Phase III - the Pre-moat Phase



Fig 10: Wood Hall: features associated with the pre-moat settlement.


Womersley is recorded as a thriving settlement at Domesday, with a priest and a church, eighteen families, and a total of eleven ploughs. By the mid-twelfth century, held from the de Laceys at Pontefract by Otes de Tilley, the village had begun to expand its territory into the wetland to the north, draining the landscape in great curvilinear 'bites' marked by wide and deep ditches (dykes) which may represent human enhancement of earlier water courses. The flow of drainage is southwards into the Went/Don/Trent complex.


The land drainage process may have begun in the pre-Conquest period, as one of the massive drainage dykes is referred to as the 'Smalehaccedich' - another, the 'Holdepersondich', gives some indication of the scale of these features. These names come from a document of 1253, which records an agreement between the de Warennes and de Newmarches, for the maintenance of existing drains and the creation of a new one, and implies organisation and planning on a large scale between neighbouring landholders.


In the twelfth century a causewayed track, flanked on each side by deep ditches, was built, crossing two of the major dykes as it ran straight north almost a mile (I.6km) from Womersley church to the slightly raised, drier sand island that offered the first chance for settlement construction. This track, still in use and known as 'Cow Lane', seems to be the 'upgrading' of a pre-existing track leading northwards via the highest points on the seasonal wetland to a slight east-west ridge almost two miles (3.2kms) to the north. This ridge seems always to have been a natural routeway, originally between the pre-Domesday settlements of Knottingley, Whitley and Eggborough, and later the 12th- 13th century settlements at Cobcroft and Cridling.




Fig 11: The track leading from Womersley village to Wood Hall (now known as Cow Lane) was deliberately

causewayed in the early medieval period.


Part of the western causeway ditch has been excavated where it crosses the site at Wood Hall. Its course was first of all marked out by digging a simple shallow trench, one spade-width wide.  A number of pits were then dug close together along this line, and the barriers between them removed and the ditch profile shaped as the final action in the sequence. Ditch construction (possibly of an extension to an existing feature) was abruptly abandoned, with half-dug pits at the northern end of the feature being backfilled, in the mid-thirteenth century.


The first small settlement at Wood Hall dates to the mid/late twelfth century, and consisted of a hall, on stone footings if not constructed entirely of stone, with a timber kitchen some 60m to the south-east.  This separation of kitchen and hall was deliberate, in order to eliminate the risk of a fire in the kitchen engulfing the hall as well. The buildings were linked by a well-constructed stone path, which may have been a true pentice way, an open corridor with a light roof, although no good evidence was found for more than two or three post settings along its length.




Fig 12: Wood Hall: showing the stone 'pentice' path leading from the early kitchen (top left)

to the first hall (unexcavated, bottom right). Other features are later.


Unfortunately the hall was not available for excavation. All that could be investigated was a portion of the construction trench for its north wall, which lay at the very south of Area 26. This was 15m long by 0.5m wide by 0.7mm in depth. Although the wall had been completely robbed out, and it cannot be said for certain that the trench had contained stone wall footings rather than timbers, the very dimensions of the robbed-out footings suggest a massive stone foundation capable of taking the weight of a two-storey building with walls constructed entirely of stone. Limestone roof slabs were recovered from the rob, together with a significant quantity of the flaggy Magnesian limestone quarried from the adjacent escarpment.



Fig 13: Plan showing the early kitchen (K1) and the stone 'pentice' path leading to the early hall.



Extrapolating from the alignment of the supposed pentice way, and taking into consideration where the hall does not appear, its location, size and internal arrangements can be postulated. The pentice way would have led directly from the kitchen to the service end of the hall, fixing the position of the pantry and buttery at the east end of the building and placing the dais and private quarters to the west. No trace of any related foundations occurred in Areas 14 or 20, leaving an area some 30m long and 6m wide, aligned northeast to southwest, in which to fit the hall, facing south with a direct view down the causewayed track.


An arable field lay immediately to the north of the hall, flanked on the west by adjacent timber buildings constructed on groundfast posts. The full ground plan of one of these ancillary timber buildings was recovered. Having a total length of approx. 15m, it consisted of a main room 10m long and 4m wide, with a small porch or store-room construction on the west end. A patch of charcoal located towards the west end of the main room suggested the position of a brazier, while three fragments of roof tile suggested a (reed?) thatched roof with a tiled smokehole.



Fig 14: Members of the excavation team standing in for the posts of the pre-moat

timber building.


Contemporary with this group of buildings was a number of rubbish pits and a small east-west ditch, all of which contained pottery belonging to the Doncaster Hallgate and Pennine Gritty Ware traditions, and dating to the late twelfth/mid thirteenth century.




Fig 15: Artistís reconstruction of the pre-moat timber building from the south.

(Artist - Peter Scholefield)


Also belonging to the pre-moat phase was a water-filled linear feature, a pool, approx 26m long, 6m wide and 1m deep, running approx. east/west at the south of the site. It had a rich water-logged organic fill, and was replenished with water from a wooden gutter or spout at the north-east corner, part of which had broken off and fallen into the pool. This gutter may have led surplus water from the western causeway ditch into the pool. Marks caused by turbulence from a vigorous fall of water could be seen around the broken fragment.



Figs 16 (above) and 17 (right):

The linear pool belonging to the pre-moat phase.


Fig 16:

Shows the broken gutter/spout at the north-east corner.




It has been suggested that this pool may have been a 'stew-pond' for storing live fish (an important part of the medieval diet). Analysis of the fills should help to clarify this. A deposit of pottery, including the upper, still cylindrical parts of a number of broken jugs, lay against the west end of the feature. Animal bone was also recovered, including two articulated limbs, one bovine, one of deer.



Fig 18: An almost complete jug recovered from the linear pool.


Phase IV - 1183 to 1248


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