Excavations to uncover how much remains of Sheffield’s medieval castle are due to start in Castlegate now that Sheffield City Council has appointed city-based archaeologists to carry out the dig after a competitive tender process.

And with the work scheduled to begin in the school holidays and continue into the Autumn school term there will be lots of opportunities for the public to view the work and learn about this forgotten chapter in the city’s long history.

Trial trenching will be carried out by UK heritage and archaeology practice Wessex Archaeology funded by the Council’s Castlegate Kickstart Programme.

It is the first ever comprehensive investigation of the whole site, since the castle was demolished at the end of a Civil War siege, made possible by the demolition of Castle Market in 2016. Previous archaeological work was confined to either observation by dedicated amateurs when construction was taking place and two trenches on the market’s upper loading bay back in 2002.

The archaeology team will host tours for schools, community and heritage groups and the public, working with the Castlegate Partnership which includes the council, the Friends of Sheffield Castle, the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University, together with local businesses.

At the same time the first scientific analysis of the Museums Sheffield collection of artefacts from those previous excavations is being carried out by experts working for the University of Sheffield’s Archaeology Department applying the latest techniques, which were excavated by the University of Sheffield’s commercial team.

This archives work has been funded by a bequest to the Department of Archaeology by one of its alumni, Pam Staunton from Dronfield.

Also in development is a new  more accurate and detailed computer visualisation of the castle, and how it is believed to have looked in its heyday, which will be launched in September at the Festival of the Mind and will be accessible on smart phones around the site.

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Councillor Mazher Iqbal, Cabinet Member for Business and Investment at Sheffield City Council, said: “This excavation is very exciting and will help us to decide how to make the most of this historical asset whilst also identifying which parts of the Castle Market site can be redeveloped to create a lively, attractive and prosperous setting at the heart of the Castlegate quarter.

“The area is already starting to see considerable investment and development with new hotels, and the new Kollider digital incubator close by at Castle House, with a number of innovative businesses, such as the BGI, also choosing to relocate here.

“We are looking forward to learning so much more about the forgotten history of  our brilliant city and its very origins, when the whole of Sheffield life was focused around its castle.”

Martin Gorman, chair of Friends of Sheffield Castle added:  “The Friends have been campaigning for several years for this and we are looking forward to working with the archaeological team to see what remains of this rich historic site. By examining the past in this way, we can help ensure Castlegate can have a thriving future.”

Professor John Moreland from of the University of Sheffield added: “The University has been a strong supporter of the regeneration of Castlegate for over four years and is proud of the creative role played by our staff and students particularly in architecture, landscape and archaeology in shaping and promoting the rediscovery of the Castle.”

Andrew Norton, Regional Director North for Wessex Archaeology, added: “Wessex Archaeology is delighted to be working with Sheffield City Council on the exciting Castlegate project. We are very much looking forward to discovering more about one of Sheffield’s best kept historical secrets, and sharing that information with the people of Sheffield and beyond.

Sheffield Castle was constructed at the confluence of the River Sheaf and the River Don, possibly on the site of a former Anglo-Saxon long house, and dominating the early town.

A motte and bailey castle had been constructed on the site at some time in the century following the Norman Conquest of England in 1066.

This was destroyed in the Second Barons’ War. Construction of a second castle, this time in stone, began four years later in 1270. Mary, Queen of Scots was held prisoner in this castle and its associated estates for 14 years between 1570 and 1584.

Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots

The castle was held by Royalist forces for part of the English Civil War, and was surrendered to the Parliamentarians in 1644 following a short siege. Its demolition was ordered soon after, and the castle was razed. Excavations in the 1920s revealed stone foundations from the castle begun in 1270 as well as evidence of earlier structures.

The £786,000 Castlegate Kickstart funding from the Council’s Capital Growth programme will enable a number of projects to transform the area over the next 18 months and is giving the area new life as a centre for creative and digital businesses and hotels, whilst celebrating its history. There will be extensions to the Grey to Green corridor, reoccupation  of empty shops for new activities, action to protect the Old Town Hall and other incentives to reveal its hidden history and landscape but also to promote its new economic functions as the location for start-up tech and creative enterprise, using its rich stock of vacant or under-used buildings.