The North Wolds Heritage Project


Do you live in or have a passion for the North Wolds? This area has a rich heritage, but we do not have any museum sites there. We want to extend our reach into this under represented area and celebrate that heritage by sharing some of the local stories and objects in our collection. In addition, we want to enrich our collections by increasing our knowledge about the people and communities in this area - but we need your help to do this.

If you have any suggestions or ideas as to how we can better represent this area, we'd love to hear from you. Whether you have an object you would like to donate or stories to share, you can contact Alfred Williams, assistant curator (community engagement).

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Neolithic flint arrow heads, found near Bridlington.

A very brief history

The Yorkshire Wolds are the northernmost outcrop of a great band of chalk, stretching across the country from Dorset and Sussex in the south to the North Sea. They extend in a rough crescent shape, from the banks of the Humber to the cliffs at Flamborough Head.

The word 'Wolds' comes from the Old English word for forest, but by about the time of the Norman Conquest it had come to refer to open, upland areas.

The Wolds have been farmed for around 6,000 years, since at least the early Neolithic period. Throughout much of its history the land was mainly used for pasture rather than growing crops.

In particular, starting from around 1500, the mixed livestock and arable farming which had become common in the medieval Wolds gave way to large scale sheep farming and rabbit warrens (yes, rabbits were farmed rather than considered a pest!) A number of medieval villages were deserted at around this time, such as Cowlam and Wharram Percy.

This Anglo-Saxon bracteate was, before it was folded over, a thin disc of gold. It would have been worn as a pendant, and the damaged area on the left is where the suspension loop was attached. Late 5th to mid 6th century. Found near Bridlington.

Photograph of a group of children in a horse-drawn Wolds wagon, thought to have been taken at Sunderlandwick (south of Driffield) around 1914-1918.

The arable landscape of fields and hedges that we know today started to take shape from around 1730, through agricultural advances and the introduction of enclosure.

It was in the Victorian period that the archaeological significance of the Yorkshire Wolds was first recognised. The free draining soils are ideal for the formation of cropmarks over buried features. Local archaeology pioneers such as Edward Maude Cole, vicar of Wetwang, and John Robert Mortimer, a corn merchant from Driffield, excavated a variety of prehistoric and early medieval sites in the area. There are still stories hidden beneath the soil today.

But this project isn't just about the past. We want to engage with the people living in the Wolds today. So if you have any stories or objects to share, or suggestions or ideas as to how we can better represent this area, we'd love to hear from you.

Photograph of two farm workers and a young girl having a lunch break, with a team of horses is in the background. Thought to have been taken near Thwing around 1912.

Caption: Mortimer's public notice from 1868 seeking to acquire antiquities.
Copyright: Hull and East Riding Museum: Hull Museums. Used with permission.

The High Wolds Poetry festival

The High Wolds Poetry festival is a celebration of the Wolds, and needs your contributions. We're looking for poems which are linked to a sense of place and community. This year's festival has dug into East Riding Museums' extensive collection of local objects to help inspire local people to write and send in their poems. Working alongside the museum's team of curators, the poetry festival has unearthed these 25 museum artefacts from or related to the East Yorkshire Wolds; we hope they will get your creative juices flowing.

The festival will be publishing a collection of work from poems submitted and is still planning to run an Open Mic, which, subject to social distancing measures and Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, will be held in North Dalton on Saturday, 26 September and/or in an online format, details of which will be shared if or when it becomes necessary.

Truncheon, inscribed 'Thomas Ford, High Constable, Baynton Beacon, 1849'. The Baynton Beacon division had its headquarters at Driffield. This truncheon predates the founding of the East Riding of Yorkshire Constabulary in 1856, and is one of the last relics of the essentially medieval system of parish constables which preceded it.
Silver clothing fitting from the Tudor period, found by metal detecting at Pocklington. Cylindrical form, with scalloped edges and made up of silver sheet (with traces of gilding). There are the remains of a curved hook at one end. The back is plain, with a slot cut out at the base.
Railway lamp from Londesborough station. Opened in 1847 or 1848, the station was closed in 1965, along with the rest of the York to Beverley line.
Group of medieval silver pennies, of post 1279 type, fused together by heat and partially melted. The weight suggests around 37 coins are present. Few details are visible, but one coin was minted in London. Found at Huggate, whilst metal detecting.
Fragment of a chalk loom weight. The central perforation is a well-drilled circle, but the edges are roughly dressed. From a group of items found by the late Philip Meldrum, who lived at Grindale, opposite a field containing a medieval settlement. The item was presumably found during field walking in the area.
Half of a portable mirror case, used by pilgrims when visiting holy shrines. The case would have contained a mirror to capture the reflection of the saintly relics, and thereby capture their protective powers for the wearer. It dates to the late 13th or early 14th century. Found, while dog walking, on public land between Woldgate and Boynton.
Large iron key from Cowlam, a deserted medieval village. Cowlam was one of several villages on the Wolds abandoned in the 16th and 17th centuries, as more land was given over to large scale sheep farming.
Part of an Iron Age bone flute, from excavations at Barmston lake village.
Anglo-Saxon copper alloy brooch, in the form of two birds drinking, head to tail. There is a square garnet inset in the centre. The bodies are decorated with incised grooving and it is likely there was once precious metal applied to the surface (small traces of silver survive). Probably 7th century. A metal detecting find from a Roman/Saxon settlement site near Kilham.
Copper alloy knife, dating to the late Bronze Age. It has a series of shallow fullers (channels) running the length of the blade. The circular hole at the end was for the attachment of a grip of some organic material. Found during metal detecting near Driffield.
Anglo Saxon metal terminal in the form of an animal (perhaps a dragon), dating to the early to mid 9th century AD. The large eye openings may once have been filled with pieces of glass or semi precious stones. It is made of silver, with mercury gilding. Broken away at the neck, it would probably have continued as a narrower shaft, although its function is uncertain. It was found whilst metal detecting near Kilham.
Medieval silver gilt brooch, found by metal detecting at Sledmere in 2003. The fronts of the rectangles are decorated with incised gilded crosses in two styles, with one pair resembling the crosses seen on the reverse of medieval silver pennies. The brooch dates to the late 13th or early 14th century.
Anglo-Scandinavian stirrup mount, probably dating to the early part of the 11th century. The incised decoration consists of intertwined, sinuous animal forms, characteristic of the Jellinge style (originating in Denmark and found in England from the late 9th century), the whole perhaps intended as an abstract view of an animal's head. Found while metal detecting at Lowthorpe.
Viking gold finger ring with punched decoration, found whilst metal detecting in the Pocklington area. The ends of the ring are crushed inwards; the damage probably occurred in antiquity. The ring is dated to the 9th or 10th century.
Silver denarius of the Roman emperor Nerva (96-98AD). The reverse, pictured here, shows a figure representing Equity, holding scales in one hand, and a cornucopia, or horn of plenty, in the other. From a hoard of Roman coins found at North Dalton.
Model Wolds wagon made by Harold John Lowther (1900-1990). Swingletrees for a two horse team are fixed to the front of the vehicle.
A baling knife, from a farm near Flamborough.
Socketed late Bronze Age axe head. There are some scratches above the cutting edge, from sharpening. Found near Bridlington.
Farm accounts book, from a farm near Market Weighton. The first page is dated 1896, but the remainder of entries are from the 1940s.
Neolithic flint tools, all found in and around Rudston. Six arrowheads, of various designs, and one knife (the larger object, top right).
Neolithic flint axe head. Made from igneous rock, this was dug up in a garden in Grindale in 1962.
A hedging sickle, from a farm near Flamborough. The wooden handle is inscribed with the letters P R and a heart.
A set of hoof cutting shears, from a farm near Flamborough.
Roman mortarium, found at Stamford Bridge. It was probably made at York, in the late 1st or early 2nd century AD. A mortarium was a mixing vessel, in which you would grind ingredients using a pistillum; this is the origin of our words pestle and mortar.
Victorian sampler, made by Jane Sawden, aged 7, of Burton Agnes school. Samplers were the usual means by which girls were taught needlework, in a tradition that dates back to the 1500s. Jane was baptised at Burton Agnes on June 27th, 1829. In 1862 she married William Henry Lowish, a farmer, at St. John the Baptist, Carnaby. Widowed in 1870, she later lived with her daughter, and died at Rudston in 1897.

Entries for the festival book collection close at midnight on Monday, 31 August and can be sent by email to or by post to
The Festival Director, The High Wolds Poetry Festival, East Riding Museums, Treasure House, Champney Road, Beverley HU17 8HE. Entries for the Open Mic are open until the day prior to the festival.

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The High Wolds Poetry Festival 2020:
Saturday, September 26th, 2pm-7pm
North Dalton Village Hall, Main Street, North Dalton, East Yorkshire YO25 9XA
*Entries for the festival Book Collection close at Midnight on Saturday, August 31st.
*If you want to read, please let the festival organisers know by Midnight on Friday, September 25th