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Archaeological Excavations and Social Impact at Pontefract Castle (data paper)

Indie Jago and Manda Forster

Cite this as: Jago, I. and Forster, M. 2023 Archaeological Excavations and Social Impact at Pontefract Castle (data paper), Internet Archaeology 61.

1. Dataset Location

The dataset has been deposited with the Archaeology Data Service. DigVentures (2023) Gatehouse Project, Pontefract Castle: Community Archaeology Project [data-set]. York: Archaeology Data Service [distributor]

Referee statement by Neil Redfern

2. Project Background

The Gatehouse Project, Pontefract Castle (funded by Historic England with funding allocated under the terms of the NPPF Emergency Investigation Assistance) took place between September 2019 and August 2020. The archaeological data were generated by Chris Casswell, Nat Jackson and Indie Jago (2019–2020); the community data were collated by Johanna Ungemach, Brendon Wilkins, Harriet Tatton and Jodie Hannis (2021).

The project design was created in response to an Invitation to Tender (ITT) and WSI created by West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service, Wakefield MDC and Historic England (ITT - Wakefield MDC 2018; WSI – WYAAS 2018). In addition to the requirements of the archaeological method and outcomes outlined in the WSI, procurement documents highlighted the desire to achieve tangible public engagement and social outcomes as a result of the project's delivery. The procurement process enabled responses to the tender which demonstrated the proposed archaeological methodology alongside the design for public impact as key demonstrations of quality, rather than relying on price as a primary evaluation criteria. The resulting Project Design consequently included public engagement as one of five archaeological aims, embedding meaningful social impacts within the project model from the outset (Casswell et al. 2019).

The fieldwork took place between 30 September and 3 November 2019 and 27 July to 14 August 2020. The excavation targeted an area at the base of Victorian steps where a gatehouse structure was exposed during earlier excavations (Burgess 2019), as part of the remodelling of the visitor centre along the path to create access. A community excavation programme was arranged to meet the needs of the planning requirement and to engage the local community with Pontefract Castle. The community excavation took place across two stages; a three-week excavation conducted by professional archaeologists, followed by a two-week fieldschool where the public could learn to excavate, process finds and participate in a range of workshops. The trench excavated during this project was irregular in shape but measured approximately 15 by 10m. It exposed many significant remains, which enabled the reinterpretation of Pontefract Castle. At the end of the 2019 excavations the drawbridge pit had not been fully excavated and a second season in 2020 was organised that specifically targeted excavating the drawbridge pit.

Figure 1
Figure 1: The community excavation ©DigVentures

3. Relationship to other Publications

The site has been published with Internet Archaeology and is also disseminated through a series of documents and reports, as well as via the digital archive. Key documents include an analysis report for the Pontefract Gatehouse project (Casswell et al. 2021), a published article outlining the results of social impact Wilkins et al. (2021), and a journal paper giving the archaeological results (Jackson et al. 2023).

4. Results Summary

The archaeological excavation recorded seven distinct phases within the area investigated, and an annotated version of the post-excavation model is included here as Figure 2. The first phase represented the casing wall built in the 12th-13th century. The exact dating of this phase was difficult, but the stone seemed further degraded than the surrounding structure, suggesting the earlier date. The second stage comprises the construction of the gatehouse in the 14th century, dated through mason's marks that match with other recorded renovations to the castle in the 14th century. In the third phase the drawbridge pit falls out of use and is left to infill. This occurs between the mid-14th century and the 17th century, as suggested by finds found within the fills. The fourth phase is represented by alterations made to the gatehouse in the mid-17th century to increase defences during the English Civil War. The fifth phase occurs in 1649 when the gatehouse was demolished. Historical records note the demolition of much of the castle in 1649. The sixth phase consists of various robbing episodes that occur between the mid-17th-19th century, as evidenced by robber trenches and pits. Finally, phase seven consists of Victorian remodelling when the castle became a 'romantic ruin' and popular tourist destination. During this remodelling some of the ruins were rebuilt, such as the gatehouse towers, and a footpath was built partially over the drawbridge pit. A summary of the archaeological results from the excavation can be found in (Jackson et al. 2023), and the full technical report is available as part of the digital archive.

Figure 2: Annotated 3D model of the excavated trench ©DigVentures Available on Sketchfab

Comprehensive evaluation of the project provides a complementary narrative and a story of change alongside the archaeological results. Public engagement activities included hands-on participation and educational workshops covering archaeological excavation, archaeological finds, photogrammetry, creative response, schools sessions and guided tours. The quantitative analysis of project participants was derived through digital data at point of sign-up, such as age, gender and professional background, with socio-economic categories based on the Office for National Statistics (ONS), followed by more in-depth qualitative analysis (a pre- and post-experience interview). Both quantitative and qualitative data are included in the digital archive.

Interrogation of the evaluation data has been reviewed against a published Theory of Change (see Wilkins et al. 2021). In terms of participation, all age groups and socio-economic backgrounds were well represented in the data, showing an improvement on existing community archaeology provision compared with the typically retired, over 65 local civic society groups (Wilkins 2020, 33). This is reflected in the participation profile, with 80% of individuals having never taken part in archaeological activities before - an overwhelmingly new audience for archaeology. Post-experience 'exit' interviews were also undertaken for all participants, and indicate how initial perceptions of archaeology changed (e.g. a positive change in their perception of archaeology, history, and Pontefract Castle) and evidence wider social outcomes, such as learning, skills acquisition and wellbeing. The data also show how the additional programming of archaeology at the site contributed to a substantial increase in visits to the castle, with a year-on-year increase of 138% recorded during October 2019 (14,810, up from 6800). A comprehensive review of the public benefit and social impact of the community excavation can be found in Wilkins et al. (2021), accompanied by a short documentary filmed and directed by DigVentures Community Archaeologist, Maggie Eno, is available on Vimeo.

Pontefract Castle Gatehouse Project.

5. Dataset Content

The dataset contains information pertaining to the community excavations at Pontefract Castle. This collection comprises project data (site reports, finds reports, school workshop resources, images, spreadsheets, 3D models, video and site records) from a community focused archaeological investigation at Pontefract Castle undertaken by DigVentures.

The archive has been split up into 10 sections comprising archaeological excavation data, community excavation data and data in the physical archive. The archaeological excavation data are divided into:

The community data are sorted into:

The archive also includes information on the physical archive which will be deposited with Wakefield Museums. A deposition register is included in the digital archive.

6. Future Work and Reuse Potential

The archive was constructed with three motivators to reuse:

The archive is aimed to be usable by the following groups of users:

An important aspect of the dataset lies in the ability to reconstruct 3D models for more detailed analysis of the masonry. Vector files of the masonry elevations have been provided to use as a comparative dataset of mason's marks and to enable future edits if further marks or masonry details are found on the 3D models. The identification of mason's marks were key to dating the construction of the gatehouse; for photos of mason's marks view the photos used to generate 'model 3' and search in the metadata by keyword 'masons mark'.

An aerial survey of the entire scheduled monument area could provide a useful resource to all three of the target users. The results could help inform any further works on the scheduled monument, provide a resource for local museums/schools, and the model could be used for conservation purposes. The 3D model of the castle captures the monument as it was 2019 and could be used as a point of comparison to measure degradation.

Datasets have been provided for all finds retrieved during the excavation. Of note is the animal bone assemblage, which could contribute to further analysis, particularly as an example of food consumption in medieval high-status buildings. The finds dataset of post-medieval finds provides an interesting assemblage of English Civil War artefacts. The dataset includes two stone cannon balls, shot/musket balls, and coins. A sub-set of the samples were selected to be archived. The digital archive provides detailed contextual data for a researcher wishing to process these samples in the future.

The archive includes the resources the project team used to deliver a workshop targeted at key stage 2 school trips. The resources have been edited slightly to include some further details about the circumstances in which the resources were initially used and provide information on what additional equipment would be required to run a similar workshop in the future. The project team believe similar workshops could be run at future community excavations within schools or museums. The workshop aims to get the students thinking about how pH levels in the soil would affect the archaeological record and can support students in understanding more about how scientific principles are integral to the archaeological discipline.

This project provides a case study in running an archaeological investigation with an embedded programme of public engagement as part of a programme of mitigation within the planning process. This project provides a useful reference point for archaeologists and heritage professionals setting up similar archaeological projects in the future. Documents for this purpose include project design, video, evaluation data and workshop resources. The evaluation data reflect how the project delivered wider public benefits beyond the usual requirements of a planning brief, providing a comparative dataset for those wishing to demonstrate social value from archaeology.


We would like to offer a sincere thank you to Historic England, in particular Neil Redfern and Andy Hammon, for the support and enthusiasm given throughout the project, to Merrill Diplock, Angela Routledge, Ian Downes and the entire team at Wakefield Metropolitan District Council, Jenni Butterworth from Drakon Heritage and Conservation, Ian Sanderson from West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Services, and huge thanks also to all the staff and volunteers at Pontefract Castle. The project was managed for DigVentures by Brendon Wilkins, with Lisa Westcott Wilkins in the role of Project Executive, with post excavation managed by Joshua Hogue and Manda Forster. The site team comprised Chris Casswell, Nat Jackson, Maggie Eno, Indie Jago, Ben Swain, Harriet Tatton, Johanna Ungemach, David Wallace and Billy Watson. Adam Stanford, Aerial-Cam, undertook the aerial survey. We would also like to extend our thanks and gratitude to all specialists that have been involved in the project; Karen Barker, Chris Cumberpatch, Elizabeth Foulds, Gerry McDonnell, Hannah Russ, Carl Savage, Ruth Shaffrey, and Ellen Simmons. Elizabeth Foulds also provided the artefact illustrations.


Referee statement by Neil Redfern (Council for British Archaeology, formerly Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments, Yorkshire for Historic England)

Cite this as: Redfern, N. 2023 'Referee statement' in Jago, I. and Forster, M. 2023 Archaeological Excavations and Social Impact at Pontefract Castle (data paper), Internet Archaeology 61.

As part of the extensive conservation works to Pontefract Castle between 2017 and 2019, planned improvements to the visitor centre and access route into the inner bailey (via the main gatehouse) encountered substantial medieval masonry. Previously considered to be an area devoid of in situ archaeology following major reworking of the castle in the Victorian period as a romantic ruin, the remains turned out to be a substantial medieval drawbridge pit. Historic England agreed to fund an excavation under the terms of the NPPF Emergency Investigation Assistance grant, to understand the remains before the access route was reinstated. Given the prominent location outside the refurbished visitor centre, Historic England required the excavation to include and deliver substantial public benefit in the form of community engagement and participation.

The dataset produced by DigVentures captures the approach and outputs of the project, and demonstrates how wider engagement and participation can be incorporated into project planning at all levels as well as how this integrated approach can lead to substantial public benefits and the creation of wider public value. The dataset is particularly important for the use of a Theory of Change model to shape and capture the impact of the work, for the collaboration by all parties (curators, contractors, funders and site managers) at all stages of the work. The dataset holds important information on the wider benefits and social value that archaeology can deliver through public and community engagement from the perspective of the participants themselves (members of the public), the excavation team, the visitor services team at the castle, and the archaeological curators and advisors.

The data in the archive provide an opportunity to further consider how wider social and public value outputs can be built into archaeological projects from the outset. This is critical in understanding how we can develop deeper and more meaningful approaches to delivering public benefits and in understanding how we might enhance approaches to commercial archaeology, the role it can play in engaging the public in archaeology and in creating wider public and social value.

Burgess, A. 2019 Pontefract Castle, Pontefract, West Yorkshire, Archaeological watching brief 2015-19, Wessex Archaeology Report Ref. 109223.1.

Casswell, C. 2020 Gatehouse Project, Pontefract Castle. Updated Project Design, Unpublished DigVentures document. [Last accessed: February 2023]

Casswell, C., Wilkins, B and Westcott Wilkins, L., 2019 Gatehouse Project, Pontefract Castle. Project Design for a Community Archaeology Project, Unpublished DigVentures document. [Last accessed: February 2023]

Casswell, C., Jackson, N., Jago, I., Pina-Dacier, M., Tatton, H. and Ungemach, J. 2021 Gatehouse Project, Pontefract Castle Community Archaeology Project, Archaeological Analysis Report, Unpublished DigVentures report. [Last accessed: February 2023]

Jackson, N., Casswell, C. and Forster, M. 2023 'A Medieval Drawbridge Pit and the Stories it Tells Us, Excavations at Pontefract Castle, 2019–2020', Internet Archaeology 61.

Wakefield MDC 2018 Gatehouse project - Pontefract castle. Tender reference: dn379886. Invitation To Tender, Unpublished document.

West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service 2018 Brief for an archaeological excavation at Pontefract Castle, Inner Bailey Gatehouse, Pontefract, WYAAS Unpublished document.

Wilkins, B. 2020 'Designing a collaborative peer-to-peer system for archaeology: the DigVentures platform', Journal of Computer Applications in Archaeology 3(1), 33–50.

Wilkins, B., Casswell, C., Eno, M., Harris, J., Pina-Dacier, M., Tatton, H. and Ungemach, J. 2021 'Social impact archaeology: Pontefract Castle and the Gatehouse Project', Internet Archaeology 57.

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