Projects and Activities

Members of the Society are involved in a range of Projects and Activities; listed on this page are the aims and objectives, and current status of some of these initiatives.

Members who would like to be involved in any of these - or who would like to propose others - are invited to use the Contact Us form.

The Helmsley Archive - click here!

A Selection of Photographs from The Helmsley Archive

The original John Collier collection of approximately 3250 images, of which about 1350 had been scanned and digitised, has been expanded by a further 1450 images donated by Helmsley residents and consequently, in recognition of the large number of different contributors, the collection is now referred to as The Helmsley Archive.

Meetings are held occasionally when local residents bring their photographs for scanning and provide invaluable information about the images in the collection, such as names, dates, locations, events and other interesting anecdotal detail. All this information is then recorded and linked to the relevant images. The collection is growing rapidly as word spreads and more and more people want to contribute and be involved. As part of the project, oral histories have also been recorded by the late Mike Titchmarsh, a retired GP, who had interviewed some of his former patients about their recollections of life in Helmsley during the 20th century. This information is also being linked to the images in the collection.

Prints of images from the Archive have been used for several displays during the last year:

  • In July 2009 a display entitled 'Helmsley Festivities' was held at Helmsley Arts Centre as part of the Ryedale Festival, and featured plays, pageants, coronations and jubilee celebrations from 1897 to the 1970s
  • In December 2009 a display of prints entitled 'Rural Life' featuring many activities typical of a rural market town, was held in Helmsley Town Hall
  • Images from the collection were used for a display at Helmsley Arts Centre to illustrate life in Helmsley in 1895 supporting the production of 'Beyond the Moor Gate', a play based on the notorious Hudson murder of that year
  • In July 2010 there was a display, again as part of the Ryedale Festival, entitled 'Ryedale Journeys'
  • A display entitled 'Ryedale School Days' took take place at Helmsley Arts Centre in February - March 2011, featuring a selection of school photographs from the archive
  • The exhibition 'Ryedale Life' took place at Helmsley Arts Centre in July - August 2012
  • The most recent exhibition of photographic prints - entitled 'Helmsley in Uniform' - took place in Helmsley Arts Centre from 8 July to 29 August 2014.

The Helmsley Archive Project continues to expand as new images and information are added, and this work is contributing significantly to our knowledge of the history of Helmsley during the last century. None of this would have been possible without the continued support and commitment of Helmsley Town Council and the North York Moors National Park Authority, and the enthusiasm of all the Helmsley residents involved.

Rural Life Exhibition at Helmsley Town Hall - click for larger image Rural Life Exhibition - click for larger image

If you have any interesting photographs of Helmsley that you are willing to share with us - or if you might be able to supply information about any ones we already have - please Contact us!

Abbots Hag

On Wednesday and Thursday the 14th and 15th of January 2009, Members assembled at Helmsley to join Shaun Richardson of Ed Dennison Archaeological Services for two days of excavation in an attempt to find the end of the Abbots Hagg branch of the Rievaulx Watercourse. In return for our labour, Shaun gave us a grounding in basic excavation - laying out of a trench, scraping, measuring, recording and re-instating.


For us novice diggers, although the two trenches revealed little except geology, it was a surprisingly enjoyable couple of days, in spite of cold winds, mist and rain. The sun did make some appearances but it looks as if the track of the watercourse lies under the existing roadway.

Trench 1, just before closure, showing the shallow limestone bedrock of the area, the slight foundations of two walls and a post hole
Shaun marked out the site and then we started to open the trenches



Thanks to Shaun for his instruction, Mr Peter Teasedale, whose changes to the farm access will disturb no archaeology and Graham Lee for organising the two days.

Survey of Boltby Scar Fort

28th January 2008 - one of the few sunny, windless days of January - enabled Alastair Oswald and Andrew Burn of English Heritage to carry out an archaeological and topographical survey of the Boltby Scar bronze/iron age hillfort, with the help (or hindrance) of two local volunteers and one from the Society.
We arrived to find guys from English Heritage having trouble with interference on the GPS radio frequency

The local volunteers took first turn, carrying the sticks with the GPSs and keying in the confirmation of each point

As the mist rolled up the Vale of York,  the light started to fade and we went home

Geophysics at Mowthorpe

Members of the Society helped out in resistivity measurements on the deserted mediaeval village site at Mowthorpe. The site is visible from the public bridleway but lies mainly under growing crops and has already been surveyed with metal detectors.

Amongst the finds, whilst carrying out the geophysics, was pottery ranging from Roman to Mediaeval (and, of course, modern). Richard Myerscough also found some Hildenley limestone and some West Riding Flag, which indicates a high status building.

We have had only a quick print of the first day's (rain interrupted) survey, which seemed to show only geological variations. On the second day, we moved to a building platform in a grass paddock, possibly the site of the hall for which Anketin Mallorie was granted 8 oaks in 1238.

Thanks to Rod Mackey and the team from the East Riding Archaeological Society for their time and equipment.

Scawton Dew Pond

Members of the Society assisted with the clearance and surveying of a "dew" pond at Vicarage Farm, Scawton, on 19th of September 2008.

Here, Tony Wright and Pat & George Donnor, under the direction of Shaun Richardson of Ed Dennison Archaeological Services, can be seen surveying the pond.

The previous day, Shaun, three Conservation Volunteers and two folks from the North York Moors National Park had excavated the pond to reveal its stone-lined structure (the pond is on private land, accessible only with the permission of the landowner).

The Water from the Moors Project

The Aqueduct carrying the Nawton Course over Bonfield Gill - damaged by the floods of 2005

The Aqueduct carrying the Nawton Course over Bonfield Gill - damaged by the floods of 2005

It may seem strange to be enthusiastic about studying watercourses flowing from the North Yorkshire Moors! After all, there are streams everywhere. Aren't there? However, once anyone has read Isabel McLean's book "Water from the Moors" (published by the North York Moors National Parks Authority in 2005 and available from Helmsley bookshops), they will understand that this project is helping to compile a record of an astonishing engineering feat, altering the lives of many people for the better and supervised by a man whose private life was very irregular, especially as he was a Quaker. Joseph Foord and "his men" made the races which carried water from the higher Moors in the North, where the gritstone rocks keep rainwater on the surface in streams, to the Tabular Hills, where the underlying limestone allows the water to percolate through, so that the surface dries quickly. Until they did this, the only way to alleviate drought in summer was to carry water up hundreds of feet, by foot and by horse-drawn cart. Frequently, cattle died and crops wilted. Yields were low and life was very hard.

Isabel McLean's book not only describes the route of each course and investigates the ways in which they were constructed lined only with a little sand. With this, Foord could say "if it Continue Running one week after it is brought it will Certainly hold to it as the Water Natureally makes its self a Bed to Run on". Some are running still, two hundred and fifty years later and most were stopped deliberately, when council water arrived in the twentieth century. The longest was twelve and three quarter miles long, carrying water from Tripsdale to farms near Helmsley. They crossed steep slopes, bogs, rock, ravines, cols, spoil heaps, streams and farmland using embankments, bridges, stone troughs and a lot of hard work, collecting water from springs and streams along the way, supplying villages and farms, animals and humans. The surveying tools were simple, yet the accuracy was amazing, with very shallow descents over miles of moorland. The courses needed constant maintenance and the book tells of the men who cleared and repaired them as well as recording the words of people who still remember them in use.

The Project aims to add to Isabel McLean's work by recording the exact routes of the courses and their condition. There are long stretches still surviving but they are under constant threat - not from the local people who know about them and usually take care not to damage them - but from landslips, from floods, from animals and from the occasional human carelessness. There are still some mysteries concerning the watercourses: No one knows how Foord surveyed them (although the Ryedale Folk Museum has one of his instruments, a self-adapted level). Did he start from the end or the source? Were they all unlined? The exact routes are not certain and in places they appear to climb!

Click on an image to enlarge it
Mill Dam West of Lastingham
Bonfield Gill, with Pockley Race behind
The Rievaulx Course at Newgate Bank
The Rievaulx course obliterated in 2008 in Brockhill Wood
Pockley Course cutting through a spoiltip near Piethorn
Kirkby Course N of Sunnyside looking S
The Lastingham Course - cut by road surfacing
An intact Brigson carrying the Kirbymoorside race under the Bransdale Road.

We have several volunteers so far who have realised that this involves gentle walks over the moors, in fine, mainly winter weather, taking notes, sketches and photographs. We will get to know the owners and tenants of the land over which the races pass, many of whom already understand the value of these extraordinary man-made rills, which enabled their forefathers to make a better living from their farms.

The Project is in combination with the CANDO (Cultural and Natural Development Opportunity) team at the NYMNPA, and members of the Society will benefit from the training they can provide, as well as learning about the latest recording techniques and digital mapping.

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.

Ed's report, presented at the 2013 Annual General Meeting of the Society can be seen here.