17th August 2015
In early August, volunteers digging out the channel to restore the Chesterfield Canal in Staveley discovered some stone remains.
The asked Dr Geraint Coles, archaeologist and former Chesterfield Canal Development Manager, to come and have a look. He immediately decided that the site deserved to be properly investigated. Following an email appeal for helpers by the Chesterfield Canal Trust, the dig was arranged for 15th and 16th August.
The remains were of the walls and invert (floor) of the original Eckington Road Bridge over the canal, built in about 1776. It is quite incredible that it has remained intact, because three other bridges and a railway line have all been built within a few yards in the following 240 years.
Very early on the Saturday morning, Geraint Coles did an interview on Radio Sheffield. This inspired a listener to come along to Staveley to join the group.
First of all the site was roughly cleared by a mini-digger, then the volunteers set to work. There was lots of heavy clay that had to be shovelled and barrowed out, however the main work was done by removing the last of the muck from the stonework using trowels and brushes. Most of the 24 volunteers who helped over the weekend spent their time on their hands and knees doing this very slow and painstaking work.
As more and more was revealed, the story of how the construction was done began to emerge. It became obvious that the bridge had been constructed first and the towpath put in afterwards.
By the end, Dr Coles was able to say “Many thanks to everyone for a great weekend of digging – we now have a good sequence for the site and a much better understanding of how the bridge was built.”
As was expected, there were lots of objects found in the mud, such as old bottles, miners’ lamp and candle holders, a gentleman’s sword stick and a clay pipe. Of particular interest were three coins, including a George III half penny, dated 1772 or 1773. Of this, Dr Coles said “This coin is probably a forgery as the obverse and reverse are inverted. This would not be unusual as the county was flooded with forged copper coins during the 1770’s. What a great find and bang on date!”
There remain the tasks of accurately measuring and photographing the site and washing and cataloguing the finds.
Eventually the whole site will be removed because the new, restored canal has to be lower in order to get under a nearby railway, however there is now a desire to do more such digs. A Cuckoo boat, unique to the Chesterfield Canal, is believed to be buried not far away. It is hoped that this will be next on the list.
If you are not aware of what is going on with the restoration at Staveley, click here.
This is what was uncovered initially on 4th August.
Dr Geraint Coles came to inspect on 5th August.
The dig started on Saturday 15th August. The site is directly under the new Eckington Road Bridge.
The site from above. You can see the orange CCT van at the top. The dig was under the bridge.
(Photo by Mike Patterson)
Adrian Sturgess got to work with the mini-digger …..
….. and then the hands and knees brigade set to work.
Eileen Parker, Bev Pickering, Carol Hughes and Megan Hughes hard at work.
Megan Hughes, Eileen Parker, Carol Hughes and Eileen Keown model some of the hard hats that Alliance Group Solutions Ltd., the contractors working on the site, very kindly lent to us.
(Photo by Janet Richardson, Editor of Towpath Talk)
These were some of Saturday’s happy digging crew.
Sunday 16th started lovely and sunny, but the work was the same.
By now, much of the stonework was clear. Note the tightly packed stone across the invert (floor) which is curved just like an upside down bridge. The water came from natural springs.
The cut looks lopsided because the deepest part is over to the left of the canal. This is because the towpath was on the left and would have been built afterwards. The deepest part would have been halfway between the bridge abutments, see below.
This is Mill Green Bridge, which is only half a mile away. You can see how the middle of the bridge is towards the left side of the canal.
A washwall extended beyond the bridge to the west. Note that it is packed at the end with clay to stop any erosion.
The wall was cleared by Jenny and Kevin Clewlow.
The same thing happens in the washwall extending to the east, but here some of the clay has been cut away to enable us to inspect the end of the wall.
This T-shaped piece of wood, set into the stonework is called a quarter tree. It was used on windmills as an anchor to keep them from rocking. James Brindley, who designed the Chesterfield Canal, was a former millwright, so he seems to have used his previous experience here.
This piece of wood is right in the middle. Dr Coles believes that it was probably used to support a Plane Table, used in surveying.
We set up our finds table by the towpath.
It created lots of interest. (Photo by Jan Warsop)
Top left – Victorian penny – 1858.
Top right – the forged George lll half penny.
Bottom – believed to be a half penny.
The Reverse (Tails) sides of the coins.
A miner would knock this hook into the wall and hang his lantern from it.
This is the same idea, but it held a candle. You can tell this this is made of wrought iron because of the longitudinal rust ridges.
This is from the 1940s.
This is believed to be the double hook from a steelyard balance …..
….. such as this one.
There were lots of animal bones.
This is believed to be a tile from a granary drying room. The side with the small holes would be uppermost. (Photos by Margaret Edge)
This is a scraper, possibly used in furniture manufacture.
This bottle was one of the more interesting ones – Simmonite and Sons, Chesterfield – with the sign of the Spread Eagle. Presumably this is from the pub on Beetwell Street – see below.
There were lots of these tools. The wooden shaft would have gone vertically. Presumably they would have been used by miners.
This is a poultry feeder.
If you know more about any of these finds, or think that we have got our interpretations wrong, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.