Excavating at Hornby

In Focus

Project Gallery 

Hornby castle courtyard and tower   View along fish ponds towards tufa  
Digging at Hornby   Excavations Trench 1  
Community Members from Durham Arch and Arch Society help process finds   Lynne showing society members the joys of flotting  



The Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham Excavations at Hornby, North Yorkshire

The Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland (A&ASDN) are engaged in an on-going programme of fieldwork at Hornby Castle, North Yorkshire, including excavation and building recording following on from an earlier phase of recording and watching brief undertaken by their Field Officer, EriK Matthews. Volunteers from the society are being supported in this work by staff from NAA who are providing access to equipment and onsite training workshops. This is part of the company's continuing relationship with A&ASDN which in the past has seen members given training on finds processing, environmental flotation, surveying, buildings photography and recording.

Hornby Castle, is probably best known as the original location for the Hornby Portal, now in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow and dating from the early 16th century and the ownership of William the 1st Baron Conyers. Following on from a chance reference in Leland's Itinerary, which describes Hornby as 'a mean and mediocre place', it has always been assumed that the castle dates from this period but was subsequently modernised by John Carr and James 'Athenian' Stuart in the mid 18th century for the 4th Earl of Holderness; a courtier in the reign of George II and one of the richest men in the country. The estate was further enhanced by the construction of a series of 'model farms' and a designed landscape laid out by Capability Brown and his pupil Adam Meikle. Later improvements to the house were undertaken by Joseph Bonomi in the 1820s for the 6th Duke of Leeds, but just over a century later, in 1930, the building was partially demolished following an auction to clear the gambling debts of the 11th Duke.

During his earlier work on the site, Erik was able to date the surviving building, on the basis of documentary and architectural evidence, to the mid 15th century and the period of ownership of Sir John Conyers KG, a major military and political figure on the national stage during the Wars of the Roses. In 2010, permission was granted to the A&ASDN for a small targeted excavation with the aim of hopefully providing archaeological evidence in support of this construction date and discovering more about the development of this intriguing monument.

Season 1 of fieldwork saw the recording of the now ruinous banqueting house constructed in 1769 in the grounds for the 4th Earl of Holderness by John Carr and the excavation of a 5m by 6m trench close-by. This has revealed a series of tipping horizons and working surfaces associated with the building work at the Country House from the late 18th to early 19th century. Material recovered included sections of waste marble panelling associated with the 18th century house interior, a complete set of stone mason's tools, fragments of a number of fine porcelain vessels and other items associated with the early country house. Sections of architectural masonry and other items removed from the medieval castle by Carr and Stuart, have also been identified, including part of the 17th century tower clock, a medieval wrought iron weather vane and sections of early architectural terracotta - the first to be recorded in the North of England. Beneath the 18th century working surfaces, evidence has come to light of a detached medieval garden, or 'pleasance', including a stone revetted raised bed, a sand path and a mortar floored building. The construction cut for the raised bed yielded a sherd of Saintonge ware pottery dating from the late 14th century.

The Season 2 of fieldwork has already started with a second trench being opened a short distance away from the earlier excavation. This has identified a gravel path dating from the late 18th/early 19th century and yielded further evidence in the form of specialist glazing and metal working waste relating to the refurbishment of the main house in the mid 18th century. Tantalisingly large quantities of mainly imported high status pottery dating from 1250 to 1500, as well as number of bone artefacts from the same period, have also been recovered.

Work is on-going and new volunteers are always welcome - no experience is necessary. For more information please contact Erik Matthews A&ASDN Fieldwork Officer on 07951380829 or by email at rubyna.matthews@btinternet.com.