'Uncovering Northcliffe': The Northcliffe Heritage Survey

Today Northcliffe is valued area of public access woodland and playing fields in Shipley, W. Yorks. Within the area are extensive indications of previous industrial activities such as coal mining, quarrying and brick-making. At other times in its history Northcliffe was farmed, an activity that seems to have been resumed during the Second World War. The allotments gardens are the last vestige of this activity. More recently still recreational sports such as golf and football have been played at Northcliffe which may have modified the landscape.

The deep valleys in the Woods, and in nearby Heaton Woods, were formed at the end of the last Ice Age by torrents of water escaping from glacial lakes. The underlying geology consists of rocks of the Lower Coal Measures. In both Heaton and Northcliffe the Hard Bed coal seam was exploited commercially by driving in horizontal tunnels, called drifts or day holes, from the valley bottoms. The deeper Soft Bed coal seam was accessed by vertical shafts. Other valuable minerals have been extracted from the Coal Measures such as sandstone, brick-making shale, fire-clay and ganister. This activity may have been undertaken in Northcliffe as long ago as the Medieval period, but was drawing to a close by the end of the nineteenth century.

Industrial waste in Northcliffe.

Tutored walks round Northcliffe Woods were undertaken in 2012 by Tony Woods. These increased the already considerable local interest in the area and its past. The Friends of Northcliffe are now keen to fully investigate Northcliffe's history and archaeology. No previous archaeological surveys within the area are known, and few surveys of mining landscapes within urban areas have been undertaken anywhere. The rich and diverse heritage of Northcliffe offers an opportunity to augment the study recently performed of the nearby, but very different, landscape at Baildon Moor. The FoN have been promised support by volunteers with experience in local industrial history, but as the organisation has not undertaken any type of field archaeology work in the past it has approached the Department of Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford for assistance. Skilled professional help of this type is not free; to proceed the FoN will have to apply for Heritage Lottery funding. Such an application is inevitably a complex process, but many similar community projects have been funded in this way and have been brought to a successful conclusion.

The primary aim is to gather all available geological, historical and archaeological information about the Northcliffe area and to preserve it as an archive. It is intended that this project is to be a partnership with the community. As work proceeds the FoN will remain open to the recruitment of additional partners who wish to participate actively. The first step in this process was a very successful and supportive public meeting held towards the end of 2013. As a result a working group has been set up to obtain the permission of the landowners and to produce a project design for the whole survey. Archaeological research is undertaken to collect specified information, and has to work within time and cost constraints; these facts of life must be reflected in the project design.

The heritage project will draw on local residents' recollections to develop an oral history of the Northcliffe area. Information concerning the use of Northcliffe will be specifically sought from the public although we cannot imagine that anyone now living will remember the situation prior to its adoption as a public park. It is likely that the historical evidence accessed will include maps, leases and photographs. The archaeological evidence will certainly involve aerial photography and ground surveys; we hope that geophysical surveying and limited excavations will also be possible.

Cup and ring stone in Northcliffe.

It is vital to engage the community and the survey will offer volunteers the opportunity to participate in original historical and archaeological research, or to be given a chance to develop their organisational skills. Volunteers will be made aware of the depth of historical sources available and how to access them. They will also come to understand that the techniques of landscape archaeology can provide information about historically unrecorded aspects of landscape use. The safety of participants must always be a prime concern, and the FoN must be sensitive to the other users of the area. The end result of the Heritage Survey will be in the form of a publication which reflects the significance of the data collected, and the creation of an archive deposited in an appropriate place. It is anticipated that the Heritage Survey will be an exciting journey for all concerned.

Derek Barker February 2014