The Medieval Trod at Fairy Dell, Marton, Middlesbrough

Fairy Dell is now a local green space and a haven for nature within the suburbs of Middlesbrough. In the medieval period Middlesbrough was a rural area that consisted of a network of small villages and farmsteads. These were interspersed with fields, woodland, moor (common grazing land) and divided by becks, streams and bounded by the River Tees to the north. A network of roads, tracks and paths would have linked the settlements together.

These tracks and paths often became eroded or hollowed out through years of use. At least five of these sunken paths or hollowways survive within Fairy Dell. One of these is almost certainly an earlier route of the present Gunnergate Lane which was straightened by the 19th century.

In 1857 Gunnergate Hall was built for the Quaker banker Charles Leatham and was sold shortly afterwards to John Vaughan, the local Ironmaster. The house was demolished following the end of World War II but a number of its former garden features survive within Fairy Dell. These include water features such as a lake with a boathouse and a cascade.

Also present are specimen trees, an Ice House for storing food and two lodge buildings. Many of the local houses in the surrounding estate incorporate Victorian sculptures reclaimed from the Hall.

In March 2014 we ran a series of history workshops with local people so that we could begin to understand how the area developed over time. This was part of a Heritage Lottery funded project ran by the Friends of Fairy Dell to explore and restore the medieval heritage of the area.

In the first session we used historic maps and other documents to map out medieval Middlesbrough, in the second we carried out a rapid field survey in the Dell itself and brought all of the information together in the final sessions. One of our major findings was that the deserted medieval settlement of Newham lay on the west side of the Dell and at least one hollowway from its village green to the beck was still visible.

As a result of the workshops and planned conservation work in the Dell we decided to carry out archaeological excavation to investigate one of the hollow lanes to try to establish how old it actually was. We excavated three trenches through the trod that runs from the higher ground on the western side of the Dell to the beck at its base. The hollowway was up to three metres deep in parts. The upper fills of the trod contained a modern topsoil which contained finds from the 19th to 21st centuries. Beneath this was a subsoil layer which contained finds from the 18th to 20th centuries. The trod then cut into a natural clay surface. A sherd of medieval pottery was found at the interface of the silt with the natural clay. This dated to the 13th or 14th century. Excavation at medieval trod

Following the end of the excavation the Friends organised a medieval festival at the Dell, complete with re-enactors, falconery, cooking and crafts and other activities. The event was an enormous success with hundreds of visitors throughout the day.

Work is currently taking place to design a self guided heritage trail around the Dell, looking at its medieval and Victorian heritage. A display board about the results of the excavation will also be placed at the medieval trod. To find out more about the Dell please visit the web page for the Friends of Fairy Dell.

Further Information

For more information on the medieval period in the area please download our Medieval Teesside Booklet.  A guided trail leaflet has been produced for the historical features at Fairy Dell and can be downloaded here.  The report on the excavation of the trod is available here.

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