This browser is not fully supported by Historic England. Please update your browser to the latest version so that you get the best from our website.

Chalk Lowland and the Hull Valley National Mapping Programme project

Archaeological sites were recorded across 300 square kilometres of the Hull Valley and chalk lowlands of the East Riding of Yorkshire. Adjacent areas had previously been mapped by the Yorkshire Wolds and East Yorkshire ALSF NMP projects. Historic and recent aerial photographs have revealed aspects of the development of this landscape from prehistory through to the 21st century.

Colour aerial photograph showing an area of pasture fields with surviving earthworks surrounded by arable fields
Eske medieval settlement photographed on 28-OCT-1998. This photograph shows how surrounding fields have been levelled by modern ploughing whilst the scheduled monument is kept under pasture to protect the earthworks (NMR 17182/33) © Crown copyright. HE

Iron age and Romano-British settlement

The aerial mapping has made a significant contribution to the archaeological record for the Iron Age and Roman periods in East Yorkshire. Cropmarks have been particularly valuable – enhancing our understanding of the form and extent of settlement and land division. Some elements of the archaeology still survive as earthworks and offer opportunities for future research.

Patterns of ditched enclosures with sinuous trackways mirror those found on the Yorkshire Wolds. However, the more common linear enclosure complexes or ‘ladder settlements’ seen on the Wolds are rarer in the Hull Valley. The discovery of coaxial field systems in the project area is particularly significant. This form of land division does not occur on the chalk Wolds, but is extensive further west in the Vale of York.

Evidence for Iron Age activity is also shown by funerary monuments, particularly square barrows. The largest group is the cemetery at Scorborough, where at least 170 square barrows are recorded – most still survive as earthworks. Recent reconnaissance photographs provide an opportunity to monitor the condition of the barrow mounds and highlight any potential threats.

Black and white aerial photograph showing an area of pasture field with a number of mounds in it with arable fields on either side
The Iron Age square barrow cemetery at Scorborough survives as earthworks photographed here on 21-OCT-1991 (NMR 12205/30) © Crown copyright.HE

Prehistoric linear boundaries

Several sections of linear boundaries made up of multiple ditches were identified. This form of land division is often referred to as ‘dykes’ or ‘entrenchments’ elsewhere. They form extensive networks on the Yorkshire Wolds and the pattern continues into west of the project area. There are also a few sections in the areas of the lower-lying Hull Valley. It is possible that these boundaries were used from the Bronze Age through to the Roman period.

The form of the multiple ditch systems is fairly distinctive. Earthwork examples have alternating parallel ditches and banks but only the ditches are usually evident when seen as cropmarks. Typically there are three or four broadly parallel ditches, but the individual ditches can be quite sinuous. They may also have associated features, such as rectilinear enclosures that are potentially stock enclosures.

One of the more extensive sections of linear ditched system was recorded south-west of Beverley. It has three broken sections extending for approximately 1.6 kilometres. Aerial photographs show some parts as earthworks but other sections have been levelled by ploughing or destroyed by quarrying. The NMP data can highlight such potential threats to aid the management and protection of archaeological monuments.

Colour image showing archaeological features in red and green against a grey map background
Mapping of the multiple ditch system south-west of Beverley. Parts have been destroyed by an active quarry. NMP mapping © Historic England. Base map © Crown Copyright and database right 2015. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100019088.

20th century military defences

Historic photographs taken in the 1940s reveal aspects of Second World War defences associated with the urban areas of Hull, Cottingham, Beverley and Driffield. Many civilian air raid shelters, emergency water supplies and barrage balloon sites were recorded by the project.

The impact of wartime air raids can also be detected. Aerial photographs show where houses were flattened and later demolished, despite attempts to deflect attacks away from urban areas by constructing bombing decoy sites.

Of particular interest are several military camps that appear to be in use into the 1950s. They were used as temporary accommodation for military personnel, civilians and even refugees who required housing.

In the wider Hull Valley landscape, a broad range of anti-invasion defences were recorded. These included pillboxes, aircraft obstructions, searchlight and heavy anti-aircraft batteries, radar stations and a ground control interception station.

Black and white aerial photograph showing a camp with buildings, vehicles and camouflage netting
Military activity during the Second World War at a camp on Beverley racecourse is captured on an oblique air photograph taken on 20-JUL-1941 (MSO 31050/PO-02084) Historic England RAF photography.

Post medieval gardens and pleasure grounds

The extensive remains of formal gardens associated with Risby Hall were recorded. The 17th century house was damaged by fire, and has since been demolished, but earthwork remains survive of a range of garden terraces and platforms with ornamental ponds laid out to the south of house. Pleasure grounds were also created extending up the valley with a series of lakes and woodland. The lakes have been reinstated and adapted for use as fishing ponds.

Colour aerial photograph showing a rural landscape with fields of pasture, bare soil and woodland
A series of lakes running along the bottom of the valley are flanked by formal garden terraces and platforms associated with Risby Hall in this photo taken on 19-OCT-2011. The more recent farm buildings give an idea of the scale of the earthworks (NMR 28224/25) © Historic England

Fields of history – a case study

Immediately north of the former RAF Driffield airfield are two arable fields. At first glance they appear unremarkable but the examination of nearly 70 years' worth of aerial photography has revealed a different truth. Within these two fields lies a snapshot of over four millennia. Archaeology has been discovered dating from the Bronze Age right through to the Second World War. These discoveries and their relationship to the wider landscapes mapped by the Chalk lowland and Hull Valley NMP are discussed below.

Colour vertical aerial photo overlain with various coloured lines depicting archaeological features according to their date
A Bronze Age barrow (orange), Iron Age/Roman fields (purple), medieval settlement (blue), post medieval flood banks and farming remains (green) and a Second World War pillbox (yellow). Background imagery © Bluesky International/Getmapping PLC.

Prehistoric to Romano-British

The Bronze Age is represented by a single funerary monument – a round barrow. The central mound had been totally levelled in its long history and the barrow now survives as a single ring ditch, visible as a cropmark. The barrow occupies an area overlooking Elmswell Beck. Its location is comparable to that of the scheduled earthwork round barrow lying 1.5 kilometres downstream or the two bowl barrows 300 metres upstream.

This barrow is just one of many found within the wider project area. There is a long tradition of barrow building within the Hull Valley – Iron Age square barrows are predominantly found in the East Riding of Yorkshire. The Iron Age square barrow cemetery at Scorborough is perhaps the most famous site of this type. Over a hundred earthwork square barrows cluster together here. Elsewhere, square barrows are visible as cropmarks surviving singly or in small groups.

Back at our two arable fields, the later prehistoric/Roman archaeological picture is far more complex, with a ditched field system covering a large area. One long, parallel ditched trackway can be traced heading south-west for nearly a kilometre. The system has been broadly dated to the Iron Age/Roman period on the basis of its form and pattern. Further dating evidence was revealed by 20th century excavations of this area that discovered traces of settlement. Finds included Iron Age and Roman coins, and Roman brooches.

Perhaps it is no surprise to find such a concentration of Iron Age/Roman remains given the proximity to the Wolds' edge. There, prehistoric land development and settlement are well studied. Geological conditions are also very suitable for cropmark formation. In the lower valley settlements, field systems, trackways and even multiple ditched features have been discovered. However, they are fragmentary compared to the clearer prehistoric landscapes found on the Wolds. It is uncertain whether this is a genuine reflection of later prehistoric/Roman settlement patterns or a consequence of geology or cropmark formation.

Black and white aerial photograph showing an arable field with lots of darker lines making regular patterns
An Iron Age/Roman ditched field system revealed as a cropmark on 17-MAY-1973. The structures to the south are part of Driffield airfield (NMR 487/343) © Crown copyright. HE

Medieval to post medieval

RAF photography taken in the 1940s and 1950s reveals a well-ordered medieval settlement visible as earthworks, south of Elmswell Beck. Archaeological features include well-established hollow ways, flanked by crofts and tofts – some of these have evidence of buildings. Boundaries between the various plots are all ditched, presumably as an aid to drainage. Earthwork remains of arable agriculture – in the form of reverse-S shaped ridge and furrow ploughing – are also present.

The closeness of these earthworks to the present-day village of Little Driffield implies that the medieval village of Little Driffield was originally situated both north and south of the beck. The southern area of settlement was obviously abandoned at some point, but why? Flooding episodes, particularly in the lower lying carr areas, were a common problem in the 13th and 14th centuries. These may have forced a shift towards the higher ground north of the beck.

The settlement at Little Driffield is just one of many villages in the wider project area that show evidence of settlement shift, shrinkage or total abandonment. Ridge and furrow representing the villages’ open fields is very extensive in places and much survived as earthworks into the late 1940s.

Another common feature in the Hull Valley is the moated site. A moat was not necessarily defensive but could demonstrate status as well as providing drainage. Some of these moats were manorial centres while others related to religious houses such as Watton Priory and Meaux Abbey. These established fisheries and granges (farms) as well as starting large scale drainage systems.

The settlement south of the beck at Little Driffield was abandoned in the medieval period but farming practises continued. Arable agriculture was attempted into the post medieval period as shown by straighter forms of ridge and furrow ploughing. The battle with rising water levels obviously continued and eventually two flood banks were constructed on the south side of Elmswell Beck. These flood banks overlay the ridge and furrow which suggests a shift away from crop cultivation to pastoral farming. A post-medieval stack stand, used as a dry platform to store winter fodder, lends additional support to this theory.

The pattern at Little Driffield reflects the changes that were going on in the broader landscape. Enclosure in the Hull Valley had begun in the medieval period but expanded over the subsequent centuries. Extensive drainage systems in this period saw much of the marginal carr lands enclosed and brought into arable and pastoral use. These processes transformed the medieval landscape into the one that we see today.

Black and white vertical photograph showing a rural landscape with a mix of pasture and arable fields bounded by hedges
The medieval and post medieval landscape are visible as earthworks on this vertical RAF photograph taken on 25-NOV-1957, with the present day village of Little Driffield located to the north (RAF/RRF/1074 F21 0037)  Historic England RAF Photography

The Second World War

The 20th century has had a less obvious impact on our two fields. An RAF vertical photograph, taken in 1945, shows a Second World War pillbox and barbed wire perimeter. The pillbox was one of a number constructed in the vicinity of Driffield airfield and was designed to provide some level of protection in the event of a German invasion. The pillbox was rapidly dismantled like many others after the war. This single 1945 photograph may represent the only record of its existence.

Driffield airfield is one of four military airfields within the project area, perhaps not so surprising given the location on the vulnerable east coast of Britain. To support these airfields are an aviation fuel distribution depot, numerous military camps, anti-aircraft batteries and searchlight sites. Bomb craters are common throughout the project area and Driffield airfield received a direct hit in 1940. Given the proximity of some of these airfields to towns and villages the lack of air raid shelters visible on the wartime photography is surprising.

Black and white vertical aerial photograph showing a small white blob with a dark ring around it set near a winding stream
A pillbox and barbed wire perimeter are visible on wartime vertical photography flown on 13-APR-1945 (RAF/106G/LA/215 3256) Historic England RAF Photography.

The key findings from the project are published in the report East Riding of Yorkshire, Chalk Lowland and the Hull Valley NMP RRS 39/2012 available through the Research Report's database.

The images used on this page are copyright Historic England unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project, please contact the Historic England Archive.

For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Remote Sensing Team please contact us via email using the link below.

Was this page helpful?


Group of people standing on a stony mound
Historic Places Investigation

Research Group

Also of interest...