Remains of Gawthorpe Hall discovered in Yorkshire


Archaeologists from the University of York are revealing intriguing traces – hidden for more than two centuries – of the forerunner of one of Yorkshire’s great country houses.

In the shadow of Harewood House, a team of undergraduate students is carrying out the painstaking task of unearthing the remnants of Harewood’s predecessor, Gawthorpe Hall, which was demolished in 1773. The excavation, led by Dr Jonathan Finch, of the University’s Department of Archaeology in partnership with York Archaeological Trust, is providing important new insights into the rise of the Lascelles family which owns Harewood to this day.

After carrying out exploratory digs and geophysical surveys over the last two years, the student archaeologists are spending three weeks uncovering the layout of the Hall of which only two contemporary illustrations survive.

Education sessions will allow school groups to explore the excavation, get their hands dirty digging and talk to the archaeologists. Workshops, lectures and public tours of the dig as well as exhibits of finds will be a feature of Harewood’s Medieval Festival on 16 and 17 July. You can also find out more about Harewood All Saints’ Church (founded in 1116), the 12th century Castle and medieval village of ‘Harwood’ [then spelt without an 'e']. Go to www.harewood.org/medievalfestival for details.

The archaeologists have already discovered a wealth of artefacts including a coin dating from the early 15th century, an 18th century chamber pot, decorative glassware and wine bottle fragments, decorative pins and a thimble as well as a range of ceramics from the medieval period up to the 18th century, which will help us to tell the story of how the family lived, how the hall was decorated and much more besides. The students have also unearthed a flint arrowhead dating back to pre-history.

Gawthorpe Hall was built by the Gascoigne family in the 13th century. It was acquired by the 1st Earl of Strafford, Thomas Wentworth, in 1614, and several modifications and additions were made before its sale to Sir John Cutler, in 1656. The medieval manor house again changed hands in 1738 to Henry Lascelles, a wealthy trader with business interests in the West Indies, and was inherited in 1753 by its final owner, Edwin Lascelles.

Edwin commissioned architect John Carr and work on Harewood House began in 1759. For 12 years, the Lascelles family continued to live in Gawthorpe Hall while their new home took shape on the rising ground above them. In 1771 they left the hall to move to Harewood House with its brand new Robert Adam interiors and Thomas Chippendale furniture. Gawthorpe Hall was demolished by 1773 — its remaining traces in-filled with rubble and covered with turf to become part of Harewood’s dramatic Capability Brown designed landscape park. It is a mystery to this day what happened to most of the contents of this now lost Medieval Manor House.

Dr Finch said: “As well as providing a much longer history of Harewood that stretches thousands of years back into prehistory, the archaeology will give us a unique insight into the impact the Caribbean sugar industry and slavery had, not just on the fortunes of the Lascelles family, but on English landscape and society as a whole over two hundred years ago.”

David Lascelles said: “So much of what we know of Harewood’s history focuses on Harewood House and who has lived there. The excavation being done by the University of York students is helping to fill some of the gaps of that earlier history and – we all hope – answer some of the questions about Gawthorpe. We’ll be re-creating medieval Harewood in a digital “fly-by” to be shown as part of our Medieval Festival event in July, revealing a landscape without Harewood House and before Capability Brown’s intervention.”

Dr Finch headed a team from the University of York which travelled to Barbados last month to investigate the old Lascelles plantations, some of which still operate as sugar plantations with historic houses and factory buildings still surviving. Artefacts discovered there will be added to those found at Gawthorpe to create a new teaching resource based in Barbados and Yorkshire.

Sources: University of York, Harewood House