Sheffield Castle dig generates unprecedented interest from local community

The Castlegate site has welcomed 175 volunteers who excavated the site with professional archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology and students from The University of Sheffield. An additional 175 volunteers have helped to process the finds off site over the course of the project.

More than 480 visitors have taken part in on-site tours during four open days, with more to follow this weekend and the site has also been visited by more than 200 members of local societies and school groups.

In total, over 17,000 people have been in touch with the archaeological team over the course of the dig.  Meanwhile an exciting new virtual model of the castle has been unveiled by the University of Sheffield at the Millennium Galleries as part of the Futurecade Exhibition, pointing to new ways of communicating heritage to a wider audience.

The on-site archaeological dig element of the project is now reaching an end with The Big Draw event on Saturday 6 October.  This event will see children and Hallam University students working with the Wessex Archaeology team to decorate hoardings around the site with images relating to the castle and its history.

The project is being carried out by leading archaeological and heritage practice Wessex Archaeology, who have an office in Sheffield, and has been commissioned by Sheffield City Council as part of its Castlegate Kickstart regeneration programme to determine the level of preservation of the remains of Sheffield’s castle and later industrial development.

Mili Rajic, archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology and the site’s project manager said:

It has been a privilege to work on this site that clearly means a great deal to the local community. Over 17,000 people have been in touch with us about the Sheffield Castle work over the course of the project.  We laid on extra open days to accommodate the interest from the people who wanted to visit and see the site for themselves.

The project has provided a fantastic opportunity to understand more about Sheffield’s medieval past, much of which was lost during the 19th and 20th century development of the city, as well as of its more recent Victorian history.  A full report giving a detailed view of the site and finds will follow this work.

Several months of off-site analysis of the finds will now follow with a first report being delivered to the Council and its Castlegate partners by Wessex in late 2018.  This will help inform the future development of the former Castle Markets site on Exchange Street, with a more detailed analysis of the findings from the site expected later in 2019 as well as an update on the wider Castlegate Kickstart project.

Cllr Mazher Iqbal, Sheffield City Council, cabinet member for business and investment, said:

It has been great to engage so many Sheffielders in this fascinating and essential project, which will help to clear up one of our city’s biggest mysteries.

By understanding what happened in Sheffield’s past we can help inform Castlegate’s exciting future. I have been particularly impressed with the dedication of the volunteers who have worked alongside the archaeologists to share in this look at our shared history.

Professor John Moreland: The University of Sheffield, professor of Medieval Archaeology said:

It has been a real pleasure to work with Wessex Archaeology on this project which has done so much to broaden and deepen our understanding of the castle site, and to make us appreciate that its heritage is about so much more than the castle – though clearly that is important too!  Our students gained immensely from the experience of working with professional archaeologists on a site of such importance and since most of them were born and bred in Sheffield, it really mattered to them personally as well. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with Wessex, Sheffield City Council and the Friends of Sheffield Castle as we seek to use the insights generated by the excavation to inform the future regeneration of the area.

Martin Gorman, Chair of Friends of Sheffield Castle said:

This has been a significant moment for the Friends with the first excavations on the Castle site for many years and it has been exciting to see the layers of history revealed, right down to medieval level.  We are very grateful to Wessex for facilitating all the community digs, tours and talks and the level of interest in the Castle has been remarkable . What is clear, is that the site is rich in Sheffield history, and this demands further investigation, hopefully in the near future. We look forward to working with the Council, Wessex and the University on the next phase.