Help dig for history – Volunteers sought for Land of Iron community archaeological excavation

People can play their part in helping unearth and preserve the historical remains associated with one of the most important industrial periods in the history of the North York Moors by joining a community archaeological excavation.

ironstone archaeological dig may 2017

The North York Moors National Park is seeking volunteers to join experts in the excavation of three trenches at Goathland Incline, a spot that played a key role during the frantic period of ironstone mining in the 1800s and the evolution of the railways.

The excavation, which is part of the This Exploited Land of Iron project supported by Heritage Lottery Funding, is also one of the key sites within this year’s Festival of Archaeology, coordinated by the Council for British Archaeology.

The archaeological excavation will take place from 25-29 July and 1-5 August and will include daily site tours at 11.30am and 1.30pm apart from the initial two days of excavation.

While the old Whitby to Pickering railway line is now the popular Rail Trail walking route, the excavation will focus on the buildings and structures that were crucial in the transportation of ironstone en-route to the ironworks across the North East.

Surveys have shown the potential to reveal features at the top of the Incline including the remains of the station master’s house to the north of the Rail Trail, and structures associated with the steam engine to the south along with a possible turntable or water pond.

Goathland is rare for having three key stages in the evolution of the railway side-by-side, two of which are evident at the site. In the 1830s the railway line was a horse-drawn system before being converted to lightweight steam in 1845. The 1865 deviation route was then built and is still in use today by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

The Incline was also the site of a great feat of railway engineering, as neither the horses nor the lightweight steam engines could cope with the steep gradient. To overcome this coaches and wagons were hauled up the slope by tying them to a 1,500-yard long rope attached to a water-filled tank on wheels and using the gravitational force of the descending butt to propel them upwards.

Tom Mutton, programme manager for This Exploited Land of Iron comments: “The excavation at Goathland Incline is an exciting prospect where we’re hoping to discover some fantastic remains that have been hidden from view for generations.”

“As well as the actual dig, people interested in finding out how work is progressing are welcome to join one of the site tours that we’ll be holding during the excavation.”

For more information go to or register interest by contacting



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