Archaeological Discoveries at Holme Hall Quarry

Excavating one of the droveway ditches. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020.
Excavating another of the droveway ditches. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020.
The kiln during cleaning and excavation. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020.

Recently we’ve been carrying out excavations on the site of Holme Hall Quarry near Rotherham, operated by Breedon Group, where we have found the remains of what appears to be a late Iron Age/early Romano-British landscape. This is characterised by a double-ditched droveway which would have been used as a route by people and livestock, and probably once had a pair of external banks. The droveway forms the boundary to many surrounding field systems and would have provided access to many of them, as evidenced by small entryways from the droveway into the fields. The layout of the field boundaries, at staggered intervals from the droveway, is characteristic of the late Iron Age/early Romano-British agriculture of this region, and is often referred to as ‘brickwork field systems’. Only a few artefacts have been found on the site however the small amount of pottery confirms that it dates to the late Iron Age/early Romano-British period.

Using photogrammetry technology to accurately record the kiln. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020.
In this photograph our palaeoenvironmental specialist is taking samples. These will be taken back to the lab and analysed to see what more we can find out about the site. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020.
Members of the Breedon Group team standing above the kiln. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020.

In the extreme south-east corner of the site we encountered a feature of an altogether different type. While originally exploring what appeared to be a discrete feature cut into an area of subsoil, we uncovered a 19th century Victorian lime kiln buried within a backfilled stone quarry (which also appears to date to the early 19th century or before). This kiln and quarry appear to have gone out of use by the time the first Ordnance Survey map of the area was produced in 1851. This date suggests that the lime kiln may well have been constructed in answer to the food shortages that were occurring in Britain and across Europe towards the end of the Napoleonic wars. Burning and spreading lime was traditionally used to increase the productivity of farmland, acting as an early chemical fertiliser. Alternatively, the kiln may have been used for producing lime for lime wash render and mortar. The high level of preservation of this kiln is probably due to the ramshackle method of its construction, having been built into the base of an existing limestone quarry on average 1.5-2m below the ground surface. This would have aided in both the stoking (which would occur below ground) as there was already access at this level from the base of the quarry, and filling (where turf and limestone would be tipped into the top of the kiln). The fact that its base was constructed so far below current ground level meant that when it was eventually demolished and the quarry filled in, the part below ground was left largely undisturbed.

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