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 date for this year's festival is Saturday, 22 October 2022 at North Dalton Village Hall.

This year's theme is "Travellers and Settlers of the Wolds".

For further details, or to get your copy of the information sheet, please contact