Monday 18 April 2011

5. Friday 15th April 2011

Peter very kindly visited the site before our scheduled starting time to remove the heavy bags of soil, which we had left in the trench last evening, hopefully to stop interested parties from excavating any further.
Sue, Alan and Ruth then proceeded to widen the trench by a few inches to see if we could determine how far the flags extended. However, as they obviously continue towards the path and possibly under it, and time was running out, it was decided that any further excavation would have to be left to some future date. So it was time for Alan to photograph everything of importance and to start recording.

Howard Carter, eat your heart out!   © Alan Williams

The more we looked at the ornate pattern of the shells and stones on the Grotto wall, the more apparent it became just how lovely it must have been in its day. How sad that it has been vandalised and left to decay to its present state.
Helen arrived just in time to sketch the floor and adjacent section of wall, and to discuss with Sue the drawing and painting of the ’Romantick Ruin’, which Helen is going to do. With Sue using her expertise in drawing and Alan and Ruth holding the staff and the tapes, the recording was finished in record time. Sadly it was then time for back-filling and clearing of the site, greatly assisted by another member of the Civic Society, Steve.
It has been an excellent week (we have been very lucky with the weather – only 1 hours rain on Monday) and as well as a great deal of fun, we have all added to our experience of excavating and recording yet another aspect of archaeology.
Grateful thanks must go to all members of both UWHG and the Civic Society who have taken part, helped or advised, and especially to the Director of the Project, Sue.
Thanks also to the members of the general public who have shown such an interest in the work and who have drawn on their memories, which have helped to increase our knowledge of the site.

Ruth Spencer

4. Thursday 14th April 2011

A select company of 2 today – just Peter and Ruth. Sue who was working had left instructions to open up a trench running from the SW corner to the centre of the Grotto. With the help of the wonderful Chillington hoe, the top soil was soon loosened. There was very little glass today (in comparison to the bucket and a half from the previous days), but oh those roots – they were everywhere! You thought you had got them all cut back, but up they sprang again!
Finds were interesting – a plastic Red Indian, a blade of kitchen knife, a screwdriver, numerous rusty nails, bits of shell, a piece of painted pot and 3 bits of white tile. There was much burnt timber and huge nuggets of charcoal and finally - a floor! This comprised a large slab of paving approx. 60cms x 70cms, with a smaller triangular slab leading to some larger stones in the centre. 
 At last, the floor!   © Alan Williams
Having thoroughly cleaned this we were delighted to see the expression on Sue’s face when she returned from work.
We were again visited by Doug Grant and by Isobel Warren, both members of the Civic Society, who are watching our progress with great interest.
Recording tomorrow!  

Ruth Spencer

Thursday 14 April 2011

3. Wednesday 13th April 2011

On day 3, we were still digging. The UWHG diggers spent the day trowelling in a cosy little foursome within the tiny half segment of the grotto interior.

The huge number of glass sherds littering the top soil for several centimetres depth meant we couldn't just bag up the top soil for re-use later without first sifting through to take out as much of the glass as we could. In this process we also collected the grand total of 8p in coinage from the 1970s, an old Dime bar wrapper, a party popper and some knicker elastic!! Ah, if only the walls could talk....

   Jane & Ruth digging    © Alan Williams 
We didn't get down to the original grotto floor despite all our efforts - indeed we found another level of dressed stone in the corner suggesting we had several more centimetres to go down.

Taking a moment to think   © Jane Lunnon
We were visited by Stephen Garnett of the Craven Herald newspaper which gave us a much-needed break from the hard work of digging while he took some photos.

Tomorrow, let's hope the grotto floor will be finally found.

Jane Lunnon

Tuesday 12 April 2011

2. Tuesday 12th April 2011

Another good day in the Wilderness with no rain!

Anne Wood joined Sue and Ruth today. While Anne cleaned more moss off the walls Sue & Ruth dug a 50cms square in the SW corner inside the wall, looking for a possible floor surface. It took a long time to get through the hard packed earth and dandelion roots, but with care & perseverance a further pecked, curved stone was found under what had been thought to be the base of the wall.  Approx. 14 cms down a covering of lime mortar was revealed, which extended throughout most of this area.

We had a number of visitors, including members of the Civic Society, who came to lend a hand. Sheila Clarke did a very useful job of recording the various types of shells, which had been used in the design – the more one looks, the more shell and interesting stone patterns can be seen. Other visitors were all very interested and word had obviously spread around that we were excavating in the Grotto!

After lunch Anne, Sue and Ruth set to, to excavate a further trench running westwards from the back of the Grotto, hoping to see if there was further lime mortar here.  What we did find was masses of broken glass of every colour and a few coins mainly dated circa 1978. The thought was that the youth of that era practiced emptying the bottles and then smashed them against the wall!

As ever time ran out all too quickly and we have to hope that we find that elusive floor tomorrow - there is still all the recording to be done!

Ruth Spencer

1. Monday 11th April 2011

The day dawned cloudy and threatening, but at least this was better conditions for getting a 'before' photo of the site, our 2 previous attempts were thwarted by bright sunlight casting 'orrible shadows across the feature.

Wilderness Grotto   © Alan Williams

Today Sue Wrathmell (site director) Ruth Spencer, Roger Pyrah and Alan Williams started the work of cleaning the feature. Sue and Roger painstakingly removing the moss from the shells embedded into the surface while Ruth and Alan cleaned the structural masonry  to discover the extent of the construction. After an hour  or so the threatened rain appeared, not heavy but still wet, making the walk to the spoil heap along the slippery beck side path rather exciting.

Work underway   © Alan Williams
David Johnson visited the site in the late afternoon giving valuable advice on how to draw the structure (well, it is a bit kiln shaped!) and looking in detail at the surface render in which the shells are set – cement and the mortar between the stones – lime mortar: useful information to assist  with the dating. Work finished around 17:30. a productive first day. Tomorrow it is hoped to discover whether the structure has a paved/cobbled floor and to draw plans and sections

Alan Williams

Monday 4 April 2011


An Archaeological and Historical Study of the Wilderness  Beck Grotto,
off Shortbank Road, Skipton

The Project is undertaken by the Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group
under the direction of Susan Wrathmell, BA, MA, IHBC.
The Project is supported by Skipton Civic Society and the Middletown Community Association.

Summary Site History

No reference to the grotto has so far been found in published material; the only fixed date for its existence in the 1850 Ordnance Survey map, published in 1852.

Two likely dates for its construction are described in detail below:
·         1773-80 for Samuel Plummer who as headmaster built himself a fine house and made the gardens on the east side.
·         C1847 when money was set aside for work on the gardens.

The former date is considered more likely.

Background- the school and its setting

A late medieval chapel dedicated to St James was taken over by Ermysted’s school by 1570. The site would probably also have included a guest house, barn and stables.  During the Civil War the school was closed and the buildings used as a military base.  The school buildings were described as being in very poor condition in 1654 and it appears that little repair work was done in the following century.

Samuel Plummer was appointed headmaster in 1751 and remained until 1780.  He managed the school’s extensive estates and was involved in the proposals for the Keighley – Kendall turnpike road (Act of 1753).  In 1773 he sold school land and trees to a total of £560 to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company.  Some of the money was used for the erection of a new school house and outbuildings, with additional land purchased for a paddock and garden which was planted with flowers, shrubs and fruit trees. The date for the new house (now the Cross Keys public house) and the gardens is therefore probably between 1773 and 1780.

During the first half of the 19th century the grounds and school buildings were neglected, the Master continuing to live in his separate School House. A report of 1836 describes ‘very old’ school buildings which were made up of:
  •  a small schoolroom, 18 x 7m, and 3m (10 feet) high,
  • a room for the master and
  • five small bedrooms for boarders.

The old school buildings were rebuilt in two phases in the 1840s:
  • the school room was rebuilt to designs by Leeds architect Robert Chantrell;
  • the range linking to the Schoolmaster’s House was converted into a house for the second master.
In 1847 the bad state of the school garden was remarked on and £10 was set aside for cultivation.  The grotto with long flanking walls is shown on the 1850 Ordnance Survey map.
The old Grammar School site was redundant in 1876 when the new school building on
Gargrave Road
was opened.  The site was sold in May 1878, although the plan of the lots includes the gardens, no reference was made to the grotto.  Following the sale it appears that the gardens were left to go wild.

                  a)  To clear the debris in order to survey and record the surviving structure.
                  b)  To assemble an archive for the site, including an historical record.
                  c)  To investigate the historic garden setting of the grotto at a superficial level.

a)    To make a photographic and drawn record of the structure as it survives today and assess the evidence for its original form.
b)    Initiate further research into its age and significance.
c)    Monitor the continuing deterioration of the structure.
d)    To consider possible conservation options.

a)  A desk based assessment to confirm the historical record.
b)  A topographic, photographic and drawn survey of the grotto and its immediate       surroundings.
c) The work to include a detailed examination of the shell patterning following  removal of the moss.
d)  Examination and recording of the overall structure,   including the opening in the rear wall and any surviving floor at the base.          

The survey is due to take place in April 2011.  Reports will be lodged with the NYCC Heritage Unit, Skipton Town Council, Craven District Council Planning Department, Craven Museum, Skipton Reference Library, Skipton Civic Society, and UWHG.