Here is some information about previous excavations. You can also download pdf documents produced by ARCUS on two pieces of fieldwork.

Trial trenching of Sheffield Castle illustrations and report
Evaluation of the Castle Market Upper Loading Bay illustration and report

AL Armstrong onsite in 1927

A L Armstrong on site in 1927

In 1915 a large portion of the site previously occupied by Sheffield Castle was purchased from the City Council by the Brightside and Carbrook Co-operative Society for the construction of a new store. Work began on site in 1927. A L Armstrong (acting for the Society of Antiquaries and the Hunter Archaeological Society) was given the task of recording any findings. In 1928 the City Council also started work on the construction of Castle Hill Market at the rear of the proposed Co-operative store on a site covering another area of the old castle.

The survey (carried out between 1927 and 1930) revealed parts of the gatehouse associated with the inner court. The gatehouse with two flanking towers was located on the south-east side. Beyond this was a moat, the bottom of which lay some 33 feet below the level of Exchange Street. The lower part of the ditch was cut into the rock. On the north side of the castle part of a vaulted roof and the base of a circular pillar were discovered, as well as evidence of what Armstrong took to be the remains of the de Lovetot castle that was destroyed by fire in 1266. Under that layer he also found what was claimed to be a large timber Saxon structure. He speculated that this may have been Waltheof’s Aula (hall).

A number of artefacts were found on the site, principally from the moat. These included pottery, shoes, a key, clay pipes, pins, coins, cannonballs and knives. Many of these are on display at the City Museum in Weston Park. Between 1958 and 1972 L H Butcher also observed and recorded the results of building work in the area of the castle. None of this early work was carried out using modern archaeological techniques, but nonetheless it is a valuable source of information about the castle.

The entrance to the ruins

The entrance to the ruins

Early in 1994 the South Yorkshire Archaeology Service and the South Yorkshire Archaeology Field Research Unit were commissioned by the Markets Department of Sheffield City Council to undertake a structural survey of the surviving part of the castle that is now located in a chamber close to the Meat and Fish Market. Following remedial works to the surrounding structure, this area has now been made accessible to the public.

Text courtesy of Sheffield Markets


Archaeological Investigations — 20 Comments

  1. Pottery from excavations on the site of Sheffield Castle

    As other contributors to this site have pointed out there have been several phases of antiquarian and archaeological investigations on the site of Sheffield Castle. The Sheffield Museums Trust holds substantial assemblages from the Armstrong and Butcher excavations which have yet to be the subject of any serious analysis although several people, including myself have had the opportunity to look at them over the years, albeit in a somewhat superficial manner. My own examination was conducted in 2002 and formed part of a larger project, funded by English Heritage to produce a regional ceramic type series for South Yorkshire and north Derbyshire. The collection from Sheffield Castle proved to consist predominantly of 16th and 17th century wares with limited quantities of later medieval pottery, mainly of the types known to archaeologists as Coal Measures ware because they were made from locally available Coal Measures clays which outcrop extensively in the Don Valley (and elsewhere). These clays were exploited by medieval potters working on at least two sites where excavation and survey have revealed evidence of pottery kilns and workshops. They date to the 14th, 15th and early 16th centuries. Earlier material included 12th century Hallgate B ware from Doncaster and Shell Tempered ware imported from Lincolnshire. Later medieval wares included 13th to 15th century Humberware manufactured in East Yorkshire. European pottery included Martincamp ware from northern France, stoneware bottles and mugs from the Rhineland and possibly some Redware vessels from the Low Countries.
    The later 16th and 17th century pottery was similar in many respects to the assemblages excavated at Pontefract Castle which have been shown to have been linked with the three sieges during the Civil War and the subsequent demolition of the Castle in 1649. It is to be hoped that the future plans for the castle will include some provision for the proper recoding and analysis of this material and its publication. While Armstrong and Butcher were working at a time when archaeological recording was far less sophisticated than it is today, it seems likely that Butcher‘s records in particular will be sufficiently detailed to allow us to use the excavated pottery to draw robust conclusions about the history of the castle as well as the economy and the lifestyle of those who occupied it.
    In 1999 an evaluative excavation was undertaken by ARCUS (University of Sheffield) in order to assess the survival of archaeological strata and deposits pertaining to the castle. The excavation revealed part of the castle ditch and produced an assemblage of some 142 sherds representing a maximum of 131 vessels. Copies of the report on this excavation are (I assume) held by the South Yorkshire Archaeology Service and the University of Sheffield. This is a brief summary of the results of my analysis of the pottery assemblage.
    The range of pottery spanned the period between the late 11th or 12th century and the late 18th century. Five phases of activity were identified in the moat. The earliest phase (Phase 1) produced no pottery at all. Phase 2 contained the earliest sherd from the excavation, a fragment dating to the late 11th or 12th century, probably contemporary with the sherds of Hallgate B ware identified in the Butcher collection. An intermediate phase, Phase 2/3, produced a group of sherds dating to the period between the 14th and 16th centuries. This included Coal Measures ware and Cistercian ware, a distinctive type of pottery dating to the period between 1450 and 1600 and manufactured widely in the Midlands and Yorkshire, most notably at Wrenthorpe near Wakefield, Ticknall in south Derbyshire and possibly also in Doncaster.
    Phase 3 contained a mixed later medieval and post-medieval assemblage and was distinguished from the earlier phases by the presence of Yellow ware and of distinctive later 17th or early 18th century types, including stoneware and feathered slipware. Of particular note was the foot of a Low Countries Redware tripod cooking pot (known by the Dutch name ‘grapen’). Examples of this type of pottery are common in ports (notably Newcastle, Hull and Bawtry) but are generally rare on inland sites. In Hull this type of pottery has been dated to between 1350 and 1550, with tripod footed vessels amongst the commonest vessel type.
    Phase 4 post-dated the moat and produced an assemblage of pottery dominated by types of 17th and 18th century date, the latter including Creamware and White Salt Glazed Stoneware. Both of these types are typical of the 18th century and represent the transformation of the pottery industry at a time of significant social change and the start of the Industrial Revolution. Contemporary with these wares were sherds of Slipware and Mottled ware. Both of these types of pottery were manufactured in Sheffield, Mottled ware on the site of Sheffield Manor from about 1709 and Slipware at sites near Stocksbridge. The material from Phase 4 wares presumably relates to activity on or around the site after the demolition of the castle.
    Phase 5 produced a largely 18th century assemblage very similar to that of Phase 4 but also included fragments of mid to late 19th century sewer pipes, perhaps indicating that drains and other services had been inserted into a series of 18th century deposits.

    The small assemblage of pottery from a very limited area of excavation seems to span the entire history of the Castle, albeit somewhat sparsely and gives some indication of the extent of the contacts maintained by the inhabitants with other parts of northern England and northern Europe. It is to be hoped that, should the site of the castle be excavated as part of a wider redevelopment of the markets area, this will reveal much larger and more informative assemblages of pottery than are available at present.
    Readers who want to know more about the potential offered by studies of pottery from castles might like to consult the report on the excavations at Pontefract Castle for which the full reference is given below.

    Roberts, I. 2002 Pontefract Castle: Archaeological Excavations 1982 – 1986 Yorkshire Archaeology 8 West Yorkshire Archaeological Service / English Heritage

  2. Very exciting reading. This reinforces how important a thorough investigation of the site will be. Dating the castle and telling its story. You begin to see what is possible.

  3. Agree this is a very exciting background from Chris, and I am intrigued to know will eventually be revealed. Having met and talked with Chris a couple of years ago at a conference I had no idea of his work on the Castle artefacts and can’t wait to learn more in due course!

  4. A full account of the 1994 survey of the structural remains of the castle by the South Yorkshire Archaeology Field and Research Unit, including plans and elevations, can be found here:

    Latham, I.D. and Atkinson, S. 1994 An archaeological investigation of the remains of Sheffield Castle In: S. Whitely and C.G. Cumberpatch (Eds.) Archaeology in South Yorkshire 1993 – 1994 (South Yorkshire Archaeology Service).

  5. Medieval Sheffield: the ceramic perspective

    From the late 1990s until the end of the building boom in 2008 Sheffield, like many other towns and cities saw rapid and large-scale redevelopment. While this had the unfortunate effect of depriving the city of some of its few distinguished and notable buildings, it also allowed the investigation of its archaeological heritage on an extensive scale. As few of the excavations have been fully published, this short note is intended to outline what we learned of the medieval town, or at least of the medieval pottery used in the town, from these excavations.

    As might be expected, the rapid development of the city during the 18th and 19th centuries resulted not only in the destruction of most of the medieval and post-medieval buildings but also in the removal of most of the archaeological strata and deposits. The construction of heavy industrial plants and cellared housing within the confines of the medieval town involved the modification of the topography at the local level and had a catastrophic impact on the buried archaeology. This is largely the reason why we know so little of medieval Sheffield in comparison with smaller towns such as Doncaster, Chesterfield and York where development seems to have spread out from the medieval centre rather than being, at least in part, concentrated within it. Many of the sites excavated in Sheffield the late 1990s and early 21st century produced small quantities of medieval pottery associated with later material but few revealed undisturbed medieval layers.

    The medieval pottery recovered from excavations across the city was predominantly of the Coal Measures ware type and was recognisable as the product of two potteries in the Don Valley, Firsby Hall Farm and Green Lane, Rawmarsh. These potteries seem to have operated from the late 13th or early 14th century until the 16th century although exactly when they ceased production is not known for certain. The two principal types of Coal Measures ware (Coal Measures White; late 13th to late 14th century) and Coal Measures Purple (15th and 16th century) have a wide distribution and are found from north Lincolnshire to North Yorkshire and from Hull to the central Peak District. They occur on all types of site from small, temporary lead-working sites in the Peaks to Pontefract Castle. In Sheffield examples have been recovered from sites in London Road, St Mary’s Gate, West Bar and the Gaiety Theatre site, sites on the line of the Inner Ring Road and around the Cathedral. Few of these sites produced more than a handful of sherds. Other types of medieval pottery are even rarer but in 2012 a test pitting survey, organised by the Hunter Archaeological Society and designed to introduce schoolchildren to archaeology, produced a sherd of an unidentified medieval sandy ware dating to between the late 11th and mid 13th century from the grounds of the Catholic church in Hillsborough. The same test pit also contained a sherd of Coal Measures Purple ware.

    Without doubt the most important medieval site discovered during excavation work lay behind the Upper Chapel in Norfolk Street. Here an excavation intended to investigate the Chapel and its cemetery uncovered a very small area of medieval deposits sealed beneath a later stone wall. Not only did this assemblage include examples of a hitherto unknown type of medieval pottery, but it also included very clear evidence of pottery production in the shape of overfired sherds (wasters) and fragments from the structure of a kiln including stones coated in glaze. The date of the pottery was difficult to determine and although the assemblage included two sherds of York Gritty ware, a type common in the Vale of York between the mid 11th and mid 13th centuries, the date of the wares apparently made on or close to the site was somewhat later and on the basis of their character the best estimate of their date was a broad range between the 13th century and the early 15th century. The pottery forms part of the Northern Gritty ware tradition but chemical and petrographic analysis of several of the sherds showed that they were distinguishable from other examples of this tradition. The type has yet to be identified on any other sites and it seems unlikely that the site was the location of a major pottery or one that was in production for any great length of time.

    It is to be hoped that excavations on the site of the Castle, should they ever take place, will reveal more about this workshop which would almost certainly have been supplying the inhabitants of the Castle as well as the town with jugs and jars. This site is one of the few in Sheffield to have been published and the reference can be found below. Unfortunately report lies behind a paywall and requires a financial subscription before it can be read.

    Close to the Upper Chapel site, immediately behind Carmel House, excavation in advance of the redevelopment of the building (of which only the facade is now original) revealed a deep well. Excavation of this feature produced an important assemblage of pottery which unfortunately remains unpublished.

    The pottery from the well fell into two principal groups; Doncaster Hallgate ware and Coal Measures ware. The Hallgate wares were of particular interest as they included examples of Hallgate C3 ware which is believed to date to the late 11th or very early 12th century and is rare even within Doncaster itself. The Hallgate wares were in poor condition with pitted and abraded surfaces, suggesting that they had been subject to considerable wear and tear before their deposition in the well. They may also have suffered from the impact of vessels used to raise water to the surface and of objects falling into the water.

    The Coal Measures wares included examples not only of the Coal Measures White and Coal Measures Purple types mentioned above but also a finer variant, Coal Measures Fineware which is believed to be of a similar date to the Coal Measures Whiteware although it might be a little earlier (work is continuing to resolve this question). The absence of any of the highly distinctive 17th and 18th century wares found in abundance on other sites in Sheffield would seem to suggest that the well went out of use in the 16th century and was infilled rapidly, thus preserving the vessels that had been lost during the drawing of water.

    In ceramic terms, the end of the medieval period occurs from around 1450 (somewhat earlier than the conventional historical/political narratives would suggest) when pottery in new shapes and colours appears, the most famous being the dark brown or black Cistercian ware, manufactured at Wrenthorpe near Wakefield and Ticknall in South Derbyshire as well as in other places in the Midlands and northern England. Small numbers of sherds of this type of pottery have been found on many of the sites mentioned above plus the large Riverside site which encompassed the location of one of Sheffield’s medieval mills.

    This short summary of recent work is intended to set the notes on the Castle assemblages (above) into their local context. There is a great deal that we need to know about medieval Sheffield and pottery is, of course, only one source of information but its value lies not only in its use as a means of dating sites and features within sites but also of indicating something about patterns of trade and exchange and about cooking, eating and drinking.

    The following references might be of interest to readers who want to follow up this brief discussion. The first is available free of charge thanks to the excellent work of the Archaeology Data Service and was one of the outcomes of a project funded by English Heritage. The second is a short conference paper which deals principally with 18th and 19th century pottery and is included to give a broad idea of some of the unusual problems encountered during the analysis of the pottery from sites in Sheffield. The third covers the pottery assemblage from the Upper Chapel site as well as reports on other aspects of the site and requires payment as Internet Archaeology operates on a partially commercial basis.

    Cumberpatch, C.G. 2004 Medieval and post-medieval pottery production in the Rotherham area

    Cumberpatch, C.G. 2005 Pottery from excavations in Sheffield; a review and assessment of the resource Paper delivered at the Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference, Sheffield 2005

    Cumberpatch, C.G. 2011 Analysis of the medieval and later pottery In: K. Baker, S. Baker and J. Symonds (Eds.) Archaeological Investigations at the Upper Chapel, Norfolk Street, Sheffield, UK Internet Archaeology 29

  6. The Carmel House excavation was carried out by ARCUS, a commercial operation run by the University of Sheffield. The company no longer exists but copies of the reports will have been deposited with the South Yorkshire Archaeology Service as part of the planning process. I am not entirely sure what the formalities are as regards access to reports but contact details can be found on the SYAS website here:–conservation/archaeology.html

  7. Chris
    Good to hear from you.As a resident of Hillsborough I was gobsmacked to hear about the pottery sherds in the Sacred Heart Church yard in Hillsborough. As far as I now its the earliest sign of human activity in the area and no one knows about it!



  8. I was quite surprised to see them myself. I should emphasise that they came from the top few inches of soil and as such can only be considered as an indication of medieval activity in the general area – and of course there is always the possibility that the soil had been brought in from elsewhere for some reason. Nevertheless, they are a reminder that Sheffield’s medieval past is not limited to the known sites and that vigilence is required in the face of pressures from development etc.

  9. I have heard that digs within the grounds of King Edward Vll school revealed medieval pottery and glass. This was about 7 years ago and digs were carried out by King Edward upper school supervised by a teacher who was also a lecturer at Sheffield University. Finds were said to be signs of iron age metalworking, roman pottery and a lot of medieval pottery sherds and glass fragments, as well as more recent pottery and clay pipes. Does anyone know if the results were published? Seems very significant if these things were found in this area as not within the medieval town. Land is Broomhall and was in the ownership of the De Wickersey family.

  10. That sounds extremely interesting but I was not hitherto aware of the work. Presumably the finds are either still held in the school or were deposited with the city museum.

  11. Makes me wonder if there are other finds throughout Sheffield area that have not been published. Digs at King Edwards have been going on since the 1920s. I believe they also did a dig at Beauchief Abbey some years ago.

  12. Beauchief Abbey dig carried out in the 1920’s. Not sure whether it was written up in Hunter Transactions but the information that resulted formed the basis of the now sadly discontinued Sheffield Museums Information Pamphlets.Strangely enough the work on the Castle site in the period 1958-1974 carried out by Butcher was never published either by the Museum or the Hunter due to his untimely death. That’s another story and one which forms part of mt talk ‘Sheffield Castle-The Inside Story’

    See my sadly neglected website

    Must point out the relevance of recent comments in relation to Sheffield Castle ie Sheffield- indeed- South Yorkshire has a medieval and earlier background.It may well be that Sheffield Castle was the pre-eminent medieval building in the area. Some have argued this because of the size of the image of a castle used to depict Sheffield on an early map.

  13. There is also the historical evidence if you look at who is put in charge of the area which would suggest Sheffield’s strategic importance to the Crown. Castles were licensed by the Crown and licenses given to those the Crown could trust and only when such a structure was a benefit to the Crown. ie they felt there was something worth protecting. Some of the land actually was royal land stewarded by such as De Busli.

  14. This is all very interesting, l suppose the castle remains will not be viewable until the market has been demolished? I have never seen them and would love to at some time in the future. Linda Koncowoj

    • We are trying hard to ensure the remains *do* remain accessible, it’s important people get a sense of what may be under the concrete.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *