Barwick-in-Elmet's Iron Age Earthworks
A scheduled Ancient Monument
with a norman motte and bailey constructed inside its perimeter
|Updated March 2013 |
This photograph is one of over 150 acquired by the society from Skyviews Aerial archives .© Skyviews.
In this photograph taken in the 1980's, the hillfort can be seen in its entirety marked by the thin dark line of trees. The section in the top right hand side of the picture clearly shows the mound of the norman motte with its surrounding ditch inside the southern-most end of the hillfort. More recent photographs of parts of the iron age ditch show something of the scale of the earthworks.
At the bottom of the picture (the north side) the earthworks can be seen lining the top of a steep hill which made this part of the hillfort easier to defend. Current thinking is that the hillfort was built some time between 600 B.C. and 50 B.C.
The Society does have a team of members who act as guides to the earthworks from time to time. Most years we participate in the national Heritage Open days scheme. The society also arranges tours for visiting organised parties. To have an idea of what you can see on a tour watch the video made of such a tour. The video lasts 14 minutes instead of the hour which such a tour will normally take. However it gives a good sample of what a tour involves.
Current State of the Earthworks
The monument has suffered as the result of a long period of neglect. This is due in the main to the lack of awareness of many of the inhabitants and further afield of the importance of the monument. Apart from the periodic grass cutting in Hall Tower field (the field containing the norman part of the monument), there has been little maintenance of the rest of the ditches and banks. The (mainly) sycamore trees which outline the iron age perimeter of the earthworks have grown through default. Some have fallen and torn out the banking. (Two more have been blown down in 2007 and one more in 2008 with major damage to the banks of the earthworks.) The trees hide the spectacular nature of the hard work of the iron age inhabitants who created the hillfort with few tools and much hard labour.
One further feature of the state of the iron age earthworks was the large amount of garden waste (and other rubbish) which had been tipped into the ditch where it is accessible to the public. English Heritage urged the village to take greater care of the earthworks.
At this bidding, a project team was set up in 2003 by the Parish Council, the Historical Society and the Maypole Trust to rectify the problem. Its basic aims are to stop the deterioration and to create greater public awareness of the monument. The project involved accomplishing three main objectives:
- repair and tidy up the site
- organise an archeaological investigation to increase our knowledge of the monument
- increase public awareness through the development of leaflets and publications, a circuit of the earthworks complete with illustrative information boards and conduct guided tours of the monument.
It was hoped that much of this project could be achieved through the course of 2005. However through administrative delays we had the authority and funding to start at the end of 2006. In December 2006 contractors cleared the Wendel Hill ditch which became spectacularly revealed as an impressive defensive structure.
Wendel Hill Ditch seen from a position which you couldn't reach before the clear-up.
In February 2007, it has become Hall Tower's turn. The Motte and its ditch has been cleared of undergrowth.
The steps up to the top of the motte were re-built on top of the existing steps and the perimeter was fenced. It was decided that the best solution to the problem of keeping Hall Tower Field neat and tidy (in particular the motte and its surrounding ditch) was to get it grazed by sheep. After many delays this was achieved in November 2007 when a flock of 29 sheep, provided by a local farmer, was put into the field.
Thanks to the support of the Local Heritage Initiative the Society has designed and had produced three interpretation boards. These were installed on October 12th 2007 at the entrance to Hall Tower, on the top of the Motte and the other at the side of the Wendel Hill ditch. The give illustrations as well as some written information about the site. The boards were supplemented in January 2008 with the introduction of a podcast based on this site which can be downloaded onto ipods or other mp3 players. The podcast is a guide to the earthworks which builds upon the information given on the boards.
In November 2007 a safety fence was erected on the edge of the footpath at the side of the Wendel Hill ditch as there was a danger of someone falling some 15 feet or so into the ditch, particularly where the path was crumbling away into the ditch. The project was financed by Leeds City. (see Today's News for November 2007). The remaining problem on Wendel Hill is the management of the many trees which grow on the site. In 2007 two large trees have been blown down and in doing so ripped out large parts of the bank. We are investigating ways of having the trees examined and maintained appropriately to avoid them falling but we are not satisfied that we have an answer to the problem as yet. The site, in particular the trees, is valued for its wild life and its habitat needs to be considered. We have plans to get a volunteer trained as a tree warden to keep an active watch on the situation.
The society has achieved more public awareness of the site through opening the site for the Heritage Open Days every year since 2006 , which have been well attended.
For four years starting in 2003, the society took a year from the village primary school so the children grow up in the village aware of its history. Unfortunately, this routine has lapsed.
In a review of the progress made in the last 10 or so years, it was concluded that there was a constant and continuing need to manage the earthworks to ensure that the improvements are not lost through further neglect. The working gang who we could rely upon to carry out maintenance on the earthworks (mostly in their late 50's or more) are now 10 years older and less capable of carrying out the work involved in maintaining the task. The sheep are no longer as available as they were to keep Hall Tower in trim. In 2017 a remote controlled mower was used to make the mound in Hall Tower look like it used to ten years ago.