Some of us volunteers took a plunge and crossed the Lancashire/ Yorkshire border to visit Hardcastle Crags, near Hebden Bridge in Calderdale. We were invited to a Woodlands Heritage Seminar and also explored Gibson’s Mill. Due to it being one of the oldest cotton Mills of the Industrial Revolution – it was built circa 1800 – it is a fantastic place to visit. Interestingly, Gibson’s Mill was used by the local people as an entertainment complex during the 1900s, comprising a roller-skating rink, a dance hall and dining area, and a boating pond. Tim, our supervisor, remembered visiting the cafe in the woods in his youth and going to various dances!
The Pennines Prosper Woodlands Heritage Seminar included an outdoor demonstration of sheer horsepower by horse-logger Peter Coates and Nathan, his Clydesdale, as part of the woodlands management strategy devised by National Trust staff, non-native trees in the area such as larch and pine are felled. They were planted in great numbers in the 1870’s and 1880s and are, therefore, reaching the end of their natural lifespan. Nathan is used because of his environmentally friendly manner (!); he does not destroy vegetation in the same way that heavy vehicles would by leaving tyre tracks. He is also able to navigate steep hills. It was fantastic to see this method of logging as there aren’t too many trained horse-loggers left nowadays and this method of woodland management is obviously contemporary with the mill.
Alongside this, there was a demonstration from Blackbark Woodland Management. This workers’ co-operative was set up to create local employment, encourage the use of natural, local materials, teach people about felling, coppicing and woodland management, and also make a variety of wood- and charcoal-derived products from the sustainable coppicing and felling of trees in the woodlands in their care (For more information visit http://blackbark.co.uk/). They were kind enough to show us some of their sustainable products, ranging from walking sticks to spatulas.
Hardcastle Crags also offered an opportunity for us volunteers to compare trenches! On behalf of the National Trust, South Leeds Archaeology have surveyed a site very close to the mill and carried out an archaeological excavation. Dig director Paul Boothroyd gave visitors a tour of the site, explaining the various features that they have found. The site consists of two circular features and has been identified as a charcoal stance, one cutting into the other much larger feature. Evidence for charcoal burning and a series of post holes were also found. A previous study identified over 40 charcoal stances in the woods surrounding Gibson’s Mill. These stances were level platforms created for the burning of charcoal. Although an exact age has not been established for the activities, including charcoal burning, that took place here, two bottles, one of which was a 2oz Bovril bottle dating to c. 1900 have been excavated. The site has been chosen for excavation because it is hoped that a new charcoal kiln will be erected there sometime in 2013. Therefore, the area was fully investigated before this work took place.
We are planning to visit the site in the new year to catch up on the continuing archaeological investigations. This site gives volunteers an excellent opportunity to explore another aspect of the coal mining industry: how coal was used after its extraction, particularly as the activities at Gibson’s Mill were contemporary with the operations at Jubilee Colliery.