Dalesman February 2012: Leyburn, Iron Age Hillfort at Sutton Bank, and Chris Topp’s Ironworks

My trips this month span the breadth of North Yorkshire, with visits to Leyburn, Thirsk, and Sutton Bank.

Castle Bolton in Wensleydale, once a military stronghold, now a visitor attaction

Castle Bolton in Wensleydale, once a military stronghold, now a visitor attaction

In Leyburn, Alix Warland and Martin Crowson were typical of so many people I meet in the Dales. For every person who can trace their family back over generations in the same village, there’s someone else who has moved in because they fell in love with the Dales. And that love has caused them to throw themselves wholeheartedly into learning about their new home, and supporting its community.

As we drank our coffee, we fell to discussing the shopping in Leyburn. Martin described it as “A totally difference experience to a lookalike high street.” And, he commented, “There are three food stores, including one of the finest independents in the country.”

I had to agree. I’ve bought things in Leyburn that I couldn’t find in other towns. For instance, the household goods store in the former town hall, smack in the centre of the market place, is an Aladdin’s cave for the homemaker.

And Leyburn is a hidden gem for quality clothes and shoes, as well as food.

In fact, as I walked back to the car, a shop caught my eye, I nipped in for a browse – and came out with a new skirt.

A result for Leyburn!

Find out more about visiting Leyburn at www.welcometoleyburn.co.uk

Prof Dominic Powlesland has spent decades studying the prehistoric landscape of Yorkshire

Prof Dominic Powlesland has spent decades studying the prehistoric landscape of Yorkshire

Over at Sutton Bank, Professor Dominic Powlesland, of the Landscape Research Centre, was explaining what they discovered when they dug a Bronze Age burial mound at Boltby Scar. Such burial mounds pepper the Moors, and, he says, the remains of many more lie beneath the ploughed fields of the Vale of Pickering.

Traditionally, they were believed to be the burial place of an important personage, but Dominic’s work now points, he says, to longer term use as a burial site over hundreds of years, perhaps for a family or clan.

The barrow they dug at Boltby, he thinks, may be indicative of similar practices for other, similar looking barrows. He says it revealed, “A long and complex history of both construction and robbing.”

They identified six phases of the life of the barrow. Phase 1 was a stone ring, with large irregular limestone blocks laid on bed of pebbles. They think it may have defined the area of a flat cemetery. There was evidence of burning – perhaps funeral pyres?

Phase 2 was a turf mound within the stone ring. There was lots of charcoal in the turf – carbonised hazel shells, indicating domestic activity. Carbon 14 dating gave an age of around 1920-1730 BC.

They called phase 3 the ‘yellow mound’, as a thick deposit of yellow-brown clayey soil had been laid over the charcoaley soil of phase 2.

Phase 4 was a pebbly mound that covered over the yellow clay and extended to the stone ring. It was made of clean silty soil with a layer of pebbles on the surface.

Phase 5 placed a wattle fence around the mound, with limestone slabs leaning up against the fence. The vertical slabs of pale limestone, high on the escarpment, would have been visible from a considerable distance.

At phase 6, the whole mound , fence and stone rings were buried with a thick layer of fine silty soil. Covering the limestone dimished its visibility in the landscape, but made the mound taller.

Dominic thinks that these phases probably developed over hundreds of years, starting around 2000 BC, in the early Bronze Age. That is why he believes that it was used for many burials, not just one single person.

Whatever the significance of the mound to its original builders, the mound continues to draw people to it even today, around four thousand years later.

Read more about Dominic’s work at www.landscaperesearchcentre.org

Later this year, an exhibition of the findings at Boltby will be staged at Sutton Bank Vistor Centre.

Alex Coode with historic ironwork at Chris Topp and CoMeanwhile, today, Chris Topp’s ironworks near Thirsk are attracting visitors from far and wide, who come to learn about his work with historic iron.

Although Chris also designs and makes brand new items, he has been involved with restoring historic iron work for decades.

He also does ‘practical archaeology’: making a replica of a historic artefact, in order to discover how it was made. Much of this work has been filmed for TV, and he’s been involved in projects relating to a Roman Well, the Titanic, the Mary Rose, and even the Eiffel tower.

So when it was decided to form a body to provide proper training and qualifications for people working on valuable historic ironwork, it was natural that Chris should be involved.

The National Heritage Iron Group has been formed in order to provide training for a new generation of blacksmiths to continue learning the historic skills to care for our ironwork heritage.



About Helen Johnson

Freelance writer specialising in Yorkshire's history and heritage.

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