Reminiscences of the early days of the Society
The inaugural meeting was held at Helmsley in the Scout Hall on December 5th 1950. I remember that it was very icy on the roads. I probably would not have ventured to drive on them, but John Grayson then working on his family farm in Cropton Lane came for me and after a hectic jouney arrived. Capt Foot of the Duncombe Park Estate Office was one of the organisers; RJ Bunnett of Harrogate was a vice-president of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society - who became the leading figure in the early years. He was very dictatorial and insisted on arranging all the outings etc. Tony Pacitto suggested we went and examined the numerous howes or burial mounds on the moors. Up jumped Mr Bunnett and said "the Society once were taken to see a barrow on Roomer Common - a miserable little mound in long wet grass; to make matters worse, it was raining".
Some time later Mrs Swires, wife of the Head of Beadlam School, suggested an outing to Beverley. At the next meeting Mr Bunnett said "I've been to Beverley and there is no place that will serve us with high tea. So that's off. We can go to Harrogate Museum instead". "We've already been there" said Tony. "We can take sandwiches or get a meal elsewhere". This was received with a stony silence.
Some of the early members were Mr and Mrs George Allenby; she later organised the meetings very efficently. Also Mr and Mrs Butler and many others whose names I have forgotten. Willy Beecroft was the first Secretary; he told Tony Pacitto " We getten an Archaeological Society, and Ah's t'onerable Secretary".
There were over 50 attended at the time, and the meetings were held in the Scout Hall - not a very suitable venue heated in places by a large coke stove, at intervals a curious clicking or hissing from the fridge. Eventually they moved to the Town Hall, but during three hard winters of the late 1960's it was rarely warm and we lost members with this. Eventually we moved to the National Park Headquarters, the Old Vicarage, which proved much more comfortable and convenient.
A few members took part in excavations - Beadlam Roman Villa found by Tony Pacitto in 1966. Previous to that discovery, I gave a talk on Roman Malton and was asked if anything Roman had been found at or near Helmsley. I could only refer to a few coins and some scraps of pottery, and Capt Foot produced a Roman lamp found while the Castle was excavated.
In 1953 we had an outing to Mount Grace Priory attended by over 40 members; John Weatherill was the stone mason at Rievaulx Abbey in the Ministry of Works. In 1954 he wrote a very good paper on Rievaulx Abbey and its stones, and canal diversions of the Rye in the vicinity; It appeared in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 38 (151), pp 333 - 354 (1954). Mr RW Crosland was delighted with it and said it was the justification of the ideas of a practical man.
In 1961 the Society had an outing to Old Byland and when we were looking round the village a lady came out of a house and said Mr Weatherill is ill in bed but would like to have a word with me. Actually, it was the last time I saw him; he wanted to tell me of a site west of the village at Valley View Farm which he thought was one of the sites of the early Byland Abbey. It was cruciform in shape, he said, and was very likely.
We were allowed to examine it, and later dug some trial holes to try and find what period it was. The opportunity came when I was up at Kildale staying with Rowland Close; a man from Old Byland came to cut hay and he said to Rowland "Why don't you come and dig on our farm - John Weatherill thinks the foundations of one of the abbeys is there".
So in October 1961 we went and found the ladies of the house upset because the washing machine would not work; would Rowland mend it? He gallantly volunteered, though he had never repaired one before (no electricity at Baysdale); he soon found it was blocked with soap and cleaned it out, and soon had it working.
About 6ins down we stuck stones; the farmer said "you won't get deeper, rock is near the surface here". "But this is the top of a wall" we said, and followed it down 15ins to the angle of another wall. In this corner, neatly piled up, were 15 red roofing tiles with nibs and holes in them; Rowland pointed out they were worn on one side, having been taken from a roof. With them were 150 sheep shank bones, obviously for pegs (T3). There was only one pot sherd - part of a mediaeval base.
Unfortunately no more work was done here, though Rowland took a look in the SW corner, and found to his surprise sherds of calcite-gritted ware of late Roman type. So it is possible we have here two periods of occupation. The foundations were at T3 to T5 18ins by 2ft, and the embanked area over 100ft N - S by 80ft plus, E - W. The steep bank on the N side was 3 - 4 ft high. The site is called Old Byland Cote by ChrSaxton 1898?