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13th July

Did you know that there are TWO castles in Wakefield? You may be familiar with the imposing ruins of Sandal Castle, just south of the city (above right, photo courtesy of Roger Keech); but very few people (even locals) know about the second site, Lowe Hill, situated in Clarence Park about half a mile north of Sandal (below right). Once a 12th century motte-and-bailey castle with a timber keep and two baileys surrounded by a palisade fence, Lowe Hill was probably occupied for less than 200 years; the baileys were subsequently used for medieval ridge-and-furrow farming, and the earthworks are now so eroded and overgrown with trees that they're difficult to recognise as a scheduled ancient monument.

However, this may change - as I discovered on Friday, when I was lucky enough to get the low-down (if you'll pardon the pun) on recent developments at the 'Forgotten Castle', thanks a meeting held by the Friends of Clarence, Holmfield and Thornes Parks. The Friends obtained a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to employ West Yorkshire Archaeological Services (WYAS) to carry out geophysical surveys (which revealed occupation pits within the baileys, and showed that Lowe Hill's timber structures were never replaced in stone, as was the case at Sandal Castle). It was very much a community project as the Friends threw themselves into ground-clearance operations to allow the survey work to go ahead, and WYAS went into four local schools to teach pupils about Lowe Hill and get them directly involved in on-site operations. The whole project was captured in an excellent short film which was shown for the first time at Friday's meeting, and these initial investigations will be followed by preparation of a detailed management plan with a view to further works to clear excessive vegetation, consolidate the slopes and undertake area investigation (to supplement results from a limited dig carried out in 1953). I certainly hope it all goes ahead... this long-neglected castle deserves a little TLC, and more extensive excavation could add greatly to our knowledge of the site - who knows, it may even turn up some information on the Battle of Wakefield!

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Artist's impression of Lowe Hill in the 12th - 13th century by Steve Boxall, from the recently-published CHaT leaflet Lowe Hill Castle, Clarence Park, Wakefield: A Forgotten Castle