Archaeologists work on medieval site in Yorkshire

A stone feature in a Yorkshire Dales village has been uncovered again to determine if it is perhaps a type of oven used in the Middle Ages.

The stones were first discovered in 1896 on the village green at Hartlington near Burnsall and were originally thought to be the floor of a corn drying kiln but, over the years that followed, they became covered and were left untouched.

In 2008 members of the Upper Wharfedale Heritage Group and the Ingleborough Archaeology Group excavated a corn drying kiln at Kilnsey. This prompted the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) Senior Conservation Archaeologist Robert White to talk with representatives of the Hartlington Parish Meeting to see whether the Hartlington site was similar to the Kilnsey example.

Now, thanks to financial help from the Authority, a team of volunteers from the Heritage Group has helped local archaeologist Dr David Johnson begin to uncover the Hartlington stones again.

Dr Johnson said a circle of stones on the site was definitely either a hearth or the base of an oven because the stones had been subjected to temperatures high enough to split most of them in two. A flue ran under the hearth and under the floor of the building, distributing hot air from there to the rest of the structure.

“What is not obvious is what its use had been,” he said. “Corn drying seems out of the question, though, because that process needed low temperatures and gentle heat and the fire was always kept away from the drying floor. The team is now currently toying with the idea that it might have been a communal bread oven. Hartlington was part of the ancient parish of Burnsall and it is known that there was such an oven within the parish, but nobody knows where it was. The structure is also very near to the site of the medieval manor house – and lords of the manor controlled bread baking in the community as they saw it as a source of income for themselves, so the oven’s location fits.”

Robert White added, “The archaeological sites of this part of the National Park are particularly poorly recorded and for years this site has been a bit of an enigma. To make matters more complicated there is a tantalising reference to an excavation of another corn drying kiln in Hartlington, about 30 years ago but there was no archaeological report.

“Now we are a little clearer about what was found in 1896 although, as ever, the excavation has thrown up more unanswered questions. The remains are not in a good enough condition to survive being left completely open over winter so, now that the site has been properly recorded, we are intending to leave it open for the summer so that people can see it before covering most of it up again.”

Stuart Parsons, the Authority’s member Champion for Conservation of Cultural Heritage, said, “This is one of a number of projects where we are working with or assisting and encouraging local societies and individuals to identify, record and protect the historic environment of the Dales.

“Working with local volunteers is particularly effective in raising local awareness and interest in the historic environment – ensuring that local landowners and land managers know about historic features on their land is generally the best way of ensuring their long-term survival.”

The archaeologists have created a blog to provide updates on their work. Click here to go to the Hartlington Kiln Dig 2010

Click here to read the Report on the Excavation of a Corn Drying Kiln at Kilnsey Green, Kilnsey, North Yorkshire

Source: Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

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