The Story of Thorpe Park




Gav Robinson

Hannah Clay

Alice James

This week is National Storytelling week, and we want to tell you the story of the archaeology of Thorpe Park, where we revealed a landscape rich in archaeology of all periods by using different techniques and investigations.


Barnbow Munitions Filling Factory

In 2001, NAA provided the Consultancy work for the Manston Lane Link Road in east Leeds.

Our work helped uncover the full extent of the Barnbow Filling Factory. The desk-based research was essential in informing the development plan how to reduce the impact on surviving heritage and in advising how to record archaeological features that would be disturbed by the development.

Barnbow Filling Factory was the first purpose-built - and one of the most productive - munitions filling works in Britain and played a key role in helping to change the status of female workers during the struggle for equal rights for women.

During World War 1, the most tragic and largest loss of female lives in Britain occurred in a huge explosion at National Filling Factory No 1 – although the story was kept out of the news at the time to maintain morale.

Following NAA’s work, the site of the filling factory was given protection as a scheduled monument in 2016.


Thorpe Park Business Park

Between 2014 and 2016, NAA carried out a series of evaluation works in fields south of the Barnbow Filling Factory before development of a new business and leisure park began.

Desk-based research and watching briefs had demonstrated a high potential for archaeology of all time periods to survive within the site. To gain a better understanding of the extent and type of buried archaeological remains, NAA performed a geophysical (gradiometer) survey.

The geophysical survey quickly revealed the wide extent of mineral extraction at the site. The results contained a large number of circular and bipolar anomalies indicative of mine shafts, as well as other amorphous and linear anomalies relating to activity associated with mining.

Although possibly less exciting, there was also clear evidence in the geophysics data for several regimes of ridge and furrow, which suggested that the site had once been used as farmland in the locality of the medieval settlement at Austhorpe.



Mine Over Matter

Extensive and important evidence for post-medieval coal mining was recorded by the Thorpe Park project, including upstanding remains associated with four late 19th-century collieries: Brown Moor, Ellen Pit, West Yorkshire Colliery, and Adelaide Pit. A former stable block, a lagoon and a railway embankment were all that remained of Brown Moor Colliery, while the sites of Adelaide pit and West Yorkshire Colliery were left undisturbed by the development.

The entire site of Ellen Pit was investigated during construction groundworks and the truncated remains of a railway, the main shaft and a second narrower shaft (possibly for ventilation/pumping) were found. To the south were an engine and boiler house, a possible water tank, a ‘pump’ house and a dew pond. An arrangement of post-pads and post-holes between the engine and pump houses probably supported equipment to transfer power to the pump and headgear.

The below-ground remains of clusters of earlier bell pits and deeper shafts encircled by brick culverts were found. Interestingly, during the mechanical strip-mining of coal as part of the site clearance, tunnels, galleries, pit props and tools from 18th- or 19th-century pillar and stall mine workings were also exposed.



Grim’s Ditch

A 100m-long section of the nationally important Grim’s Ditch (also known as Grimes Dyke) extended across the centre of the Thorpe Park development area. This extensive boundary monument is known to have stretched for 7km from the River Aire in the south to the village of Scholes in the north and consisted of a substantial bank with a ditch along its east side.

The feature was once thought to have been part of the defences for the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Elmet, but investigations associated with the M1–A1 link road showed that the ditch was cut during the Early/Middle Iron Age with a possible redefinition in the later Roman period. No earthworks survived within the Thorpe Park boundary, but a combination of geophysical survey, map regression and trial trenching showed that the monument was probably continuous through the development area.

Where Grim’s Ditch was excavated, the ditch fills contained no diagnostic finds, but because of the importance of the feature, optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating was undertaken. A sample from a deposit below the remains of an upcast bank returned a Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age date, which suggests that the monument may have been constructed even earlier than previously thought.


A tale of two settlements

An extensive Late Iron Age and Romano-British landscape was recorded by the Thorpe Park project. The remains spanned both Thorpe Park and the adjacent Green Park development areas and included field systems, trackways, a variety of enclosures and two newly discovered Roman-period settlements of very differing character.

In Green Park, to the west of Grim’s Ditch, excavations for a temporary haul road crossed an area of concentrated Romanised settlement, potentially representing a previously unknown villa. The archaeology included enclosure ditches, a stone wall and possible rectangular structures. Local and imported pottery, which suggested occupation throughout the Roman period, was recovered along with metalworking waste, a nicely-decorated stone altar, a large stone bowl and fragments of Roman roof tile.

On Brown Moor hill, to the east of Grim’s Ditch, another long-lived settlement with a complex arrangement of ditches and sub-enclosures was recorded. Artefacts recovered from the features suggested that the settlement was a prosperous farmstead that flourished during the Roman period but did not grow to become an agglomerated site or a villa. The inhabitants seemed to embrace some aspects of a more Romanised way of life including pottery and structural styles but not the fine table wares characteristic of more-affluent sites.

Lazencroft’s waste

Two groups of features at Thorpe Park were associated with large dumps of waste pottery sherds (‘wasters’) and kiln furniture from the nearby Lazencroft kiln site. This kiln, recently excavated by the East Leeds History and Archaeology Society, may relate to a 1739 lease given to William Gough by Edward Gascoigne of the Lazencroft estate. Documentary evidence shows that this lease was for a house, workshops and ovens (presumably the pottery kiln) (Allday and Millard 2009).

The wasters included sherds from bowls, shallow dishes, jars, plates and possible saucers. Some had been decorated by trailing, combing, feathering, jewelling and joggling techniques, while others had press-moulded designs or pie-crust rims. The kiln furniture included fragments of saggar, wad clay/spacers, internal kiln structure and a single spur.

Much of the pottery waste came from infilled mineshafts close to an enclosure and structure recorded on a 1790 map of the Lazencroft estate. This property could have been linked to Barrowby Lane to the south, and the kiln site to the north, via a trackway that ran close to the second group of features. Potentially, these two areas may have been directly related to activities at the Lazencroft kiln, or merely convenient places to dump waste.

Allday, K and Millard, J. (2009) A Newly Discovered Leeds Slipware Pottery. English Ceramic Circle. Transactions 20 Part 3


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