Castle Project

The Bolsterstone Castle Project has been financed by a grant of £20,010 awarded by the Local Heritage Lottery Fund. The Project encompasses not only a geophysical survey of the site but a dig based on the findings of the survey, volunteers training in various fields of archaeology, archaeologists’ reports, children recording the dig and the production of education packs.
There is a good deal of evidence to point to the fact that there was probably a Manor House in Bolsterstone. There is a court field and there are records of a Manor Court being held – but we have no record of a Castle. As the current Village Field was earlier named Court Field this seemed like a possible place to begin our explorations. Apart from lots of very large stones around the village and some used in buildings such as the Porter’s Lodge and Castle Cottage there is very little to show where the Manor House may have been.
Part of the project was to consult with a local freelance archaeologist, Lloyd Powell, and set up an opportunity to examine more closely the two fields that formed the Court Field. The Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield was invited to join the project team and they have been immensely supportive of the project.
In November 2005 a geophysical survey was conducted of the field and features were found that looked as though they would relate to one or more stone buildings in the area where we thought the Manor House complex might be, plus features that might relate to an enclosure and a large structure that could be an early castle.
In June, these findings led to some small excavations on the Village Field, to investigate and evaluate the features revealed by the geophysical survey. What we hoped to find was evidence of an early castle – possible only ever built of timber. Such remains may include evidence for an enclosing ditch, the associated rampart and, perhaps, structures inside including a motte. We also hoped to find on the northern side of the field evidence of later stone buildings.
WHAT WE FOUND – The excavations on the north side revealed evidence of stone buildings which, initial analysis suggests, are 15th or 16th century. The quality of the stonework, however, suggests these were outbuildings such as kitchens, stables or barns rather than the Manor House itself. This area is really worth further examination so that the buildings may be examined over a larger area.
Another part of the “dig” revealed an excavated cut which produced 15th century pottery, but it is uncertain whether this is adequate to constitute an enclosing ditch related to a large structure such as a castle. Similarly within the area which may enclose the castle we found a large stone surface and a couple of postholes but no dating evidence was revealed.
While we have not disproved the existence of an early castle at Bolsterstone we are still far from proving that we have the correct site and that we have features of the correct date.
Researching documentary evidence is an important part of the project. We have little to confirm the ownership of the Manor or Bolsterstone within the Manor of Waldershelf. The 13th century documents which relate to the granting of free warren in Waldershelf and to a lease, are in a very fragile state and currently undergoing conservation treatment. We do, however, hope to obtain photocopies of these. We believe that we will find links through such documents to the de Sheffield family and the Talbots.
Historians and Archaeologists look at the evidence and draw their conclusions from the information available. Our intention is to try to establish as much as we can from primary sources and draw our conclusions from them. Future funders will only be impressed by information based on these sources.
The project was undertaken with a wonderful group of volunteers who have given much time to the project and the support of professional archaeologists and the University of Sheffield. We are also grateful to the Local Heritage Lottery Scheme for the generous grant it made us. We hope that we may conduct another dig with another grant in the not so distant future.
Wendy Goodhind – Project Coordinator