Completing the story…

wood and moor.low resOr as complete as we can make it. Tomorrow is officially the last day of our project when we have to tie up all the loose ends and get our final report into the Heritage Lottery Fund. We’ve been working against the clock to get the larger story written up – a full history of the wood gleaned from our archaeological survey and our archive research. And that’s not all. If that’s too much for you, go to our website here, where we have a lovely little colour leaflet – a potted version. And if you are really interested, the report of our archaeological survey too – which explains how we did it and tables all the features we recorded.

But here’s the bigger story: The Story of Gillfield Wood – the full version


Getting the word out…

photo(5)Lovely article today about our wood, it’s story and how learning about it helps to protect it. Worth getting soaked on the rainiest Sunday of the Winter! David Bocking, the reporter, really did us proud.

This follows a standing room only talk about our year of woodland archaeology and history for the Totley History Group last week attended by about 60 people. This was at the Totley Library – itself a threatened species with a campaign to protect it!

Suffragettes, scooters and archaeologists

Suffragette-ScooterSomeone looking well equipped for work is  Lady Florence Norman, a suffragette, on her motor-scooter in 1916, travelling to the office in London where she was a supervisor. The scooter was a birthday present from her husband, the journalist and Liberal politician Sir Henry Norman. We found part of a similar scooter in the wood! We don’t know who owned it – the plaything of one of the Milner family who lived at Totley Hall in the early years of the twentieth century perhaps?

photoAnd what do you need when working as a woodland archaeologist? Equally well kitted out for the task in hand was Chris, our chairman, when Kevin demonstrated by equipping him before the audience at our celebration event – with high vis jacket, woolly hat, boots, compass, camera, one meter pole, GPS Unit, map, measuring tape, record sheet, board, mobile phone, risk assessment sheet, pencil, flask, sandwiches, midge repellent…


crafts display

Once upon a time, indeed 450 years ago,  there was a farmer called Henry Yellot who needed some fodder for his beasts. It was a hard winter and as he rented part of Jyll Felde wood he thought he’d go into the wood and find  a holly hag. Though it was prickly, his beasts loved holly and indeed many people fed it to their stocks. But the best holly was across the Manor boundary, over the stream in the next lordship. He knew he shouldn’t but…

Well, if you want to find out more about what happened to Henry and other stories, you should get our new leaflet telling The Story of Gillfield Wood. Almost a week on from our celebration and lots of local people are already asking for it. Available now from Totley Library, Totley Post Office,  the newsagents on Totley Rise. The Cross Scythes and The Crown.

A traditional beesom maker or broom squire 1930sFind out too about the woodland crafts – how George Peat, a besom broom maker from Dore bought 2,300 ‘besom staves’ grown from coppice in the wood in   Here is a photo – not unfortunately of George but you get the idea. Also see above the photo of Avril’s lovely crafts display at our celebration last week – basket making, clog making, barking for tanning – all products from this and other local woods in the past.


launchMore photos to come from Kevin, but in the meantime a little sketch of last night’s celebration event from an arty member of the audience! What a day! A lovely piece on Radio Sheffield joining our Josie for a walk in the wood to start. Then around 70 people or more to our afternoon event to look at the displays, to pick up our brand new leaflet about the story of the wood, to write poems, do leaf rubbings, chat, drink tea. At times it was like the Louvre – you couldn’t get near the displays for people looking at them!

Then in the evening, around 80 people attended our event to hear about our survey of the wood, our research, our finds, even to sing. Then a fascinating talk by woodland historian Professor Mel Jones which sent people home enthused not only about our wood but proud of the 380 ancient woods in South Yorkshire. From charcoal burners to nutters – it was a lark as well as so engaging and erudite.leaflet2

We are so proud of our achievements and how everyone has contributed their own particular strengths to this year’s work. Now we are all very tired.

Lots of people picked up the leaflet which will be available at the usual outlets in Totley – library, post office etc. More to come – more talks, walks, publications. And more blogs with little snippets from this wonderful Story of Gillfield Wood – a story in which the ghosts of ordinary people through the ages begin to emerge…

The mole: the archaeologist’s friend!

More from our recent foray with experts Professor Ian Rotherham and Dr Paul Ardron. Lesson for today: never pass a molehill without investigating…

Bull Wood and the great sheepwash mystery

Last week we got the experts back – Professor Ian Rotherham, Dr Paul Ardron and archaeologist Mike McCoy – to help us discuss and assess some of our finds. We went into the wood – and one of the stars of the morning was our very own Josie who showed us all how oral history, archive work and archaeology can all come together to solve a mystery – in this case the name of a part of our wood and the whereabouts of a sheepwash. Here she is, along with the brook, in full flow.


No blog posts for a while – Summer is not a good time for archaeological surveying as the ground vegetation not only covers features but is a real obstacle to safe surveying – brambles especially! However, perhaps now is a good time to catch up with some of the more exciting and unusual features recorded. From over 15 surveys, we have collected over 500 individual records with accompanying photos.

Arguably most importantly, over 60 pits of various kinds have been found, at least 30 of which are the remains of whitecoal kilns, originally stone lined and used to quickly drive off moisture from stacked cordwood. At the end of the sixteenth century the wood was owned by the Earl of Shrewsbury – who also owned many other woods and lead mills. A letter to him describes his mill in Totley as ‘the most commodious milne in Derbishire.’
However, other possible work sites have been found – a rectangular area that was perhaps a saw pit, 2 charcoal hearths and other features.

The several pairs of stone posts in the brook are as much a mystery as ever though the most popular theory is still that they were used to help dam the water for some reason – perhaps for sheep washing, perhaps to soak wood as lintels under the cordwood in the whitecoal kilns.

gillfield stone2As much a mystery is the large worked stone beside the brook – similar to the stone with rock art on it in Ecclesall Woods.

Walls, gullies, drains, paths, field posts, boundary features have all been recorded as well as unusual flat areas. But a really exciting and very recent find was evidence of a possible Romano British field system near the top end of the wood. Thankyou Dr Paul Ardron!

Although there has been no digging for features and artefacts, several have been found including of course several old bottles and a cow skeleton! However, perhaps the most unexpected find was this:Autoped_2-copy

It turns out to be the remains of an early 20th century motorised scooter, made in America. The plaything of one of the Milner sons in those long Edwardian summers before the First World War?

Our record-keeper-in-chief has also recorded that surveyors have:
– fallen in cow pats, streams and barbed wire fences
– eaten 400 sandwiches
– drunk 30 cups of tea & 20 cups of Earl Grey
– exercised dogs for over 50 hours

Oaks, kilns and sparrowhawks

Chris and oak.lowresOne of the last forays into the wood last Thursday where the group found this oak carrying a sac on its back. Dr Paul Ardron thought the burr could have been the result of an ice storm in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, and that the tree itself could be up to 400 years old.

In the middle of inspecting and discussing the form of yet another suspect whitecoal kiln, one member caught sight of some other creatures listening in, above Paul’s head,  – sparrowhawk chicks craning their necks out of their nest to see what was going on! Is there no limit to the interest in woodland archaeology?

Mapping the wood’s story

image-2These are all the features we have logged over around 12 systematic surveys of the wood. Not bad for amateur archaeologists! Summaries of all surveys so far can be found here. Pits, posts, boundary features, worked trees, ditches, drains, a swimming pool, a gamekeeper’s hut, possible charcoal hearths – they’re all here.

The archaeologists have trekked to and fro throughout the wood, compasses, tape measures, record sheets and poles in hand. The record keepers have kept track of every single feature and reported on findings. And we are still not finished.

Alongside this history researchers are finding out who bought and sold the wood, who rented sections, who stole wood from it, where the wood went – lead smelting mills, a local chemical industry, clog making.

bluebells and kiln.lowresAnd still there is the on going mystery of how they made the whitecoal in the many pits throughout this wood and neighbouring woodlands. We know that whitecoal was used for fuel to smelt lead but how was it produced? No-one knows, there is nowhere any account of its production and yet it was made for around 200 years. We are even arguing about our own theories. We think we may have to find out by digging our own pit and try to make some …