Donkey Field Jet




Julie Shoemark

For this week’s Finds Friday we couldn’t stop at just one object.

This collection of jet comprises items recovered from excavations undertaken during the construction of a Yorkshire Water pipeline at the Donkey Field, Whitby, part of the Whitby Abbey scheduled monument. For more information on the Donkey Field excavation click here.

After the suppression of the abbey in 1539 Donkey Field was used for agriculture until the 19th century when it became the site of several jet workshops at the height of the stone’s popularity.

Represented here is almost every stage of the manufacturing process, from raw jet all the way through to the finished product and waste material. Rough jet was assessed for quality and shape, then cut into rough-outs before being ground on a sandstone wheel or hand carved for more elaborate pieces. Delicate engraving, just visible on the incomplete oblong element was also done by hand and was usually entrusted to the more skilled craftsmen. Some of the fragments here have been drilled or partially drilled ready for stringing. The faceted beads were particularly popular strung together as necklaces or bracelets. The group here includes pieces which have been cut into their finished shapes and just await a final polish to get rid of tool marks and bring out the rich lustre which makes jet so prized as a gemstone.

As we have seen in previous posts this month, jet was much sought after in the ancient world. It achieved a new level of popularity in the 19th century, partly through the new fashion of the seaside holiday which brought tourists to Whitby. After the Great Exhibition of 1851 it became popular with royalty, most famously with Queen Victoria who set the trend for wearing jet as mourning jewellery after the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Today, jet is enjoying another surge in popularity, in fact many NAA staff members have jet pieces amongst their favourite items of jewellery.


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