within the said Lordship and Liberty of Hallamshire,
or within six miles compasse of the same…’. accessed 12-7-19

Additional trades were added slightly later: awlbladesmiths were added in 1676; scycthesmiths and filesmiths in 1682 (Hey 1979 p122), suggesting that the metal trades were flourishing in the Sheffield area. 

Figure 5. Metalworking communities of the Sheffield region, with heads of parishes shown in italics (from Hey 1972)

At this date, the cutlery and edge tool industries seem to have operated much like the nail and wire industries, discussed above. Many cutlers were likely to be operating in workshops close to their homes. The hearth tax for Sheffield town in 1672 records 224 smithies and 494 houses, or a smithy to every 2.2 houses (Hey 1987 p 3). Hey also noted ‘smithies were humble buildings erected as lean-tos or in backyards, wherever a small piece of land was available’ and adds ‘a typical smithy was about 10 feet square… the cluttered working-area contained a coal-fired hearth and a pair of bellows, an anvil set on a stone base known as a smithy and stock, a coultrough for hardening, workboards, vices and hammers, and the raw materials’ (Hey 1991 p102). Although much metalworking is known to have been carried out in rural communities, the urban area of Sheffield at this date clearly has potential for surviving evidence, in both the historic core and the Crofts area (shown built-up by Gosling’s map of the town of 1736). Hey notes ‘It is clear from occupations recorded in deeds… that this north-western part of the town housed cutlers and other artisans’ (Hey 1991 p.87). As yet, the archaeological evidence recovered has been limited, e.g excavation by ARCUS at land off Tenter Street, Sheffield, identified that ‘some sherds of late 17th century date offer tentative evidence of earlier activity in the area’ (Saich & Matthews 2007 p.119); evidence for this phase of metalworking may survive where there has been less impact from later development and would be highly significant.

Hey adds ‘Until well into the eighteenth century most cutlers and other metalworkers rented space at grinding wheels in the river valleys in order to grind their own wares… only the arduous task of scythe-grinding was considered sufficiently difficult to warrant specialist labour’ (ibid ps.102-3). Scythe-making, Hey notes ‘was always a trade associated with the parish of Norton and rarely practised beyond its borders… [by the middle years of the seventeenth century] many Norton families had been making scythes on their farms for three or four generations or more’ (ibid p95).

Steel making

Advances and growth in the local metal trades is likely to have played a central part in the development of the Sheffield and Rotherham steel trade. There are clearly links to be explored between ironmaking and steelmaking as bloomery furnaces could be manipulated to produce steel (Rod Mackenzie pers comm.). Metallurgical analysis of 13th century bloomery slag from the Sheffield Castle site suggest that the slag related to iron that was at the ‘steelier’ end of the spectrum; more examples are needed to establish if this was the result of intentional or coincidental manufacturing (ibid).

Ken Barraclough’s research into steelmaking identified that the records of the Staveley Ironworks include reference to ‘blistered steele’ (steel produced by the cementation process) from c1699 and he adds ‘The steelmaking facilities which can be identified were at Richmond, Ballifield, and Darnall, all villages to the south east of Sheffield, and at Rotherham’ (Barraclough 1984 p74). There may have been attempts to manufacture steel locally earlier. Anthony Munford notes that in 1664, Charles Tooker took a lease ‘of “all the water course which was lately used for a Steel Mill or Forge called Thriburgh Steel Forge”… [and he obtained] a patent for making steel in 1666’ (Munford ps. 15-16). In addition, Munford notes ‘tantalising references to a steel furnace in the Moorgate area of Rotherham in the second half of the seventeenth century’ and that in the 1672 Hearth Tax return, Lionel Copley was assessed for a ‘steel furnace’ at Kimberworth (ibid). 

By 1709 there is reference to cementation steel production in the town of Sheffield itself (the furnace of Samuel Shore) and by 1720, two furnaces are recorded in the town – that of Shore and of a Mr Perkins (or Parkins), with two further furnaces said to be still in operation within a distance of two or three miles (according to the Swedish traveller Jonas Alströmer). Barraclough notes that this latter description would fit the Ballifield and Attercliffe/Darnall furnaces already mentioned (Barraclough 1984 p77); Hey suggests, of the two further furnaces mentioned, that ‘Richmond and Ballifield are the obvious candidates, but… there was a third one nearby in Darnall associated with Samuel Shore’ (Hey 1991 p. 188). Samuel Shore’s Sheffield furnace was on Steelhouse Lane; Thomas Parkin’s furnace was on Blind Lane (ibid p. 191-193). Barraclough adds ‘The conclusion to be drawn … is that there was an increasing interest in steel production in Sheffield in the early years of the eighteenth century. It is doubtful whether this production was sufficient to provide for all local needs since… “Newcastle steel” was [still] being sent to both Sheffield and Birmingham…’ (Barraclough 1984 p78). It should be noted that it wasn’t the locally produced iron that was being used in these early steel furnaces but that it was ‘cheap Swedish ores of excellent quality [that] encouraged English entrepreneurs to erect their own cementation furnaces to convert bar-iron into steel’ (Hey 1991 p.184).

Any archaeological evidence from these early steel furnace sites would be extremely significant. Those furnace sites that lie outside the town centres and zones of intensive later development may well have a better chance of some survival. Barraclough notes that ‘On the Fairbank plan of Ballifield Hall, drawn in 1795, although no furnace is shown, the area immediately south of the hall is marked “Steelhouse Close”, so its location would seem to be fairly precisely known’ (ibid p.75); the location of the Richmond furnace is not discussed.

Non-ferrous metal production

Further investigation is also required into the use and production of non-ferrous metals, such as copper alloys (brass & bronze in particular) in the local metal trades. These are known to have been used in later periods but it isn’t known how far back the use of copper alloys in the cutlery/tool trade goes (Rod Mackenzie pers comm.). Archaeological evidence could clarify how these metals were being sourced and used in this period. 

Glass industry

The introduction of coal-fired furnaces for steel production was matched by the development of coal-fired furnaces for glass-working, for which there is very good evidence locally. South Yorkshire is not thought to have had a glass industry in the 16th century as, at that time, glassmaking used wood as a fuel, for which there was already great demand from other industries (Ashurst 1992 p.8). A proclamation of 1615, forbidding wood to be burnt for glass production, led to technological innovation as a new fuel was sought (ibid p.9-10). With regard to the establishment of a glass industry in South Yorkshire, Denis Ashurst notes ‘The exploitation of the coalfield accelerated during the [seventeenth] century on the secure basis of industrial and domestic demand, offering clear attractions for the glassmaker needing easy access to suitable fuel supplies… the glassmaker also needed refractory clay from which to make crucibles and the local coal seams offered an excellent material in the associated ganister clay’ (ibid p.16). 

The earliest glassworks, established in 1631 on land made available by Thomas Wentworth, was situated near his home at Wentworth Woodhouse – in an area still known as Glasshouse Green (ibid p19). The precise site of this early works, which closed c1642, is not known but fieldwalking north of Glasshouse Green has identified copper-rich glass-making slag, which is likely to be associated with this Wentworth glasshouse (Network Archaeology 2002 p.9 & Appendix 3). The locations of other glassworks of this period are known, either from excavated evidence: Gawber (SYSMR 02926) and Silkstone (SYSMR 03526), or from surviving structures and excavation evidence: Bolsterstone (SYSMR 02852; Scheduled Monument 1004803), with Bolsterstone being the earliest known standing example of a rectangular glasshouse. Keith Miller noted that the ‘rural or semi-rural location of many South Yorkshire sites, together with their relatively short working lifetimes and limited re-use, has resulted in unusually high levels of survival’ (Miller 2002 p 2). The position of these early glassworks, sited close to the then workable coal seams, may help explain their early closure. Ashurst comments ‘new eighteenth century glass technology demanded even greater supplies of coal… and the industry made its first move eastward to where new deep mines were exploiting richer veins (Ashurst 1992 p 44). 

Figure 6. Distribution of South Yorkshire glassworks (from Ashurst 1992)

One technological advance required by the 17th century coal-fired glass furnace was the introduction of a closed rather than an open crucible, to protect the glass from coal fumes during melting, as these could ‘discolour the glass to give a smokey green, or brown to even black glass’ (ibid p.37).

Excavated material from these Post-Medieval glass production sites that is now held in museum collections has great potential for further work. Miller notes ‘the quality and variety of materials available for analysis (ranges of glass products and waste, crucibles, and raw materials) [from] the S Yorks sites offer unique opportunities for researching the little-understood techniques of early coal-fired glass production… for exploring links between glasshouses and sources of raw materials… and for characterising glass in relation to its production centre’ (Miller 2002 p1). This potential was confirmed following excavation at Silkstone, where recovered glassworking waste was chemically analysed. The analysis found evidence for three phases of glass production between c1660 and 1700; in each phase, both dark green and pale green/colourless glass (known as ‘white glass’ or ‘flint glass’) were found to have been produced (Dungworth et al 2006 p.177).

Transport and trade

As well as proximity to raw materials and fuel sources, transport networks clearly also had an influence on both the location and development of industrial sites. Ashurst notes, of the glassworks discussed above, ‘both Silkstone and Bolsterstone suffered from transport problems in their somewhat isolated position’ (Ashurst 1992 p.44). As discussed already, the lead industry expanded into South Yorkshire because Sheffield was on a route for onward transport out of the region. Hey notes that ‘it is likely that a network of carriers’ routes linked Sheffield to most provincial towns and not just to those along the way to London… though road surfaces were poor by later standards, they were not so deplorable as to prevent commercial expansion’ (Hey 1987 p.6).

Potentially, the most significant routes for transporting goods at this time were those leading to the inland port at Bawtry, the head of navigation on the River Idle. Inland navigation at this time was ‘the cheapest, safest and most rapid form of transport’ (Hopkinson 1956 p.229). As a result, Derek Holland notes, ‘to Bawtry wharf came… lead and millstones and cast- and wrought-iron wares from Derbyshire, cutlery and other edge-tools, wrought iron, millstones and grindstones, limestone and corn from South Yorkshire. Some of these commodities went via [the] Idle, Trent and Humber to Hull or down the east coast to London and other major centres; others went overseas’ (Holland 1980 p. 21). Crossley & Kiernan noted that in 1622 ‘a group of Derbyshire merchants jointly purchased land at Bawtry to build wharves to facilitate the dispatch of their lead’ (Crossley & Kiernan 1992 p.10).

Holland adds ‘only small craft could navigate the Idle up to Bawtry; so transhipment often took place at Stockwith [on the river Trent]’ (Holland 1987 p.6). Improving navigation of the river Don was proposed as a means to improve this vital inland navigation; in 1697 Sir Godfrey Copley, of Sprotbrough, introduced an unsuccessful Bill for improvement to the House of Commons – a Bill for improvements was eventually successful in 1726 (Hopkinson 1956 ps. 230-231), which would affect Bawtry’s river trade and lead to its demise as a port. 

Figure 7. Derbyshire lead industry – lead transport routes c1550 (amended from Kiernan 1989)

Prior to these inland navigation improvements, Stainforth or (seasonally) Doncaster acted as the head of navigation on the River Don (Kiernan 1989 p.97). Holland notes ‘Doncaster’s prosperity in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries depended very largely on increasing trade and traffic along the Great North Road… and its river trade. The latter was especially important before the improvement of the Don above Doncaster began in 1726’ (Holland 1980 ps.20-21). Alongside evidence for medieval wharves, the SYAS excavations at Low Fisher Gate, Doncaster, in 1993-4, recorded re-used boat-timber fragments. These timbers derived from a smooth-skinned ‘carvel’: ‘the timbers were lined with a felted layer of animal hair (probably cattle hair) and the gaps between the board edges were filled with a plant fibre (probably hemp) and wood tar. The use of plant fibres dates these finds to the 16th century or later’ (Allen et al 2007 p284). Clearly, archaeological evidence for wharves, associated structures and even vessels may survive elsewhere, too. Any such evidence for activity at former South Yorkshire inland ports would greatly enhance our understanding of their use.

Towns and urban life

Their function as inland ports is just one aspect of towns and settlements within South Yorkshire that warrant archaeological investigation for this period. In discussing the growth of Norwich, Brian Ayers pointed out: “The archaeology of post-medieval Norwich is no more distinct and whole unto itself than the archaeology of any other period. All are indivisible and part of the seamless web of urban development… Sampling strategies, therefore, need to be supplemented by criteria which seek to understand a site in terms of overall urban development” (Ayers 1991 p20). This, Ayers explains, means taking ‘an inclusive approach to the problems of studying the post-medieval city’ (ibid p. 1): not only excavation but also studies of surviving buildings, documentary research and analysis of post-medieval material held in museum collections. With this approach, individual sites that are investigated through the development process can be seen as part of a wider process of investigating towns as distinct archaeological entities.

Important questions about urban life to consider through this approach, in addition to the development of the metal trades and communications (already mentioned), would include: provision of housing, street maintenance, water supply & sanitation, rubbish disposal, markets & food supply – including, in this period, access to a public bakehouse, facilities for malting & brewing, etc. 

Other industries

Other industries not discussed in detail here but that are known to have operated in and around urban centres in South Yorkshire and that can be expected to have left archaeological evidence, warranting further investigation, include: tanning (widespread in South Yorkshire, with oak bark available from local woodlands, and with production sites located close to a water supply and peripheral to urban centres, such as the probably mid 17th century tanning pits excavated by ARCUS at Riverside Exchange – adjacent to the River Don, Sheffield – see Andrews 2015 ps. 11-12); button making (horn buttons became a Sheffield speciality, with the trade growing significantly in the early years of the 18th century – see Hey 1991 ps. 122-126); and clay tobacco pipe production (particularly Rotherham, from 1665 – see list of local makers in White 2004). 


The emergence of ‘country potteries’ in the early 18th century also needs further investigation: the pottery at Sheffield Manor, which produced mottled ware, is thought to date to the period from c. 1708 – see list in Cumberpatch 2010 p.17; the pottery at Silkstone, was thought to have been in production from c.1754, but small-scale excavation at the site, for English Heritage, found dumped ceramic material associated with clay tobacco pipes from c. 1700-1730, suggesting pottery production started earlier – see Dungworth et al 2006 ps 167 & 182. A fuller discussion of the development of pottery production and use in this period are set out on the page below.


Barnsley and Doncaster are known to have had textile industries in this period – Barnsley having a cloth market and Doncaster a wool market recorded in the 17th century, with the Barnsley area known for a coarse cloth called ‘penistones’ and the Doncaster area as a centre for woollen stocking knitting – see Hey 1979 ps. 123-124. This textile industry, although important locally, is not likely to have left significant archaeological evidence for the machinery used in production, though associated buildings or evidence for associated buildings may survive – such as the suspected 17th century weavers cottage excavated by Denis Ashurst at Houndhill [SYSMR 347/03], where documentary evidence indicates cloth-making at the site from the mid 16th century, although the finds recovered were from a later phase of weaving activity(Ashurst 1979).

The Civil War

For this period, when considering urban centres, we need also to consider the impact of the Civil War (1642–1651). Re-fortification and construction of defensive structures, as well as siege earthworks, can all be anticipated from this period – both around towns and around gentry houses, as well as at castles. Traces of Civil War defences, in particular ditches, may survive as archaeological features and any identified would help to confirm the position of defences suggested from documentary sources. Given the short period of use of such features, artefacts from securely stratified Civil War contexts would also be considered important (Historic England 2018b p6). 

The only battle recorded within South Yorkshire is said to have taken place on Tankersley Moor but skirmishes are recorded at Houndhill (Hey 1979 p. 148) and at Rotherham, where construction of ‘rudimentary earthworks around the town’ are recorded (Munford 2000 p.62). The boundary wall and tower built c1640-44 to protect the Royalist garrison at Houndhill, Worsbrough, survives and is Grade II listed (NHLE 1315080); the extent and location of any other Civil War defences are not certain. 

It was to be on castles that the Civil War was to have a lasting impact; ones that were seen to have obstructed Parliamentary progress were subsequently slighted (part demolished to render them incapable of defence) by Act of Parliament. Tickhill castle (NHLE 1004828) and Sheffield castle (NHLE 1254808 – 1254810) both surrendered to Parliamentarian forces in 1644 (ibid). Sheffield castle was subsequently slighted and demolition continued to clear the site, which went on to be enveloped by the growing town and built over. Documentary research by Rachel Askew provides valuable supporting detail for the demolition process here (Askew 2017). Recent fieldwork carried out in relation to the demolition of the Castle Markets, constructed in the 20th century, has allowed archaeological investigation, with the evidence exposed allowing us to gain a much better understanding of this crucial period in the site’s history (see, for example, Davies & Willmott 2002; Tuck 2019). Interestingly, evidence for recreation as one the first ‘new’ uses of the site was found, in the form of remains of the Post-Medieval bowling green shown on the 1736 Gosling map of Sheffield; evidence for play and recreation is often poorly represented in the archaeological record and yet must have formed an important aspect of daily life.

Religious Buildings & Sites

The social changes that led to and arose from the Civil War can be seen in another significant component of the landscape: churches and chapels. Peter Ryder noted in comments for the research framework, for churches/chapels: 

The Reformation drew down a curtain upon the erection of new churches; existing buildings were patched up and modified in ways usually no longer evidenced, as Victorian restorers were always keen to sweep away evidence of this period. There are one or two exceptions; Hill Top Chapel in Attercliffe (Sheffield) was built in 1629, still Gothic (largely remodelled in 1909)… The nave of the medieval church at Wentworth was remodelled in 1684, this time in a clearly Renaissance style, but [it] now lies in ruins.”


Peter Ryder added, for Nonconformist chapels and meeting houses in South Yorkshire:

The Old Dissent is the name given to groups which generally emerged in the mid-17th century at the time of the Civil War, comprising Baptists, Independents of various types (latterly Congregationalists and Presbyterians), Unitarians and the Society of Friends or Quakers. Baptists, as their name implies, insisted that baptism, by full immersion, be restricted to believing adults, and emphasised, as did the other dissenting groups, the priority of the local church over any national hierarchy. The Presbyterian Great Houghton Chapel was built in 1650 by Sir Edward Rodes, a simple rectangle in plan with round heads to the lights of its mullioned and transomed windows and a Puritan interior complete with box pews; it became an Anglican chapel of ease in 1845. Bullhouse Chapel, Penistone, is another Presbyterian meeting house, dated 1692, externally intact but with its interior largely renewed c1900… The Society of Friends (popularly ‘Quakers’) were the most radical, and achieved an influence on society, and in social improvement, out of all proportion to their relatively small numbers.”

According to Helen Roberts ‘There was a strong group of Seekers in Balby who were converted to Quakerism and formed a settled Meeting soon after George Fox first visited the area in 1651… Balby was also significant in the development of the discipline and organisation of the Society of Friends, particularly through the Epistle of Balby Elders issued in 1656’ (Roberts 2003, updated 2007, p29). The Balby Monthly Meeting was established in 1669 and included Friends from as far afield as Cinder Hill (later Woodhouse, nr. Sheffield) and Fishlake, as well as Balby itself; Roberts notes that this Monthly Meeting ‘was also the focus for regional and national gatherings of elders and ministers’ (ibid p.8). Another early focus of Friends was at Burton (Monk Bretton), part of the Pontefract Monthly Meeting, where a meeting is first recorded in 1657 – Roberts notes ‘it drew in Friends from Barnsley, Ardsley, Billingley, Cudworth and Carleton, as well as Burton itself’ (ibid p.30).

Figure 8. Early Quaker meeting groups within South Yorkshire (from Elliott 2004)

After the Toleration Act of 1689, meetings could move out of private houses and Meeting Houses could be constructed, often associated with burial grounds. Thomas Aldam had given land for a burial ground in Quaker Lane, Warmsworth, around 1660; a Meeting House was built on the same site by his son William in 1705 (ibid p.29), which building survives (SYSMR 3803; Listed Grade II,1286119). At Burton, where there was a burial ground by the late 1650s, a meeting house was built in 1698, which remained in use until 1815, when the meeting moved to Barnsley (ibid. p.30). Brian Elliott notes of Burton ‘When I surveyed the site in 1972 the perimeter of the graveyard (14 by 10 metres) and the outline of the meeting house (9 by 7 metres) could be clearly seen’ (Elliott 2004 p.131) and added ‘this site is of considerable regional and national importance, as one of the earliest Quaker burial grounds in the country’ (ibid p. 132). 

Richard Hoare’s history of the Balby Monthly Meeting identifies a number of burying grounds from this period: Bowcroft/Moorewood, nr Stannington (1675); Braithwaite nr Trumfleet (1703); Cinderhill, nr Ballifield (1667); Fishlake (1657); Fosterhouses (1661); Sheffield – Broad Lane (1676); Sheffield – Hartshead (1708); Thorne (1673?); Warmsworth (1706); Woodhouse, nr. Sheffield (1687) and notes that Tickhill, which separated from the Balby Monthly Meeting c1666, had a burying ground recorded by 1659 (Hoare 2002). Hoare also identified a number of Meeting Houses from this period within the Balby Monthly Meeting area: Braithwaite (1703); Fishlake (1701); Sheffield – Hartshead (1708); Thorne (1673?); Warmsworth (1706); Woodhouse, nr. Sheffield (1697) (ibid). 

Hey considered the location of growing non-conformism within South Yorkshire and noted that the distribution reflected the location and character of existing parishes:

 ‘Old Dissent was both urban and rural, but unequally distributed, with only a thin scatter outside its strongholds. It was conspicuously absent from the estate-villages’ (Hey 1973 p. 94) and he added ‘The Quakers were widespread, but their strongholds were the traditional ones of Sheffield, the moorland chapelries, and the lowlands in the east’ (ibid p. 96). Hey went on to suggest ‘the success of Nonconformity depended in large measure upon the types of community that were to be found in the area. During the seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries the Old Dissent spread in those remote places where the parochial structure was weakest… where settlements were small and nucleated, where the farming system involved the whole community, and where the squire and rector were in immediate supervision of their charges, dissent was easily suppressed’ (ibid p.116).

There is clearly scope for greater archaeological consideration of the evidence already cited. Of the known sites listed by Richard Hoare (see above), only the Warmsworth Meeting House is recorded on the South Yorkshire Sites & Monuments Record. In addition, Elliott notes ‘In 1662 nonconformists were barred from public office… Such repression may have made the Quakers even more determined to do well in trade and commerce’ (Elliott 2004 p. 127). It is interesting, in this respect, to note that Ballifield, the site of one of the earliest steel furnaces in Sheffield, was also the home of the Stacy family, early supporters of Quakerism (see Hoare 2004 ps.53-54). Arthur Raistrick undertook research into the Quaker contribution to science and industry in the 17th and 18th centuries (Raistrick 1950) but there is clearly scope for a more detailed consideration of the South Yorkshire evidence.

Secular Buildings


Standing buildings may be particularly important in our understanding of the interplay between continuity and change at this time. In terms of vernacular buildings, Peter Ryder has noted for this research framework that for secular buildings:

“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 dendro-dating has clarified the situation. The first cruck dated, from Hangram Lane, Fulwood (Sheffield) was to 1541, and this is about central to the date range shown by another dozen or so more recent dates… In many cases, cruck barns now stand separate from farmhouses, which tend to be of post-and-truss construction, e.g. Green Farm, near Stocksbridge, or, after c1600, stone. Cruck barns continued to be constructed, often with stone rather than timber side walls, for at least a century after stone construction for houses became normative.”

Ryder adds:

Stone-built farmhouses seem to become the norm after 1600, although some retained an internal timber arcade between the main body of the house and a rear outshut, a construction also seen in a number of barns. There are several good examples around Langsett, which also show masoncraft of a high standard. Further east, brick is used at Low Grange, Thurnscoe, both in the late-16th century farmhouse and in a barn, now demolished, which had a partial outshut and a wagon porch; the porch had a king-post roof but the main body of the barn had principal rafter trusses with collars, allowing better access at attic level than king posts would have. The principal rafter truss became dominant in farm building until towards the end of the 19th century.”

David Hey discusses the evidence for what is known as ‘The Great Rebuilding’ at this time: ‘a transitional period during which the use of timber was gradually abandoned in favour of stone or brick’ and ‘stone slates, or “thackstones”, were beginning to replace thatch on all but the humblest dwellings’ (Hey 1979 p.131). Mel Jones adds: ‘South Yorkshire is particularly well endowed with workable building stone. In the west the Millstone Grit outcrops were worked for their hard, pale sandstones which were particularly resistant to weathering; the Coal Measure sandstones are softer but more workable… the Magnesian Limestone quarries yielded a creamy, friable stone’ and notes ‘in the eastern lowlands, building stone.. was scarce.. and brick and pantiles, rather than stone became the common building materials after the decline in the use of timber’ (Jones 2000 p. 76).

Derek Holland references brick and tile making at Hatfield, Rossington and Balby c.1700, including pantile production at Hatfield by 1704 (Holland 1980 p.12) and David Hey notes ‘references to Brickhill Carr and Tylehouse Kiln in a 1607 survey of Hatfield’ (Hey 1979 p.132). It may well be that archaeological evidence will provide clarification of the date and scale of early brick and tile production within South Yorkshire, particularly within the eastern lowlands – and by association the early use of brick and tile in construction here. For example, anomalies identified by geophysical survey within an area proposed for an extension to Finningley Quarry were proved by trial trenching to be the remains of former brick kilns, with the hand-made bricks recovered indicating production in the 17th – 18th century; probable clay extraction pits were also identified in the vicinity (Tibbles 2003).

High status

Mel Jones notes ‘local stone was extensively used in the building of the larger houses of the gentry’ and adds ‘two particularly interesting sixteenth century survivals, although one is a ruin, are the Turret House at Sheffield Manor Lodge and the facade at Thorpe Salvin Hall’ (Jones 2000 p.78). Further examples of interesting survivals from the seventeenth century include ‘Bullhouse Hall, near Penistone, Kimberworth Manor House, Hellaby Hall and Cannon Hall at Cawthorne’ (ibid). To this list could be added Tickhill Castle House [NHLE 1151747], probably built after the Parliamentary slighting of the Castle but incorporating earlier medieval remains – an example of the continuance of a castle site as an elite residence, unlike many other castle sites within South Yorkshire. Further re-building of gentry houses in the early 18th century also included enlargement of Wentworth Castle, Stainborough, in the then popular Baroque style, between 1709 and 1714 (ibid p. 80; NHLE 1151065).

Building recording of standing buildings from this period, alongside archive research, has great potential to clarify the extent and nature of the ‘great rebuilding’ within South Yorkshire. Recording carried out at Grade II* Grimethorpe Hall [NHLE 1151202], in relation to a proposed conversion scheme, for example, for example, suggested that the hall (built c.1670) was originally constructed in brick with sandstone details and that the rear sandstone elevation is a later rebuild (Jessop 2004).

Some significant gentry houses of this period do not survive and here below-ground archaeological investigation could shed light on the processes of rebuilding and renewal at work. Sprotbrough Hall was constructed c.1685 but the hall was demolished in 1926; the grounds of the hall have since seen subsequent development. Investigation by On-Site Archaeology, ahead of redevelopment around the later stable block, revealed evidence for occupation from at least the medieval period, with a light industrial phase in the early seventeenth century that came to an abrupt end c.1680 ahead of the construction of the new hall and the laying out of its surrounding grounds (Fenton-Thomas 2007; SYSMR 05602). The changing nature of land use here perhaps reflects the landowner’s changing fortunes after first the Civil War and then the Restoration of 1660 (ibid ps. 270-271). 

Parks and gardens

The parks that were created around these newly built grand houses were different from earlier deer parks, being seen more as ‘an aesthetic extension of the country seat [rather than]… a game preserve and source of wood and timber’ (Jones 200 p. 95). Tom Williamson discusses this change, suggesting “the main reasons for the park’s new role must be sought in important social changes. As the landed wealth of traditional feudal families was increasingly challenged by those who had made their fortunes in administration, trade, and the law, possession of land – and the candid, wasteful display of that possession – became an increasingly important marker of status” Williamson 1995 p. 24).

Into the 17th century, the gardens close to the house were “highly artificial environments: enclosed by high walls, geometric in design, dominated by bushes clipped into pyramids and globes and by patterns defined by low box hedging and the like“ (ibid p.1). This interest in geometric garden design continued into the early 18th century, although “with progressive simplification of parterres and topiary, with the removal of clutter and detail and the gradual dominance of plain grass lawns” (ibid p.40). The garden courts around the house increasingly shared symmetry with surrounding features, in the continental style; courts would be on the same axis as features such as canals and avenues of (usually lime) trees, these latter frequently extending out beyond the park into the surrounding countryside. Williamson notes “The planting of an avenue… had a particular symbolic significance. It demonstrated the planter’s ownership of all the ground over which it passed, and emphasised its status as enclosed land” (ibid p.29). 

Figure 9. Extract from Jefferys’ 1771 map of Yorkshire showing landscaped parks with avenues of trees, near Rotherham (from

Documentary evidence for parks and gardens of this period include that created at Thrybergh between 1670 and 1680, with works recorded including: extending the area of the park, planting ash & sycamore trees in a walk and creating fishponds – in addition, the garden close to the house was also redesigned according to the new fashion, with a fountain in the centre of a parterre and the construction of a grotto/summerhouse (Holland 1980 p. 16).

Archaeological evidence for lost parks and gardens of this period may well survive. The investigations within the grounds of the former Sprotbrough Hall, mentioned above, identified features associated with the former park, known from documentary sources – including an illustrated ‘birds eye’ view by Kip and Knyff, reproduced in their Britannia Illustrata c. 1707; such imagined aerial views were a common response to the new garden layouts, as “it was only from such an elevated perspective that the full extent of the design, the unity of house, garden and wider estate land, and thus the wealth and power of the owner, could be fully expressed” (Williamson 1995 p.28). Excavation at Sprotbrough identified part of an infilled ornamental canal and tree planting pits, perfectly circular in plan, from avenues visible on the Kip and Knyff illustration but that had been removed as part of a later landscaping scheme (ibid p.258 -9).

In places, at least elements of these designed landscapes will still survive despite later changes in garden fashion. A significant survival is the site of the former bowling green and associated pavilion at Cusworth, which became part of the walled kitchen gardens for the new hall following the demolition of the old hall c.1740. The bowling pavilion and attached garden walls, 17th century and altered in the 18th century, are Grade II listed [NHLE 1240554] and lie within the later 18th century Grade II registered park [NHLE 1000412].

More substantial survival from this phase of designed landscape will obviously be significant, warranting detailed study. The Grade I registered park & garden at Wentworth Castle, for example, includes much of the framework for the formal garden established in 1713 by the first Earl of Strafford. These include the geometric pattern of enclosures (originally wildernesses and a bowling green) on either side of a path and radiating walks and avenues of trees [NHLE 1151065]. A Knyff and Kip illustrated view of c.1714 shows an octagonal pool in front of a terrace on the east front of the house, aligned with an avenue approaching from the east; the pool is known to have been infilled in the 1750s. Geophysical survey in this area, ahead of HLF- funded landscape restoration works, attempted to locate evidence for the pool but the results were inconclusive (Gidman & Webb 2006).

Both John Roberts and Michael Klemperer have studied the designed landscapes of the Doncaster district, as “an unusually high number of estates with ornamental landscapes developed on… [the] thin band of Magnesian Limestone partially due to profitable agriculture, and partly due to the aesthetic advantages provided by the area” (Klemperer 2010 p.5). Klemperer also suggests that there is a relationship, in the period we are studying, between industrial development, urbanisation and designed landscapes, saying “The wealth generated by industrial activity and the growth of towns on the Coal Measures made significant contributions to the aristocratic larger estates in the area. ” (ibid).

Archaeological study, with its ability to combine documentary archive research, landscape and building studies and investigation of buried evidence, is ideally suited to the investigation of designed landscapes. It is to be hoped that further research will clarify the scale and nature of the development of Post-Medieval gardens and parks across the whole of South Yorkshire, further investigating the relationship between landowners and the landscapes they created.

Archaeobotanical Issues

Ellen Simmons noted in comments for the research framework, for archaeobotanical evidence: “More evidence is needed from charred plant macrofossils to compare with evidence from documentary sources for the range of crops cultivated and crop husbandry practices in the post-medieval period (Carruthers and Hunter Dowse 2019, 150). Evidence for the increasing use of rivet wheat and two row hulled barley during the post-medieval period is a priority, although well preserved rachis fragments are needed for identification (ibid., 150). Priorities for sampling, therefore, include drying kilns and processing floors (ibid., 150). Smoke blackened thatch and daub are also potential sources of post-medieval plant remains (ibid., 157). Rich assemblages of charred plant remains, particularly where wild or weed plant seeds are included, have the potential to provide evidence for changes in agricultural regimes and agricultural improvements such as drainage.

Very little analysis of charcoal from post-medieval sites has been carried out in northern England (Huntley 2010, 42). Rich assemblages of wood charcoal have the potential to provide evidence for the uses of wood and the management of woodlands at a time when wood for use in charcoal and white coal production, as well as other industrial processes such as smelting and pottery production, was in high demand. Charcoal burning platforms, Q pits, smelting and kiln sites are,therefore, a priority for sampling. Identification of wood charcoal can also provide evidence for the importation of exotic woods and, therefore, trade (ibid., 40).

Waterlogged plant remains can provide rich sources of information concerning diet, trade, and access to imported foods in the post-medieval period, which can be analysed alongside documentary records. Waterlogged plant remains can also provide information on industrial activities such as tanning, cloth production or dying (Carruthers and Hunter Dowse 2019, 157) as well as the cultivation of garden plants (Murphy and Scaife 1991). Latrine pits, moats, wells, and deep pits and ditches are, therefore, a priority for sampling.

Post-Medieval research questions

Agriculture and rural landscapes

How did major changes in land tenure, due to the dissolution of monastic estates and enclosure, affect the post-medieval rural landscape?

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How can we improve our understanding of the processes of early enclosure and land improvement (including drainage schemes)?

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How can we investigate the extent to which agricultural practice and products change during the post-Medieval period? What can palaeo-environmental evidence tell us about such changes?

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How can we better understand the post-Medieval mining landscape of South Yorkshire and the relationship between different components of that landscape?

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What was the nature of woodland industry, and how did it inter-relate with other industries?

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What was the early organisation of the metal trades industries and how did this change over time?

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What evidence can we find for the relationship between existing and emerging technologies in the post-Medieval period?

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What was the relationship between the local post-Medieval iron industry and the emerging steel industry ? Can evidence for the production of steel by the direct process of ironmaking be identified, for example through metallurgical analysis of excavated slag and metalwork samples?

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What evidence can be found for the use and improvement of water management systems, for the delivery of water-power, in this period? How did the improvements identified relate to a changing economy?

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What evidence can be found for the growth in the use of coal as a fuel? What was the impact of this growth?

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How can we better understand the relationship between the extractive industries and production sites in this period?

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Can evidence from assemblages of wood charcoal tell us about woodland management and use of wood in this period; is there evidence for the importation of exotic woods?

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Can evidence be found for use of copper alloys in the cutlery/tool trade in this period? How were these metals being sourced – were they brought in as ingots, bars, etc. or were raw materials brought in for production locally?

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Can evidence from waterlogged plant remains provide information on industrial activities such as tanning, cloth production and dying in this period?

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Urban settlement

QSY0309: How and why did towns expand in the post-medieval period?

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QSY0310: What was the relationship between post-medieval towns and their surrounding rural areas, particularly in relation to the supply of provisions?

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QSY0311: How can we better understand the relationship between the industrial and the domestic sphere?

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QSY0312: How and why did town planning and the provision of amenities develop?

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QSY0313: Can we establish what opportunities and venues were available for both recreational & cultural pursuits within the urban setting? What can these tell us about changing social attitudes?

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QSY0314: How can we better understand the living conditions and lifestyles of the urban poor?

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How and why did transport infrastructure develop during the post-Medieval period and what was the impact of this?

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How can we investigate the role of inland ports as key infrastructure hubs?

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What is the legibility of early roads and packhorse routes?

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Rural settlement

Can we better characterise and explain variations in vernacular rural architecture across South Yorkshire? How did these change over time?

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What encouraged the continuance of cruck building in some areas of South Yorkshire but not others? Could dendrochronology be used to clarify the development and continuance of the cruck building tradition?

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Does evidence survive for as yet unidentified timber-framing in buildings from this period? How can these be identified?

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Can we identify shrinking, removal or relocation of rural settlements in the post-medieval period, as well as identifying the causes?

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How can we better understand the living conditions and lifestyles of the rural poor?

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Can we better understand developments in high status estates & garden design and their impact on the landscapes of South Yorkshire?

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How can we improve our understanding of the geographical distribution of cruck buildings?

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Religion & ritual

What was the impact of the Reformation on monastic estates?

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What was the impact of the Reformation on the growth of Non-Conformism?

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What evidence for the early period of Non-Conformity survives in the form of standing buildings and burial grounds? How would recording and analysis of these help us understand the early growth and spread of Non-Conformity across South Yorkshire?

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Can we better understand the links between growing Non-Conformism and industrial development within South Yorkshire?

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What can studies of human remains tell us about demographics, diet and health, and how these changed during the post medieval and industrial periods?

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Can we identify evidence for Civil War defensive structures and siege works?

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What was the legacy of the Civil War in terms of both what survived and what was destroyed? In particular, what was the impact on castle sites across South Yorkshire?

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Material culture

Can we identify and explain changes in material culture use over time?

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Can we characterise differences in material culture use between gender, age and class groups, and between rural and urban populations?

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Cross-cutting archaeobotanical issues

What can sampling of waterlogged plant remains from latrine pits, moats, wells and deep features such as pits and ditches tell us about diet, trade, and access to imported foods – and can differences in access be identified, for example between rural & urban settlements and between high & low status settlements?

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Can such remains tell us about the cultivation of garden plants and are there differences between gardens associated with high & low status sites and between rural & urban gardens?

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Original text by Dinah Saich (2020) with contributions from Peter Ryder (buildings), Chris Cumberpatch (pottery) and Ellen Simmons (archaeobotany)


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