The moated site at North, or Little, Conesby was seen as being one of Scunthorpe’s ‘most charming beauty spots’. It was probably built by the d’Arcy family who owned the manor for over 300 years after acquiring it in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest.
During the 1920s, it was lost beneath the slag heaps of Lysaght’s Normanby Park steelworks and power hammers were required to break up the slag, which was then removed from the moat ditch. The moat itself was found to be flat-bottomed and varied both in width and depth. Finds of late 13th to 14th century pottery beneath the dumped material showed that there was some activity in the area before the ground was raised.
The 13th century was the great period of moat-digging in England and it is likely that the construction of the Conesby moat was linked to the emparkment of the surrounding land. The ditch had been re-cut during its history, the last time being in the later 15th to 16th century. As one would expect, organic material was preserved in the water logged deposits in the moat. A wooden bowl, a large piece of textile and a series of shoes were found; some with the pointed toes of the 14 to 15th century, others with the blunt toes of the late 15th century and broad Tudor shoes. As well as cereal grains, traces were found of hemp, linseed, and hazel nuts.
Pottery finds showed that there were two main periods of activity on the site: late 13th to early 14th century, the time when the moat was cut, and a later period of occupation ending with demolition of the structures on the site. Building 4 represents the rebuilding that took place towards the end of occupation in the 15th to early 16th century. About 25% of the pottery from floor deposits in Building 4 were fine wares, including imported German stone wares and Cistercian ware, which could be dated to AD 475–1550. A wall across the west end of the hall might mark a screens passage through which food was brought from the kitchens, but the space seems a bit tight for a buttery and pantry. In its centre was a stone hearth, near to which was a wall that might have been a fire-back or reredos; something that was being increasingly used instead of the old-fashioned open fire.
The demolition of the hall was dated by an un-worn penny of Henry VII (minted at York, dated to AD 1500–1509), found in the rubble suggesting that it took place in the early 16th century. A later hearth near the original suggests that someone was living amongst the ruins. This later activity on the site could relate to the acquisition of the Conesby estate by the Sheffield family around 1445. The demolition could relate to the Sheffields moving to one of their other properties in the area, the world having moved on from open halls and moats.
We too have moved on: the excavated buildings have been covered with 0.5 metres of sand to preserve and protect them and the lost moat is now a feature on a busy industrial estate.
The full article can be seen in Current Archaeology 221