Saturday 2nd August 2014
Worries about the weather and traffic problems turned out to be unfounded as our trip to Sandal Castle near Wakefield and Castleshaw Roman Fort went off without a hitch. There isn’t much standing above ground now at Sandal but the earthworks and remains of the stonework, show that this must have once been a magnificent structure.It started life in the early 12th century as a huge motte and bailey with wooden fortifications. It was built by William de Warenne 2nd Earl of Surrey who also built Wakefield Castle which lay north of Sandal on the other side of the River Calder.Work on the stone castle started towards the end of the 12th century and consisted of a curtain wall, great chamber and hall, inner barbican, gate house and keep.The castle stayed in the de Warenne till the mid 14th century when, possibly due to the Black Death, the family line died out. The castle and lands then passed to the King (who at the time was Edward III).In 1460, the castle played a significant part in the the Wars of the Roses being the place where Richard Duke of York stayed before confronting the Lancastrian forces at the Battle of Wakefield. The Yorkist army numbered around 5000 men but they were out numbered 3 to 1 and subsequently they lost the battle. The Duke himself was killed along with his youngest son (only a few months later, however, the Duke’s eldest son was able to claim the throne as Edward IV after defeating the Lancastrians at Towton). The castle underwent significant excavations in the late 60’s and wooden walkways were added in 2003. A small visitors centre has details of the all the work carried out there.
After a quick lunch we made our way to Castleshaw for a tour by Norman Redhead of the recent excavations there. By the time we got to the site the weather had turned a bit wet but this didn’t seem to dampen Norman’s enthusiasm. The first trench he showed us contained the remains of a 18th century cottage – one of the few that formed the hamlet of Lower Castleshaw.We then made our way onto the fort site itself. The first trench Norman showed us contained the remains of a workshop identified by a number of hearths. It lay on the west side of the Via Principalis and to the north of the Forum (the road between the two is just protruding from under the turf. The next trench was the longest on the site and is a re-excavation of a trench dug in the 1960’s by Thompson, wider than the original to expose un-excavated areas on either side. The trench, which stretched across the north side of the fort parallel with the northern rampart, cut across 5 internal roads. The trench continued over the rampart and beyond the fort on the eastern side. Thompson had reported that he could not find the usual fort ditch on this side. This was also the case with this new excavation.The next trench Norman took us to contained the vast metaled road surface of the Via Principalis as it enters the fort on the eastern side. As it passed through the ramparts a series of huge post holes indicated where the gateway was. These hadn’t been completely excavated previously and evidence for the wooden posts was found in the bottom of one of them.In the final trench Norman showed us section through the western rampart which clearly demonstrates the construction technique i.e. turfs (the black lines being the remain of the grass).The excavations were funded by a £70,000 grant from the National Lottery obtained by the Friends of Castleshaw. The excavations were run as a community project with involvement of many schools and volunteers from around the area.You can find out about all the activities on the site from the Friends of Castleshaw website here