The Excavation of Yearsley Water Mill
final report by Geoff Snowdon and Elizabeth Sanderson

An archaeological investigation has established the presence of a previously unrecorded water corn mill in the valley of Elder Slack on the border of Gilling Park and Yearsley Moor; SE 458881 476028.

The evidence from pottery recovered from the site suggests that the mill was built in the late 12th to early 13th century and that it operated, perhaps not continuously, until the early 18th century.

Despite exhaustive research, no map based or documentary evidence has been uncovered to place the mill at this precise location; but a sale indenture from 1559-60 and the names of Yearsley millers dating from the 17th to the early 18th century, extracted from local parish records and inquisitions post mortem, establishes the fact that there was a water mill that served the people of Yearsley. Since no other site has been identified within the parish, it may be safe to assume that this was the Yearsley mill.

The mill and its associated buildings appear to have been demolished and buried as part of a landscaping project in Gilling Park during the first half of the 18th century. From that time to this, knowledge of the location of the mill appears to have slipped from local memory. The presence of the romanticised ‘Wilderness’ area that replaced it, however, still appears on maps today.

The full and detailed 100-page report can be seen here...

A separate listing of all the finds can be viewed here...

A splendid, 3D-model of the site has been created by Prof. Dominic Powlesland - and can be seen here.. (Wheel-mouse to zoom in, mouse-button to tilt / rotate).

Helmsley Archaeological and Historical Society has been pleased to support the Project in its early days; here, Elizabeth Sanderson and Geoff Snowdon can be seen receiving their cheque for £1000 from Jen Harris, Chairman of the Society.

Elizabeth Sanderson and Geoff Snowdon receiving their cheque from Jen Harris

The following documents illustrate how the Project evolved, over the years...

Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society Journals

Scanning has been completed of all 82 Yorkshire Archaeological Journal volumes published up to 2010. They are now online, searchable, and available free of charge to everyone.

The archive is fully-searchable.When looking at the Collections page via the above link use the 'Sort by Title' function to see the volumes arranged in numerical order (see the above link)

To view a foldout it is usually necessary to use the ‘full screen view’ function...

Stephen Gibson
(1941 - 2015)

(seen here at an HAHS tour of Rievaulx Abbey
on the afternoon of Saturday 16th May, 2015)

Stephen died on 14th November 2015 whilst out on the Moors between Lastingham and Rosedale.

The Society has lost a good friend and very loyal supporter; he was a very reliable and thorough Treasurer, a rôle that he obviously enjoyed.

Stephen was the elder statesman of the Committee; his contribution was invaluable. His was the voice of reason and moderation; his long-term involvement with the Society meant he understood how it worked, and what was likely to work in the future.

He felt strongly that we should meet the objectives outlined in the Society's Constitution; he was delighted when we had the opportunity to help finance the excavations at the Yearsley Mill Project - a local project organised by HAHS members where members could actually get their hands dirty. He felt this was the one area of the Society's activities that had been lacking for many years.

Stephen's interest in, and enthusiasm for local history and archaeology were infectious; over the years he was involved with groups of HAHS members in many local projects - sometimes in association with the National Park - most recently the water from the Moor, tracing the remains of Joseph Foord's water courses.

He rarely missed a Friday HAHS lecture; we will miss him standing by the door and welcoming familiar faces. He was keen that HAHS should deliver a programme of high quality speakers, interesting topics, and attract a good size audience - factors that will ensure the future success of the Society.

Hoard of Roman coins found in Helmsley bequeathed to The Helmsley Archive

The Frank Collection of Roman Coins

A hoard of Roman coins has been bequeathed to The Helmsley Archive by the family of the late Richard Frank. The Frank Collection was found in Helmsley in 1931 by Richard's father (also named Richard), and comprises 34 silver Roman denarii dating from as early as AD69. It is believed that the hoard was deposited not much later than AD218, the date of the latest coin. Roman coinage was badly depreciated during the 3rd Century, and that meant that the earlier, high-value silver tended to be hoarded; it is very seldom found lost or scattered on a habitation site because of its increased value.

Marcus Aurelius
Reverse of Septimius Severus
(AD193-311) -
winged Victory with wreath in right hand

A total of eleven different Roman emperors or their wives are represented on the coins - including Vespasian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius and Septimius Severus. The coins are typically about 12mm in diameter, and each contain about 3g of silver. They are in good condition - especially the more recent ones - and have been clearly identified by the late Philip Corder of The Roman Malton and District Excavation Committee.

One interesting point is that the two coins of Caracalla and and one of Geta (his brother) are inscribed with their father's name, though bearing their own busts; it means that they were issued during the reign of their father, Antoninus Pius. The rest of the coins of Geta were issued when he was 'Caesar', that is heir-apparent and before he - for four brief years before his murder - became joint Imperator with his brother, Caracalla.

All of the individual coins in The Frank Collection - together with their detailed descriptions - can be seen on The Helmsley Archive - see

"Helmsley’s Baron and the Magna Carta" by Martin Vander Weyer

Those of you unfortunate enough to have missed Martin's excellent presentation may be interested to know that essentially the same talk is available on YouTube, here...

John Rushton’s Archive at the Ryedale Folk Museum

John Rushton’s archive has come to the Ryedale Folk Museum‘s Archive Room and is available for research.

It is a huge and very fine resource for our area; it comprises 240 notebooks of typed notes of his research. There is a notebook for most every village as well notebooks on specific topics, eg farming, inns, gentry, etc: it is formidable research. There are also more than 50 lever-arch files of maps of the area.

John was a prolific researcher of all the record offices, libraries, as well as private collections.

John Rushton - Ryedale Historian and Author

It is with sadness that we report the death of John Rushton, who was renowned for his great wealth of knowledge about North Yorkshire’s history and heritage.

An article - Ryedale historian John Rushton was ‘wonderful man to know’ - has appeared in the Gazette and Herald, and can be seen here.

Update on Water From The Moors Project

Ed Dennison Archaeological Services Ltd (EDAS) have been commissioned by the North York Moors National Park Authority to produce a management plan for those sections of the Foord water races which lie within the Bransdale Moors ESS partnership.

Details of the Project, and Ed's report can be seen here.

Robin Wardell: 1936 - 2012

Sadly, Robin Wardell has died. Robin had been Chairman of Helmsley Archaeological and Historical Society for the last seven years.

He will be greatly missed - both as a friend, and for his excellent work for the Society.

Robin Wardell, our Chairman since 2005, died on 10th April 2012 in York Hospital, with recurrent complications of a long-term health problem. He was aged 75, but those of you at our February meeting saw him cheerful and good-humoured as ever.

Robin will be missed by a very wide circle friends and colleagues in his home village of Sheriff Hutton, and far beyond. His lifetime experiences have been very diverse - and often, extraordinary.

Robin was the youngest son of a Sheriff Hutton farmer. After agricultural college, he left home (as youngest sons often do), going first to the USA, and then to France. In the early 1960's he was back in Yorkshire, at St John's College in York.

After St John's there followed some rather exotic appointments - notably one as 'Coconut Improvement Officer' on the Gilbert and Ellis Islands in the South Seas, and another when he taught for 10 years in the highlands of New Guinea, where the first sighting of a white man had been only a couple of decades earlier.

In the 1980's he came back to Sheriff Hutton by way of Vladivostock and the Trans-Siberian Railway, to help care for his parents. He became a part of village life, and his so-called 'retirement' activities were many and varied, including:

  • archaeological ventures with Raymond Hayes and Tony Pacitto, especially on Roman Roads
  • a relief convoy to Rumania, swopping his rations with local people in order to experience what life was like for them
  • living for a while with a family in Egypt; he came home with Arab dress which was "useful in pageants"
  • service on District and Parish Councils, establishing the Glebe Conservation area
  • self-styled peripatetic grave-digger "for the exercise" - having buried more than 100 people in his time
  • Team Captain of the local Bridge League
  • contribution of information for 'Within The Pale' - the history of Sheriff Hutton Park. He is recognisable in several of its illustrations - he had a reputation for appearing in photographs (see below; click on the thumbnails for a larger image)

Blaise Vyner on Fylingdales Moor - Jul 2007 Cawood Castle gatehouse - Jul 2008 Cawood Church - Jul 2008 Chairman and Smoot Laskill - Apr 2006

Chairman Chaired - Apr 2006 Chairman trespassing New House - Apr 2006 Duncombe Park Trees - 2008 Ice House in Duncombe Park - 2008 HAHS Committee Meeting - 2010

Looking at Watercourses - 2007 Members at Meaux Abbey - Sep 2009 Pete Wilson at Cawthorn Camps - Oct 2010 Poking ancient timber at Scawton Bridge - 2007

Duncombe Red Deer Park with  Brian Walker - Oct 2006 Pickering Castle - July 2009 Pickering Castle - July 2009 Ancient trees in Duncombe Park - Oct 2006 Port Mulgrave to Runswick Bay - May 2008

Robin Wardell & Stephanie Williamson - July 1982 Robin Wardell as Viking - July 1982 Robin Wardell on motorbike - 1980's South wall of the nave of Selby Abbey - Apr 2007 Tatton Sykes Memorial, December 2007

The Friary, Beverley - Sept 2009 The Normans and York - 2008 Tour of Easingwold - May 2010 Trees in Duncombe Park with Tim Tollis - 2008

Thanks to Basil Wharton for these notes...

The Helmsley Archive

The Helmsley Archive is a collection of more than 9,300 images illustrating the history of Helmsley over the last 150 years. The Archive, started by the late John Collier, is now being augmented by local residents.

The website now has more than 3,800 of the images available; we are continuing to scan and catalogue.

We are eager to hear from you if you have further information on any image; please send your Comments using the form at the bottom of each page.

Early Outings of Helmsley Archaeological Society!

These pictures show visits of Helmsley Archaeological Society to Mount Grace Priory in 1953, and to Weaverthorpe in 1960.

HAHS Members at Mount Grace Priory, Aug 14th 1953

HAHS Members at Weaverthorpe, 1960

Can you identify any of the individuals? (click on the image to enlarge it); names have been provided for some of them.

(Acknowledgements and thanks are due to Christine Wright for these).

Workhouse Records 1783 - 1874

The Workhouse Records for the Parish of Helmsley, dating between 1783 and 1874, have recently been discovered in an attic room of Canon's Garth. They comprise a single vellum volume, with entries made from both ends - one the Agreements, Rules and Regulations, and the other the Finances and Payments made to individuals.

These make interesting reading, and are a fascinating insight into the time. The Records are a valuable genealogical resource, and are being scanned by the Ryedale Family History Group with the view of making them more widely available (they already have many Helmsley-related articles - see here).

To whet your appetite, a scan of the first page and a transcript of the Rules are shown below:


1. That all, and every Poor person or persons, that may or shall be put into the Work-house, shall be Obedient to the Master and Mistrefs of the House, in all and every thing Lawful and Expedient, and all and every such person or persons disobeying such Lawful Commands, shall be liable to One Day's Confinement, or other Punishment, at the discretion of the Committee.
2. From Lady Day until Michaelmas, each and every Poor person according to their abilities, shall Work from Six o'Clock in the Morning, until Seven in the Evening; and from Michaelmas, until Lady Day from Seven in the Morning until Seven in the Evening; and for the better encouraging of Industry, each and every Poor person shall out of every Shilling they shall Earn, be allowed at the least Two-pence for their own Use.
3. All and every Poor person, whose bodily Strength will permit shall attend Divine Service twice every Lord's Day, and Family Prayers every Evening at Sev'n oClock, to be made by the Master of the House, or some other Person by him appointed, and whoever shall be absent, without a lawful Cause, shall be punished as the Committee shall direct.
4. If any of the Poor are, or shall at any time be Sick, or Lame so as to require the Advice, and Assistance of an Apothecary, or Surgeon; they shall be attended on, and provided for, according to the Direction of such Apothecary, or Surgeon, as shall or may be appointed.
5. None of the Poor shall at any time go out of the Yard belonging to the Work-house, without leave of the Master or Mistrefs, nor shall they or any of them haunt or frequent any Ale-House, Gin-shop etc. under pain of punishment as the Committee shall direct.
6. If any of the Poor, shall at any time abuse or waste the Victuals for them provided, or shall be guilty of Cursing, Swearing, Obscene talking, or using Scurrilous or abusive Language, they shall be punished as the Committee shall direct.
7. Any Poor Child or Children, that may or shall at any time be in the Work-house, shall as soon as they are of proper Age, be Properly taught and Instructed in Reading, Writing, Knitting, and Sewing, by some proper Person or Persons, appointed for that purpose.
8. When any Child in the Work-house is fit to put out Apprenticed, such Child shall go out Decently Clothed by the Master of the Work-house.
9. Any Complaint that may or shall at any time be made by the Master of the Workhouse against any of the Poor, that may or shall from time to time, or at any time be committed to his Care, or by any such Poor person or persons, against the Master, or Mistrefs of the Work-house; which may be of such a Nature and consequence, as the Two or more Committee Men acting at that time, do not think proper to redrefs; they shall afsemble and call together, the whole Committee, with the Church-Wardens and Overseers of the Poor, for the time being; who after deliberately hearing, and examining both parties, and all and every person therein concerned, shall Decide the Matter.
10. That none may plead Ignorant of these Rules, a Copy of them shall be put up in a Publick place in the Work-house, and shall be read over, at the going in of any and every Adult person, and on the last Friday-Evening, in each and every succeeding Month, by One of the Church-Wardens, Overseers of the Poor, or Committee Men, for the time being, or by any other person at their request.

And for the Binding of all, each and every Party concerned in this Agreement, and all, every and each of their Deputys and Succefsors for the time being; to the just Observation and true fulfilment and performance of all and every thing therein Exprefsed, Contained, and Intended, the aforesaid William Fletcher for the due performance of his part; and the Church-Wardens, and Overseers of the Poor, and other Inhabitants of, and for and in behalf of the aforesaid Parish of Helmsley (including Carlton, and the Moorhouses), the Township of Pockley, with Beadlam and Sproxton on their part; have hereunto, in the presence of each other, set and subscribed their Names or Marks.

N.B. The Master of the Work-house is to be Charged with any School or Doctors Bills; such Bills, or Debts, must be paid by the Overseers of the Parish, or Parishes, for whose Poor such Debts were Contracted.

Church Wardens for Helmsley

Overseers for Helmsley

Church Warden for Pockley with Beadlam and Sproxton
Overseer for Pockley
Overseer for Beadlam
Overseer for Sproxton

Inhabitants of Helmsley

Inhabitants of Sproxton

N.B. and the said Wm. Fletcher doth agree to give notice to the Inhabitants of the Town of Helmsley at Michaelmas in Each succeeding Year provided he wishes to be realised (sic) of this Contract inspecting Maintenance of the Poor as aforesaid and the Inhabitants doth agree to do the same on their part.

We, Two of the Justices of the Peace acting for the North Riding of the County of York dwelling near to the within mentioned Parish of Helmsley (including Carlton & the Moorhouses), & the Townships of Pockley, Beadlam & Sproxton do consent unto, allow and approve the within written Contract.

- Given under our hands and seals the first Day of June 1784 -

Records rediscovered in Canons Garth by Jen Harris; scanned and transcribed by Paul Harris

The Public Record Office, Malpas Road, Northallerton, will be open by appointment on the first Saturday in the month from 9.30am - 4.15pm. All the usual records and search room facilities wil be available, but original items must be ordered in advance. Please book 01609-777585 or