03/08/2017
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Excavation to take place at the site of Sheffield Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for more than a decade

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The site of the medieval castle where Mary Queen of Scots was kept prisoner for more than a decade is to be excavated, Sheffield City Council has announced. 

The 'major archaeological excavation' will inform designs of a new public space with opportunities to reveal and interpret the remains. The project is part of a £800,000 award which will revamp the historic Castlegate area of Sheffield in South Yorkshire.

Mary Queen of Scots arrived at Sheffield Castle on 28 November 1570, aged 27; the medieval castle proved a formidable prison and its cold, damp conditions caused health problems for the queen and her retinue. Despite the close conditions of her imprisonment, she was kept in luxurious style, with 16-course meals served to her, as historian David Templeman revealed last year.

Castlegate, in which the remains of Sheffield stands, is the historic place of origin of Sheffield as a settlement. A castle, bridge, market and houses are known to have existed here since at least the Norman Conquest and probably before. It was at the centre of local government, law and order, trade, transport and hospitality until late in the 20th century but has been in decline for many years due to the loss of a distinctive economic role. Yet it remains a main gateway into the city centre and forms the setting of, or route to and from, most of Sheffield’s central hotels.

Exploring the site

Martin Gorman, Chair of the Friends of Sheffield Castle, said: “This is fantastic news, and we are excited that work to excavate the remains of Sheffield’s medieval castle will begin soon. We look forward to working alongside the Council, archaeologists and the two Universities, to maximise public engagement and interest in the castle, as the finds are revealed and interpreted.”

Professor John Moreland from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology, who also chairs the university group co-ordinating research on Castlegate, added: “This is great news for Sheffield and for Sheffield Castle. I look forward to continuing our work with the city council and with local community groups to show how the heritage of this important place can inspire its regeneration.”

Related excavation project at Sheffield Castle

Professor Moreland and his University of Sheffield colleagues Professor Dawn Hadley and Dr Gareth Dean are currently working on a project to study reports of finds from excavations at Sheffield Castle which took place in the 1920s and 1950s, and which have never been published.

Thanks to a bequest from a former student, Pam Staunton, the Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, has funded and undertaken the first professional study of this material. Based on preliminary results, the team are confident that this study will transform our understanding of the origins of both Sheffield and of Sheffield Castle, and, given that much of the material relates to the later medieval/early modern period, expect the project to provide a more detailed context for Mary’s incarceration in Sheffield - especially as the study will also consider their previous work at Manor Lodge, another of Mary’s Sheffield ‘homes’.

(Images copyright Picture Sheffield)

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