Archaeology festival brings Knaresborough’s rich story to life
Last updated Oct 27, 2023
Kathy Allday outside the Centre-on-Gracious Street.

Anyone walking around Knaresborough could hardly fail to notice it’s a beautiful and historic place. But trying to find out more about its rich past isn’t easy.

The town’s first community archaeological festival, which begins today (Saturday), aims to shine some light — and the organisers hope it will be the start of a long-term drive to tell Knaresborough’s story.

Hundreds of people are expected at the free festival, which takes place from 10am to 4pm today and tomorrow and at the same times next weekend at the Centre-on-Gracious Street.

A 4,000-year-old ceremonial axe found at Hopperton will be among the star attractions. People can bring along their own artefacts for experts to examine and Nun Tabbetha will provide some half-term fun by writing medieval pardons for naughty visitors.

Knaresborough Museum Association, which has organised the festival, hopes the event will prove a springboard for further study into the town’s past.

Chair Kathy Allday said:

“There is so much out there that we don’t know much about. Knaresborough remains a bit of a mystery in many ways.

“We hope the festival will create more interest in the archeology of Knaresborough, generate local pride and raise awareness of how fantastic Knaresborough is.”

Knaresborough Museum Association volunteers at a dig.

Former archaeologist Kathy is passionate about Knaresborough and full of tantalising tales, many of which remain shrouded in secrets.

For example, she says a washing tunnel is believed to have existed in a medieval hospital in Spitalcroft. The tunnel in a swollen pool naturally filled with pure, clean water but the site is now part of a private garden. The Trinitarian Priory, which was dissolved by Henry VIII, is known to have been a regional mother church but its full size and significance needs further research.

Two Roman hordes have been discovered in the area. Viking straps and Saxon pins will be on display this weekend. But Knaresborough’s golden age was the medieval period, when Kathy says Abbey Road “was like Piccadilly Circus” because so many people flocked to St Robert’s Cave, the Trinitarian Priory and Knaresborough Castle.

Nidd Gorge is a key area of historical interest. Kathy says:

“Because we have an ice age gorge that has been cut through we have layers from the past all revealing different artefacts.

“There is evidence of people living there for thousands of years. There are bones and teeth of prehistoric animals. Think Woolly Mammoths.”

A mudlarker called Steve has spent 20 years extracting items from the Nidd. His finds include medieval pottery, a Victorian doll and a jug inscribed with the name John Ingleby, from the family that owns Ripley Castle.

Kathy wants to know more about the Iron Age fort that existed at Nidd Gorge and talks excitedly about the possibility of bringing home Knaresborough treasures currently housed elsewhere, including the Brotherton Library in Leeds and the nomadic Harrison Collection.

For that to happen, Knaresborough needs a larger museum.

The association currently operates Knaresborough Museum at 8 York Place, which is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. It has served the town well but the ground floor of a house was never likely to be an adequate long-term solution and there are plans to move to larger premises after a bid to use the former Castle girls school fell through.

Kathy is quick to pay tribute to the work of other local groups, including Knaresborough Castle and Courthouse Museum, Claro Community Archaeology Group and Bilton Conservation Group for their work in specific fields.

But she hopes the museum can become the overarching focal point for telling Knaresborough’s story — not only a place to go but also a hub to conduct further research and hold events, including more festivals, that take the town’s story to community groups and schools.

It’s a long-term mission — but few would doubt Knaresborough has a story worth telling.

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