This year, for the Festival of Archaeology 2017, I have decided to talk about the community project I am involved in! The Leeds branch of the Young Archaeologists Club have been running an excavation over the weekend of the 15th-16th July 2017, with a huge turnout of over 40 children and adults!
We were approached by the South Leeds Archaeology Society about the prospect of excavating within the grounds of Middleton Park, where YAC Leeds are based. They had previously excavated the Ice House in Middleton Park to some extent in 2013, but left with more questions than answers (as always seems to be the case!). To the uninitiated an ice house is an old fashioned freezer; a place where owners could put ice before the advent of home freezing. Basically what it says on the tin! They are often found in high class estates, as they were not cheap to build for such a specific purpose! Therefore any entrance needed to not left any light or heat in or else the ice would melt! This ice house in Middleton Park was built by Charles Brandling in 1760, and the ice house existed until 1992. They left the top of the foundations of the interior of the ice house partially exposed but with a large area within the ice house itself not excavated (ice houses tend to be dug quite far into the soil to maintain a cool temperature).
Needless to say we were very excited at being able to run our first ever excavation in the local area, which would be accessible for the kids who come along to the dig. However, because excavations can be very physically tiring for people of all ages, we decided to split the weekend into 4 half-days, so we invited YAC groups from across Yorkshire to turn up for a half-day and contribute to our excavation.
The remains of the Ice House in Middleton Park are a series of brick foundations in a circular fashion. We believe it dates to the 17th/18th century but there is little information to go on, in the history archives. Its location is actually quite hard to find in the woods, so no wonder there has been little work done to it!
On the first day we had set out the areas where we wanted to dig. We had an area stretching outside of the ice house to try to find the entrance, and a small area in the interior of the ice house, which may have been disturbed by animals, so we wanted to excavate it. We took the trenches to about a foot across the entire area, exposing a new wall that may be the entranceway. Meanwhile, a number of nails, glass bottle fragments and pottery were found across the site, mainly in the entranceway. We also found that the interior of the ice house might be sloping inwards, which would agree with the general shape of other known ice houses.
The second day focused on the possible entranceway, with the interior fill taken down to a lower level and the trenches inside the ice house taken very far down, so far in fact we had to get the adults to dig them! However, some very nice pieces of pottery came up and even some animal bones! This ice house also seems to now be sloping away from the centre; this seems unusual for an ice house. MAybe it has a bulbous shape? The kids helped with site recording, photography, finds washing and surveying after we downed tools. Some of the kids from the Leeds YAC did both days, which was a little bit of a surprise!
I can't say too much more as I'm not writing up the site but it is amazing how many sites there are that could be waiting to be researched and excavated. The aim of the site were to learn more about the ice house, and we know more about the location of the entrance and the shape of the ice house. More importantly, the kids learnt new skills in archaeology, from excavation to site photos, from finds washing to drawing plans and surveying with a total station. However, the story is unlikely to end there. Indeed, there is the possibility of a future dig on the site to uncover more parts of the ice house to further understand the shape and reasons for collapse!
Thanks go to South Leeds archaeology group for their knowledge to the site and CFA Archaeology and YAC for providing tools for the dig!