Thousands of pictures reveal secrets of historic Sheffield Castle excavation

The archaeological dig to excavate the remains of Sheffield’s lost castle made some landmark discoveries – and now the undertaking has been documented in a new book.

Monday, 16th December 2019, 3:30 pm
Updated Friday, 20th December 2019, 9:20 am

Artist, photographer and writer Paul Rowland spent part of 2018 working as a volunteer with Wessex Archaeology North on the former Castle Market site where – long ago – a fortress stood that fell in the Civil War.

During his time there, he took more than 3,000 pictures of the project, which have been collected together in a book described as a ‘trench by trench photographic record’.

Paul, who was born in Sheffield, says the excavation was a ‘dream come true’.

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A medieval ear scoop that was found between the 12th century cobbles in trench five.

He used to catch the 97 bus on Castlegate back to Pitsmoor every Saturday after shopping in town with his mother in the 1960s and, as they waited, he would gaze at the cobbled slope that led to the delivery area behind the market and wonder where Sheffield's castle was.

The two-month archaeological dig took place in summer 2018 on the vast space cleared when the city centre's indoor market closed and moved to The Moor in 2015. It was paid for through a £786,000 package of 'Castlegate Kickstart' funding from Sheffield Council.

Many finds, including medieval pottery, tiles and even an ancient 'ear scoop', were dug up from 11 deep trenches, while boreholes were created to take samples from the earth.

Experts believe they have found evidence of around 1,000 years of constant activity, and the site's 'motte and bailey phase' - these were fortifications that stood on top of a raised earthwork, representing the first proper castles to be built in Britain.

A volunteer digging in trench two. Picture: Paul Rowland

Sheffield Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for more than a decade, fell during the Civil War when it came under siege from 1,200 Parliamentary troops.

This stronghold was preceded by a late 12th century castle, which would have followed the 'motte and bailey'.

Paul’s 454-page book contains over 500 colour photographs, arranged trench by trench. It is designed to accompany Wessex’s official report.

Martin Gorman, chair of the Friends of Sheffield Castle, said: “The pictures bring to life the interest and excitement of the volunteers who took part in the dig, and the photographs allow you to fully immerse yourself in the archaeology of each trench, taking you right back through the ages to medieval times."

Wessex archaeologist Sam Birchall in trench 10 - the bottom of the moat. Picture: Paul Rowland

The Friends group has drawn up a plan detailing how members would like the castle site to be developed, as the council and its partners work up proposals for the area that are expected to be presented in January.

The blueprint suggests the gatehouse could be rebuilt, forming a focal point for an area displaying the best of the stronghold's remains.

An elevated walkway would be put up across the site, giving visitors the chance to peer at ruins that are below the current ground level, while a heritage visitor centre would tell the story of the lost castle and Sheffield's beginnings.

A hotel, a large outdoor arts venue, offices and homes are envisaged, as well as cafés and craft shops, all with the aim of attracting more people.

Sheffield University archaeology student Isabelle Sheriff uncovering a fossil. Picture: Paul Rowland

Paul’s book – titled ‘Sheffield Castle - A Trench By Trench Photographic Record of the 2018 Archaeological Excavation’ – is available in paperback, priced £40, and hardback, priced £46, at https://bit.ly/2OVVOB5 and https://bit.ly/2pQGPQj. Charges for postage and packaging apply.

Wessex archaeologist Amy Derrick and archaeology student Isabelle Sheriff investigating a find in trench three. Picture: Paul Rowland