Archaeologists uncover parts of Sheffield Castle

Although Sheffield Castle was destroyed nearly 400 years ago, archaeologists are still able to find some of its remains. The latest research has uncovered a drawbridge pier, moat, new evidence for the English castle’s interior and remains of a possible earlier castle.

A team of archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology excavating the derelict Castle Market site for Sheffield City Council’s Castlegate regeneration project has discovered new evidence of the medieval Sheffield Castle – hailed the birthplace of Sheffield. Among the remains unearthed is the castle’s drawbridge pier – a dressed sandstone platform on which the drawbridge to the castle would have set down. This is the first time this part of the pier, a prominent feature of the castle’s gatehouse, has been uncovered.


While excavating the motte, the manmade defensive mound on which the castle was built, a series of internal castle walls was uncovered, with some of the walls being over 1.5 metres wide. No illustrations of the castle survive, so this is the first evidence we have for the layout of the interior of the castle. Archaeomagnetic dating is being used to establish a date for the motte, which will help understand the origins of this manmade mound.

Mid-16th century Nuremberg Jetton found at Sheffield Castle. Photo courtesy Wessex Archaeology

Archaeologists have also excavated the six-metre-deep moat, which has revealed new insights into remains pre-dating the medieval castle, perhaps evidence from an earlier castle. Within the moat, artefacts including a mid-16th century Jetton have been found. Contemporary with Mary Queen of Scots’ imprisonment at the castle by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I, the Nuremberg copper-alloy Jetton is a counter that would have been used a bit like money.


“Sheffield Castle keeps revealing its secrets,” says Ashley Tuck, the archaeologist leading the dig on behalf of Wessex Archaeology. “As well as uncovering the impressive gatehouse and drawbridge pier, we have uncovered parts of the castle’s walls that were previously unknown. These are the interior walls of the castle, adding to the picture of what this medieval power centre would have looked like during its heyday. In the moat area, new evidence has emerged, possibly relating to an undocumented earlier phase of the castle. This stands on the first page of the story of Sheffield and it is such a privilege to rewrite the opener to the city’s story.”

The excavation, overseen by construction engineering specialists, Keltbray, is the first large-scale professional excavation ever undertaken on the site. Once a strategic stronghold and medieval centre of power, the castle was destroyed following the Civil War as a symbol of the Parliamentarian’s victory. Following its demise, the site was repurposed for industry and the castle’s remains became lost to time.

Builders uncovered parts of the castle in the 1920s, then again during reconstruction works following WWII, and in 2018 Wessex Archaeology carried out trial excavation at the site which afforded glimpses of the castle’s remains. This is the first time large areas of the site have been systematically excavated using modern archaeological methods and scientific techniques.

Local Councillor Ben Miskell, who is also Chair of the Transport, Regeneration and Climate Committee, commented, “It’s fantastic to see the transformation of the Castlegate site really progressing towards it being an incredible public space. Working with Wessex Archaeology and Keltbray we are uncovering pieces of Sheffield’s history we never knew were there before, giving us a fantastic glimpse into how our ancestors lived and used the site. It’s been incredible to see Sheffielders being so enthusiastic about the project as well and taking every opportunity there is to get involved either through guided tours or by helping with the dig itself. The whole project is going to offer something very unique to the city in taking Sheffield right back to its beginning all those centuries ago.”


Martin Gorman, Chair of the Friends of Sheffield Castle, added, “We are particularly excited to see parts of the Castle walls being uncovered as these do not appear on any old maps or documents, as well as interesting finds from the moat. We’ve had some great feedback from the volunteers that have taken part in the excavations and the tours run by Wessex Archaeology, and we very much look forward to more exciting finds as the project moves forward.”

Top Image: Archaeologist Ashley Tuck excavates remains of Sheffield Castle interior walls © Wessex Archaeology