Digability join forces with Yorkshire Archaeological Society for 150th Anniversary Celebrations.
When Nicola met Silvia Thomas, president of the Yorkshire Archaeology Society at the West Yorkshire Community Heritage Forum last year the Digability project decided we could not pass over the opportunity to assist the Yorkshire Archaeology Society in setting an excavation of their grounds to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the society with the support of Archaeological Services ASWYAS.
Excavating in the grounds of Claremont House.
Based at Claremont House in Leeds the Society have researched in some detail the history of the house and estate that has shrunk considerably over time. Below is a brief history written by Freda Matthews, a society member.
A SHORT HISTORY: The Claremont Estate
The earliest mention of a property at Little Woodhouse is in 1539 when the possessions of Kirkstall Abbey were being surrendered to the Crown. John Moxon was a copyhold tenant of one tenement there and paid £6-4s-0d for it (more than a third of the value of the whole of the abbey’s possessions in Leeds).
The Kirkstall Abbey possessions were given by King Henry VIII to Archbishop Cranmer, whose family held the Little Woodhouse property until 1583 when John Kendal bought it. He shared the house and property with his son (also John) who died before him. In his will in 1598 John Kendall senior mentions a stepson called Henry Moxon. Was he married to the widow of John Moxon?
John Kendal left the house and property to his daughter Grace Marston (formerly Jakes) for her lifetime and then to his grandsons Robert Jakes and Thomas Casson. Robert Jakes died in 1615 and by 1618 the property was sold to John Harrison, The Benefactor, who later built St John’s Church in Briggate.
During the Civil War John Harrison paid a composition (fine) for helping the Royalists, based on his mansion with 12 acres of land at Little Woodhouse. Although he never lived at Little Woodhouse John Harrison let the house to many important Leeds residents. It is possible that Isabel Leighton, widow of Dr Alexander Leighton, a famous opponent of Archbishop Laud and Charles I, lived at the house until her death in 1653. Ralph Thoresby says that her stepson Robert Leighton, later Archbishop of Glasgow, visited her at Little Woodhouse after his father’s death in 1649, beginning a tradition of important visitors to this site.
Thomas Dixon, Mayor of Leeds and nephew of John Harrison lived at the house from 1656 to 1712 when he died at the age of eighty- seven. Ralph Thoresby, the Leeds historian visited him there. Thoresby’s letters and papers are now at Claremont in the archives of both the Yorkshire Archaeological Society and the Thoresby Society, appropriately named after him.
The house and property made up of nine closes was owned by Thomas Dixon’s descendants, passing to his granddaughter, Judith Ray and her daughter Catherine Tidswell. In 1742 the present Chorley Lane was put through edge of the estate as an occupation road for Little Woodhouse Hall built in 1740. The Well Closes (now the site of Park Lane College) were sold about this time. In 1772 John Elam, a Quaker merchant, began to buy the property, (tenanted by William Sturdy) finalising the purchase by 1777 after the death of Catherine Tidswell and her husband Rev Benjamin Tidswell (the friend of the Rev Ismay who writes of his visit to him at Chapel Allerton).
It is believed the house now known as Claremont was built by John Elam between 1772 and 1777, possibly on the site of the earlier house or around part of it. There is nothing to specify the new property in the deeds, but by 1778 it was advertised as a new house for sale or lease by John Elam who lived there, and the description fits the present house.
In 1786 John Wilkinson Denison bought the Claremont property (then tenanted by the Rev Simpson) from John Elam to build a grand mansion, now Denison Hall, on its land. In 1791 Denison sold Claremont (divided from Denison Hall) to his solicitor, Lucas Nicholson, who was Recorder of Leeds and also a banker. He built a factory at the bottom of the property in Park Lane (the forerunner of Joseph’s Well). By 1813 the house and land was up for sale by the trustees of Nicholson’s bankruptcy with a detailed description of the house including the Georgian safe and “Sexagon” library (now the Octagon room). An insurance document of this date also describes the house, untenanted, with a cow house and stables.
In 1818 the estate was divided between Francis Chorley, who bought the industrial site near Park Lane to develop further as Chorley mills, and his relative John Hill, another mayor of Leeds, who bought the house. By 1824 another relative Joseph Green was attempting unsuccessfully to develop the land near the house to create Woodhouse Square. Thomas Chorley, surgeon, brother of Francis was owner-occupier of the house by 1828.
John Atkinson junior, owner of neighbouring Little Woodhouse Hall purchased the house in 1838, with plans to develop the present Woodhouse Square and built Clarendon Road through its land in 1839.
A plan to divide the house in two was drawn up in the 1840s, as the house was difficult to let. Whether the division took place and was tenanted by two families is not clear, but around 1849 Edward Meynell was a tenant, demanding significant improvements to the house. The Old Kitchen with its unique window seems to date from this period.
In 1856 Dr John Deakin Heaton, whose wife Fanny was sister-in-law to John Atkinson, bought the house and his diary gives details of how he transformed a Georgian house into the Victorian villa we see today. The house seems to have been named “Claremont” by Dr Heaton, as there are no earlier references to the name in the Atkinson papers. Dr Heaton lived at Claremont until his death in 1880 and his widow continued to occupy it until she died in 1893. By then their children were grown up and the house was sold to architect and speculative builder James Charles in 1894. He built the present Claremont streets in its garden and by 1897 the property had shrunk to its present size.
1894 Sale Plan from YAS Archive
Various tenants including the Charles family lived at Claremont until 1916 when it became a Nursing Home.
In 1967 the nursing home closed and the Yorkshire Archaeological Society bought the house, moving into it in 1968 with the Thoresby Society and the Civic Trust (until 1992), as tenants.
Partitions were taken down and with a few necessary alterations the house returned to how it had been in Dr Heaton’s time. The quest to finds its origins took longer. Dorothy Payne began to search for records about the house and the Heaton family. Over many years she has discovered photographs and deeds, including the letters and diaries of Dr Heaton, which would never have come to light without her hard work and persistence.
A Civic Trust Blue plaque on Claremont now celebrates Dr Heaton’s involvement in the building of the Town Hall and the Infirmary, and the creation of the University. An important Leeds townsman in the tradition of many other owners and inhabitants of Claremont. (F.Matthews 2005)
The Archaeology 13th, 14th and 15th April 2013:
Our task was to invest the gardens in front of the house with the hope that we may find some evidence of the garden paths of the 19th century and perhaps if we were very lucky find evidence of the earlier property mentioned in Freda’s history. We also did a Geophys survey in Hanover Square.
Resistivity Survey in Hanover Square. The equipment was loaned by AWYAS.
Over three days we had up to 19 people each day from the local community and YAS as well as WEA staff and volunteers, children and WYAS staff taking part in the investigations.
On the 15th the Doncaster Digability group made the journey to Leeds by train and were really excited to take part in the dig as well helping to finds wash.
Students enjoying excavating.
WEA and YAS Staff, student, and care worker all working together with the same aim.
We placed 3 (2m x 1m) test pits in the front garden of Claremont. Excavation showed that this was mainly made-up ground across the whole of the site, probably imported, or material originating from the digging out for the Claremont’s cellar. This made-up ground was for the landscaping of the gardens. In Test Pit 3, we found the foundation cut and related compacted material for a garden path, which can be seen clearly on the 1894 Sale Plan. The made-up ground was overlying glacial-drift clay. We found no evidence of the 16th building purported to be somewhere on the original Claremont estate.
We had a good range of finds from all 3 test pits, including plant-pot fragments, assorted fragments china wares, clay pipe bowl and stem fragments, and corroded iron nails. Most notable discoveries: from test-pit 1 a slate writing stylus, an ornate metal cup-hook and the waxed-tip of a clay-pipe stem; from test-pit 2, a fragment of SPODE ware, stamped and dated to 1780 – 1790; and from test-pit 3, a piece of iron railing and an incised piece from a glass vessel as well as some animal bone. All of the finds correlate to the continued use of the garden site from the 18th century onwards.
Spode dating from 1780-1790
Test Pit 2 finds
Test Pit 1 finds
Test Pit 3 Finds
The excavations have certainly revealed the potential for future investigations in and around the Claremont / Little Woodhouse locale. We hope to undertake some additional investigations in the near future – so watch this space!
During the Monday Session staff from the Leeds Discovery Museum attended to explain what happens to finds once they have left archaeological sites. Those who attended the session were fascinated to discover that it is not just as case of handing over material to a museum but that each item needs to be carefully considered, recorded, accepted, frozen for a week (to make sure there are no bugs on it) and then stored. Different ways of cleaning objects were also explained.
None of this would have been possible without the help of the people below and it was a privilege to work with such knowledgeable and welcoming people.
Little Woodhouse Community Association provided a fantastic lunch for participants in the dig and local residents at Swarthmore Education Centre on Sunday lunchtime.
Notable people who helped:- Freda Matthews, and Barbara Mitchell – LWCA. Freda especially provided all the historical research. (http://littlewoodhouseonline.com/community-association/)
Alex Grassam, Phil Weston, Chris Sykes and Samuel Harrison – ASWYAS – provided professional archaeology support and equipment. (http://www.aswyas.com/)
Sylvia Thomas and Kirsty Mchugh – YAS (https://www.yas.org.uk/)
Liz Knight and Lucy from Leeds Discovery Museum for a fascinating talk about curating finds.
WEA Volunteers: Martin Bartholomew, Del Pickup and Gabrielle Lawrence.