A unique project which uses archaeology to help vulnerable people to integrate better into mainstream society is taking place at the site of a lost medieval nunnery.
The project in South Yorkshire is helping to solve a major archaeological mystery: What happened to Hampole Priory and the Shrine of Richard Rolle?”
To help solve this mystery, the intent is to excavate and carry out high level Geo Physics on an area within the village to see if the team can find the remains of the Priory and its buildings, including the shrine of the famous medieval mystic Richard Rolle.
The privately-owned site covers an area of approximately one acre and is a combination of grass and pasture with Robin Hood’s Brook running through the site
Archaeological interest in the site arises primarily as it was one of the last monastic sites to be dissolved by Henry VIII and was also the centre of several scandals!
Hampole Priory was a house of Cistercian nuns founded circa 1150 by William de Clairfait and Avicia, his wife. The chief claim to fame of the priory is as the home and burial place of Richard Rolle, the famous medieval mystic and writer who, in the second quarter of the 14th century, served as Priest and spiritual adviser to the nuns, and probably lived in a cell attached to the priory church. Rolle died in 1349, it has been suggested from the Black Death.
A shrine was erected over his tomb in the late 14th century and a number of miraculous healings are reported to have taken place there in the following centuries. It was probably partly due to the influence of Rolle that the priory remained an establishment of reasonable size up to the Dissolution in 1539. It was home to a Prioress, Isabel Arthington, a Sub-Prioress and seventeen nuns.
Nothing now remains above ground level of the priory buildings, (with the possible exception of some masonry in the walls of farm outbuildings and drystone walls), although a large number of carved stones and architectural fragments either lie in local rockeries or have been re-used in houses nearby. In 1925, a small-scale excavation revealed medieval walling and features near the village school.
In 1937 Professor C.E.Whiting dug a number of trenches in the field on the north side of the village, locating extensive structural remains of a number of medieval buildings which probably formed part of the main claustral complex. Whiting’s work seems to have been limited to the location and following of walls, and both his archaeological techniques and published account in the ‘Yorkshire Archaeological Journal’ were accused of being poor by the standards of the day, let alone those of a more modern era. His work did however establish that substantial remains of the priory do exist beneath the surface – some walls still stood to a height of seven courses.
Hampole was also the center of a number of sexual scandals involving locals, monks and the nuns of the Priory, which drove the Archbishop in 1313 to ban any males from entering its grounds. He stated that “No secular servants were to sleep in the dormitory, nor were any male brethren of religious orders, male relatives of the nuns, to be allowed to spend the night in the inner guest-chamber of the house”. No male children over five years of age were to be permitted in the house, as the archbishop found had been the practice.
A further scandal occurred in the early 14th Century. On 14 July 1324, The Archbishop directed Thomas de Raynevill to undergo the penance imposed upon him for committing the sin of incest with Isabella Folifayt, a nun of Hampole. The penance was that on a Sunday, while the major mass was being celebrated in the conventual church of Hampole, Thomas de Raynevill was to stand, wearing a tunic only and bare-headed, holding a lighted taper of a pound weight of wax in his hand, which after the offertory had been said he was to offer to the celebrant, who was to explain to the congregation the cause of the oblation.
Also, that on two occasions he should be beaten round the parish church of Campsall. The Dean of Doncaster was to see that this penance was performed and was to report how the culprit had conducted himself during it. Evidently it was not carried out at the time, for on 16 August 1326 the Archbishop repeated the direction for its performance.
This tradition of sexual misconduct continued and on the 8 December 1358 the archbishop wrote to the Prioress on behalf of Alice de Reygate, one of their nuns, who weeping, had prostrated herself at his feet, confessing that she had broken the vow of her profession and been guilty of having sex with an unmarried man.
The objectives of the archaeological work we are carrying out over the weekend of the 20th/21st October are:
• To locate the actual remains of the Priory
• See if remains of the shrine or cell of Richard Rolle can be located
• Carry out a Geo Physical survey of the site using state of the art Ground Penetrating Radar to identify the Priory buildings
Solider On!, a registered charity (1136567), has organised the project in collaboration with Ashworth Barracks Museum and has invited other organisations to benefit from this work.
This project gives local people, many of whom have complex physical and mental health needs, some of whom have served in the armed forces and other emergency services, others who come from socially isolated or disadvantaged backgrounds, the opportunity to learn a series of new skills including, excavation, land survey, drawing and mapping techniques, and creating records of a site of national historical importance. Students with an interest in heritage have also been invited, for whom, since the removal of archaeology from the national curriculum, hands-on experience is hard to get.
The charity runs circa eight projects per year in different regions and is funded through donations. Soldier
On! needs to raise approximately £5,000 to deliver each project. No salaries are paid however, the charity needs to provide tools, hire specialist equipment, provide clothing and food, and cover the support costs such as accounting, insurance and often the biggest cost is the creation of acceptable report writing and finds storage.
Diarmaid Walshe CEO, Solider On! who is also a qualified archaeologist and a serving member of the Royal Army Medical Corp, said:
“This unique project provides an opportunity to demonstrate the abilities of people in Yorkshire who are struggling to fit into mainstream society. In addition to members of the local community suffering from illness, disability or loneliness, this includes a high number of people who are struggling to fit into the same societies they have served so well, often through the military and emergency services.
Its also about working in collaboration with other Yorkshire based charities to help preserve, explore and record the local heritage and to engage with communities that often have no opportunities to interact with their own heritage”.
Gary Stapleton, CEO of The Victoria Cross Trust and Curator of the Ashworth Barracks Museum said:
“We are delighted to be involved in this project which not only expands opportunities for our members and volunteers. Additionally, it also helps support individuals and communities in accessing their heritage. Additionally, it also allows our institution to help support former military, emergency service personnel and other disadvantaged people, to go forward into education, employment and supports community cohesion.”
Beth, a student and carer said:
“Taking part in these projects has had a major impact on my life. Before I got involved I was looking after a close family member with health problems and that restricted my ability to engage with my community. Sine getting involved in the Soldier On! program it has open doors and opportunities I could only dream of”.
Megan, 14, from Yorkshire who lost her mother last year due to cancer said:
“I have always loved history and for the past year I have had a difficult time due to the
death of my mother. I had applied to go on digs but had been turned down as being too young. To be given the opportunity to take part in this excavation is a dream come true and has given me something to look forward to over the past few months”.
Karl, who spent 10 years in the RAF and is registered blind said.
“This project has made an amazing difference to my life. They were the only charity willing to take me due to my disability. Since I have been involved my life has turned around and now have my own place, friends and a doing a lot of volunteering. This is solely down to my involvement in this project”
For more information please visit www.soldieron.org.uk