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Search begins for Sheffield’s lost medieval castle

A team of archaeologists has begun the search for the lost remains of Sheffield Castle as part of a project that could be used to help regenerate part of the city.

The excavations, led by Sheffield-based Wessex Archaeology North in collaboration with the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, are designed to recover and assess a key element in the city’s forgotten medieval heritage.

Findings from the excavations, which started last week, are set to inform a collaboration between the University of Sheffield, Sheffield City Council and the Friends of Sheffield Castle to inspire regeneration of the city’s Castlegate Quarter.

Ongoing work by the University’s Department of Archaeology has revealed the history behind the castle, and a book on their findings will be published next year, while students from the University’s School of Architecture have developed designs for the use of the site to attract business, investment and tourism to the area.

Andrew Norton, Regional Director of Wessex Archaeology North, who are conducting the excavations, said: “Wessex Archaeology is delighted to be working with the University of Sheffield on the Castlegate site. With student volunteers assisting our team, the project will be a valuable opportunity to experience commercial archaeology and working with the public first hand.

“Specialists from the University of Sheffield will provide expert input on the history of the site and the flora and faunal assemblages. Wessex Archaeology is very much looking forward to combining the best of two great organisations for the benefit of this historic site.”

Research on the origins of the castle together with findings from earlier excavations are also being used to create a virtual reality experience, which will give people the opportunity to ‘see’ how the castle looked for the first time in almost 400 years.

The VR experience is being developed by Sheffield-based creative agency Human with archaeologists, architects and computer scientists from the University, and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The Principal Investigator on this project is the Head of the Department of Archaeology at the University, Professor Dawn Hadley, who said, “This is an exciting initiative that will bring the castle back to life, showing not just what the Castlegate district looked like in the Middle Ages but also inspiring ideas for the regeneration of the site”.

Professor John Moreland, who leads the Castlegate project at the University of Sheffield, commented, “We’re delighted that the next phase of our research into Sheffield Castle is set to start this week. We’ve known about some of the history of the castle and its role in medieval England for quite some time now, but what we don’t know is how much more of it remains on the castle’s site.

“The Castlegate Quarter of Sheffield is due for regeneration, and we believe that the presence of the castle increases the attractiveness of the site for developers. Our work with Wessex North, Sheffield City Council and the Friends of Sheffield Castle to look for further remains will mean that the city can use the area’s heritage to plan for its future.”

Sheffield Castle was once one of the grandest and most powerful in the north of medieval England. It was home to some of the great families at the time – including the de Furnivals, Nevils, Shrewsburys and Howards.

Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner there for 14 years between 1570 and 1584, before she was executed in 1587. The castle was then destroyed by Parliament following the Civil War in 1646.

The first trench – thought to be one of the castle’s gatehouses – photo courtesy Sheffield City Council
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Martin Gorman from Friends of Sheffield Castle noted that “this is the first time excavations have taken place on the site of Sheffield Castle for nearly 20 years so the Friends of Sheffield Castle are naturally excited and delighted to see work start. We very much look forward to working with Wessex Archaeology, the Sheffield City Council and The University of Sheffield on this project and are pleased that our Members and the public have the opportunity to also get involved in the work.”

For more information on the history of Sheffield Castle and what has been found so far, please visit the Sheffield Castle page at the University of Sheffield.

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