Excavations at Pontefract Castle unearth artefacts

21/10/2019, PR-9207

Base of the medieval gatehouse emerges from under tonnes of dirt
Base of the medieval gatehouse emerges from under tonnes of dirt

​Two weeks of new archaeological excavations at Pontefract Castle have started to unearth a trove of history and intrigue.

​Taking shape beneath the delicate but persistent strokes of the archaeologists’ trowels, pickaxes, shovels and brushes, one of the most important aspects of the famous medieval castle - the gatehouse and drawbridge pit - is coming to life.

The gatehouse would have been designed to repel attackers and protect the castle’s main entrance, making it one of its most important defences.

A musket ball and grapeshot as well as many clay pipes have been found so far along with the foundations and steps of the forward fortification.

Mason marks, found on the foundation are similar to those on the main castle suggesting that the same artisans built the castle and the gatehouse at the same time.

The public can see for themselves what has been discovered so far on free tours taking place at 2pm each day until 3 November (except 31 October) to see the hidden mystery come to light.

Cllr Jacquie Speight
Cllr Jacquie Speight

​Cllr Jacquie Speight, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Sport, said: “It is so exciting to be transported back in time and walk the paths where history has shaped the country as we know it today. Tourists travel across the globe to historical sites but we have this treasure right in our back yard. Between now and 3 November residents and visitors can get a free guided tour by an archaeologist. It’s worth the visit and I would encourage as many people as possible to grasp the opportunity.”

Chris Casswell from DigVentures, which is conducting the dig on behalf of Wakefield Council and Historic England, said: “We know that some new defences were added to the gatehouse in the 1300s, but there’s hardly any record of them, or why and how they were made. Over the next few weeks, we hope to find out more about how the medieval castle was fortified, and what the main entrance to the castle would have looked like in the 1300s.”

Starting out as a small wooden fort in AD 1070, Pontefract Castle was later rebuilt in stone. In the medieval period, new fortifications were added and it was transformed into such a formidable stronghold that when Oliver Cromwell famously attacked, he called it one of the strongest inland garrisons in the kingdom.

Maiya Pina-Dacier, Head of Community at DigVentures, said: “This is a rare opportunity to come and see the most important part of one England’s most famous medieval castles being unearthed. It will be the first time anyone has seen the gatehouse and drawbridge pit since the castle was torn down at the end of the English Civil War. Given that Pontefract was one of the most impressive castles in the country, its gatehouse must have been incredible. We can’t wait to see what new evidence we’ll discover about how it might have looked.”

Historic England and West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service are supporting Wakefield Council and Dig Ventures during the investigations into the gatehouse.

Neil Redfern from Historic England said: "These excavations are offering us a fascinating insight to parts of Pontefract Castle not seen for hundreds of years. The Castle is such a fantastic resource for local people we are really pleased to be supporting these excavations and the chance to local people to be actively involved."

Ian Sanderson from Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service said: "The results promise to transform our understanding of Pontefract castle's development, whilst the potential for discovering finds in the gate-house ditch that will illuminate life in the castle, is very high."

Archaeology season at Pontefract Castle runs from now until 03 November 2019. There are free daily tours at 2pm until 03 November 2019 (excluding 31 October).

To see what’s on and find out how to join a hands-on event, visit pontefractcastle.co.uk/digventures.aspx and follow the dig on Twitter and Facebook at #PonteCastleDig

Activity timetable:

·         Now to 3 Nov: Daily archaeological tour

·         21 - 25 Oct 2019: Pontefract Castle: Archaeology Finds Lab

·         26 Oct - 3 Nov 2019: Pontefract Castle: DigCamp

·         5 Nov - 15 Dec: Online Course: How To Do Archaeology