Here is the update on the last 4 weeks of the course at Pontfract.

Week 6:  A Trip to the Royal Armouries

After two weeks visiting Civil War castles, we decided to visit the Armouries to learn more about the Soldiers who would have lived and fought at these sites.

We started our visit with a talk about armoury and we even got to handle a very heavy helmet and poleaxe.

We visited the Civil War section of the museum, and even got to have a go with a long bow!

Civil war pikeman

Civil war pikeman



Week 7: All Saints Church

Our visit to All Saint’s church has to be one of the highlights of our course.  We started out visit with an orientation exercise, and I-spy, and completed a worksheet, which taught us how to read a Medieval church.


All Saints

All Saints

We were then joined by Harry, the Curate, who was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the church.  He told us that the church grounds had been raised about 6 foot, and much of the base of the church, including the entrance to a crypt and plague-pit was now buried.  He even told us the story of the Civil War cannon ball that took centuries to fall to the ground, having been embedded in the church walls.  We all got to handle the cannon ball – which was very heavy!


Talk at All Saints

Talk at All Saints

We ended our visit with a tour of the interior.  We got to see the famous double helix staircase, and a specially made model which showed us how it was constructed.


Double Helix Model at All Saints

Double Helix Model at All Saints


Week 8: Pontefract Museum and Our Special Objects

We started our session with a tour of Pontefract Museum, a small, but packed museum, full of a range of artefacts from Pontefract.  It was interesting to note that each student picked a very different object as their favourite thing in the museum.

Paul’s favourite object was a human skull from the Civil War period.  It was the skull of an adult male, with evidence of a severe axe wound, which had shown signs of healing.

Matt’s favourite object was the Ackworth hoard, which had recently been acquired by the Museum. It was packed with Civil War coinage.

Alan’s favourite object was a scale 3d model of Pontefract Town Centre, representing a town plan that never was.

Jackie’s favourite objects were the range of Pontefract Cake tins and packaging.  We each remembered the ones from our childhood, so older than others…

Philip’s favourite object was a Victorian range and mangle – items once sold at Pontefract Market.  They reminded him of his childhood home.

We then went back to the classroom and created our own Museum of items special to us.

Paul brought in a fridge magnet, a memento from his visit to the Terracotta Warriors.

Paul and his fridge magnet

Paul and his fridge magnet

Ann brought in a carved elephant, a present from her son, from his travels to Kenya.


Ann and her Elephant

Ann and her Elephant

Philip brought in a bible, presented to him when he left school.  It was full of good-wish messages from his school chums.

Phillip's Bible

Phillip’s Bible


Jackie brought in a photo of her mum Dolly.  She spoke about the importance of her Mum (who has now passed) on her life.


Jackie and her Photo

Jackie and her Photo

Alan brought in his favourite truck model, from his vast collection.  His dream is to have a ride in a truck.


Alan and his truck

Alan and his truck

Chris brought in a montage of photos of his Great Granddad, who played Rugby League in the early 1900’s, and once played for England.


Chris and his photos

Chris and his photos


Week 9: A Special Tour of Nostell Priory

Even though Nostell Priory was closed for the season, we were invited to a special tour of the inside.

The Group arriving at Nostell.

The Group arriving at Nostell.

We started our tour in the cellars and learned about the early origins of the site: as a Monastic Priory, and saw a range of architectural stonework and carved timbers.   We then visited the house museum room, and admired the cabinet of curiosities and the Doll’s House made by Chippendale.

Cabinet of Curiosities

Cabinet of Curiosities

We then visited the upstairs rooms, many of which had been put-to-bed for the winter.  We saw the equipment used for cleaning and conservation of the furniture and artwork in the house.

Staircase At Nostell

Staircase At Nostell

We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around the landscaped gardens, hunting (somewhat unsuccessfully for the icehouse.

An Autumn Walk at Nostell

An Autumn Walk at Nostell

Week 10: Making Our Project Scrapbook

We spend a much needed reflection session in the classroom in week 10.  Recapping upon what we had done so far, and now much we had all learned together.  It was amazing how much we all remembered from the session and activities we had done so far – and how diverse our recollections were.  We produced a fabulous project scrapbook that can be kept at Peppermill, so the students can share their experiences with other clients, friends and staff.


Week 1: Building a Timeline

We started our Archaeology course at Peppermill by building a timeline of over 50 archaeological and historical sites, in and around Pontefract.  This activity prompted discussions about known sites, and enquiries about lesser known sites.

We also visited Pontefract Library, all students joined the library and had a tour of the local studies section.  This was incredibly useful, as students knew where they could come to for additional information about sites and activities to be covered as part of their archaeology course.

Week 2: Town Centre Ramble

We set off on a route around Pontefract Town Centre, armed with historic maps, building recording forms and cameras.  The aim was to notice the variety of buildings that made up the town centre, as well as to consider the layout of the market and surrounding roads and ginnels.

We started on Gillygate, and headed-up to the Town Hall.  The Town Hall stood on a site, previously occupied by a Medieval Moot Hall.  The group recorded the Town Hall building, noting the windows, doorways, construction style and decoration mainly on the facade of the building.

We then studied the Market Square, noting the names of the streets: Baxtergate, Wool Market, Horse Fair, Beast Fair etc..  It was clear from comparing the modern layout to the historic maps that little had changed.  The layout still retained traces of the original Medieval Burbage plots.  It was interesting how the students reacted to the buildings, noticed features they had never noticed before.  They quickly picked up the terminology and observation techniques needed to study historic standing buildings.

Our tour continued through the Town, taking in the Museum (originally a Carnegie Library), the Session’s House (upon which we spotted a benchmark), and it ended at the Merchant’s Hall.  A wonderful Medieval building, sadly in a poor state of repair.  We discussed the evident carpentry marks on the ancient timbers, and the changes that the building had undergone over its lifetime.  This building amongst any we saw on our tour prompted discussions and questions about the preservation of our built heritage.

Merchants House

Merchants House

Week 3: Studying Old Maps and Place-names

Following our town centre ramble the previous week, we returned to the classroom to further study old maps, historic documents and place-name evidence from the Town, and surrounding areas.  The students enjoyed the place-name activity best – learning about the Broken Bridge of Pontefract, and the translation of the oddest place-name of the area: Purston Jaglin!  We finished the session with a quiz, recapping what we had covered so far.

Week 4: Pontefract Castle

It was great to take a group, who had grown-up in the shadow of Pontefract Castle, and had clearly visited the site regularly throughout their lives, and teach them something new about the site.  We studied the development of the Castle: from its Motte and Bailey origins, through to the Victorian gentrification.

Climbing the Motte

Climbing the Motte

One of the students, Clarkey, had excavated at the Castle during the 1980’s, and he explained where he worked, and what he found.

We talked about the importance of preserving ruins, versus the possibility of reconstruction.  It was important for the students to be able to visualise the castle complete – the scale model in the visitor’s centre helped someway with this.

Debating preservation

Debating preservation

We finished our trip with a private tour of the Magazine.  Descending the steps added to the Magazine by Dunhill, the Liquorice grower.

The Magazine

We studied the extensive Civil War graffiti carved into the Magazine walls, and talked about the conditions facing prisoners held in the Magazine during the Civil War.



Week 5: Sandal Castle

We decided to visit Sandal Castle, a fantastic comparison to Pontefract Castle, as it retains the earlier Motte & Bailey layout, which is more obscured at Pontefract.

We started by walking around the outer ditch, and talked about the manpower required to construct the castle.  We then climbed the Motte, and studied the surrounding landscape and existing Keep structure.

The Motte and Ditch

The Motte and Ditch

We finished our tour by studying the layout of the Bailey buildings, and attempting to storm the Barbican!

The visitors centre at Sandal contained a great detail of information about the excavations at Sandal castle.


A group of 11 adults from Pepper Mill, Pontefract had their taster session in August.
Faced with a large collection of artefacts, the group got stuck into describing, identifying and trying to loosely date the objects. The group also shared their experiences of Archaeology, and one learner Clarkey disclosed he had excavated at Pontefract Castle in the 1980’s: we agreed he would share his experiences when we visit the site as part of our course.
All left inspired and excited about their course, which will start on 6th September.

Here is an outline of what activities we have planned:-

Week 1: Building a Timeline of Pontefract’s Sites

Week 2: Town Centre Ramble and Documenting Historic Architecture

Week 3: Clues from Maps, Documents and Place-names

Week 4:A ‘Taster’ of Field Surveying Techniques

Week 5: The Archaeology of Pontefract Castle

Week 6: Trip to the Royal Armouries, Leeds

Week 7: Trip to Nostell Priory.

Week 8: Learning to Read a Medieval Church

Week 9: The Archaeology of Pontefract through Artefacts & Our Lives in 300 Objects

Week 10: Bodies, Burials and Biographies

Week 11: Heritage Lost and Heritage Recovered

Week 11: Course Celebration and Progression Fair


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