Wincobank Living History

Timeline Map

8000-4000 BC:
Mesolithic activity on the site, possibly a temporary camp where flint blades were manufactured.
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Bronze Age:
Possible Bronze Age burial mounds recorded in the vicinity of the hillfort in the 18th century, removed 'about the year 1795'. No associated Bronze Age artefacts recorded, though a flint knife of this period was found in Wincobank Wood in the 19th century.
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500 BC:
Probable construction date of Wincobank Hillfort, based on radiocarbon dating. Iron Age activity in the area is suggested by beehive querns (corn milling stones) found in the woods.
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AD 51:
Construction of Templeborough Roman fort, which marked the northern limit of the Roman Military Zone until the subjugation of Brigantia, to the north of the River Don, c.AD
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The Roman fort may have been built partly to neutralise the potential threat of the hillfort.
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AD 100-400:
Occupation of the hillfort is likely to have been sporadic during the Roman period, though several pieces of 2nd-century Roman ceramic and a coin of Constantius Chlorus (AD 305-306) were recovered from the hillfort and its immediate vicinity. There is currently no evidence to indicate that the hillfort was involved in the Brigantian revolts against Roman rule in the 2nd and early 3rd centuries, and the site is likely to have been reclaimed by the wood by the 4th century.
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Early medieval period:
The site was possibly part of the British kingdom of Elmet in the post-Roman period, before coming under Anglo-Saxon control in the late 6th/early 7th centuries. It was then located along the southern border of Northumbria, and the hillfort may have been reoccupied periodically during outbreaks of hostility between Northumbria and Mercia. There is currently no archaeological evidence for any rebuilding or reoccupation of the hillfort during this period.
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Wincobank recorded as 'Winckley', possibly derived from the Old English 'Wineca's ley', meaning 'Wineca's forest clearing'.
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Place-name 'Winkowe' recorded, with the earlier 'Wineca' element supplemented by the Old English or Old Norse 'lowe/haugr', both of which mean 'mound' and may relate to the summit of the hill.
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16th to 17th century:
Wincobank Wood was managed for the Earl of Shrewsbury's estate as a ‘spring’ (coppice) wood. During the 17th century, the hillfort's eastern bank and ditch were levelled when a field boundary was built along the line of the ditch.
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Farm called 'Le Wynkeabancke' first recorded in a document of this date. The farm later became Wincobank Hall.
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Late 18th century:
Wincobank Hall and its estates purchased by John Sparrow, and the hall substantially rebuilt. 1790: Cottages shown on Winco Wood Lane, to the north-east of the hillfort, on a map of the lands associated with Wincobank Hall. Their date of construction is unknown, but it has been suggested that they were 16th-century in origin, with later modifications.
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Joseph Read purchased Wincobank Hall and further land near the hillfort. Read laid out gardens and pleasure grounds, meadows and plantations of 'exceeding beauty'.
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Winco Wood Lane shown as a 'bridle path to Sheffield' on an 1837 sale plan of Wincobank Hall and its estate. The hall was purchased by Joseph Read's daughter, Mary Rawson. The plan also showed a quarry at the junction of Winco Wood Lane and Jenkin Road.
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A plan showed a coal mine shaft within the quarry at Jenkin Road.
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The Poor Law survey map showed the Winco Wood Lane cottages as a row of six properties, three of which were very small.
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Construction began on 'Wincobank Castle', a tower house built by George Parkin, a former teacher, close to the north edge of the hillfort. The house was completed in 1907.
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Grimesthorpe Colliery had been established by this date.
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Archaeological excavation at Wincobank Hillfort, directed by Elijah Howarth, curator of Sheffield Museum, from August to October.
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Final sale of timber from Wincobank Wood.
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The Duke of Norfolk presented the hillfort and 48 acres of Wincobank Wood to the people of Sheffield. A second archaeological excavation was undertaken at the hillfort by the staff of Sheffield Museum.
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The OS map of this date showed allotments in the western part of Wincobank Wood.
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An anti-aircraft gun emplacement was constructed on the south side of the hillfort, to counter potential Zeppelin air raids.
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During the Second World War, the tower at Wincobank Castle was used as an observation post. The anti-aircraft gun emplacement was also brought back into use and a searchlight was located to the south-west of the hillfort. A barrage balloon was also located along Wincobank Hill, while part of Winco Wood Lane was reinforced to allow access for military vehicles.
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Wincobank Castle was demolished in 1960. The cottages at Winco Wood Lane were subject to a compulsory purchase order in the early 1960s and had become largely derelict by 1967. They had been demolished by the time of the 1973 OS map.
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Yorkshire Television were granted permission to place a Radio Links Can on the top of Wincobank Hill, as the site's elevation made it an effective transmission location. The hill was also used for this purpose during BBC coverage of the World Snooker Championships in Sheffield.
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Archaeological watching brief conducted by Pauline Beswick during the cutting of a drainage ditch through the hillfort's rampart.
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4.1 Prehistoric

4.1.1    Mesolithic and Neolithic

Mesolithic flints dating from approximately 8000-4000 BC have been found on Wincobank Hill, to the south and west of Wincobank hillfort (Beswick 1984, 3). Flint does not occur naturally in the Wincobank area, indicating that this material was brought onto the hill through human agency. The nature and extent of the flint material led A.L. Armstrong and Frank and Harriet Elgee to suggest that a Mesolithic ‘station’ had been present on Wincobank Hill (Armstrong 1929, 84; Elgee and Elgee 1933, 36).

Jeffrey Radley detailed four assemblages of Mesolithic finds: six large flakes found by Elijah Howarth to the north and east of the hillfort’s ‘east gate’ in 1899 (Howarth 1905b, 7); 15 flints and a small core that were ‘found on Wincobank Hill’ by S. McClaren in 1924; 119 flints, including microliths, scrapers, blades and flakes, that were found at ‘Wincobank and Grimesthorpe’ by E.W. Shepherd in 1929; and 45 flints, including microliths, blades, flakes and a core, that were found at ‘Wincobank Camp’ by M. Dennie (Radley 1964, 2).

Radley himself collected two further assemblages of Mesolithic flint: 20 pieces from within the hillfort, including chert and a scraper, and 70 flints, including 11 pieces of chert, from ‘an area adjacent to Wincobank Lane’ that was ‘rapidly being covered by activities of James Child Ltd’, ie. the tipping of waste from steelworks (Radley 1964, 3). Radley suggested that this area ‘seems the probable source of most of the museum assemblages’ and was likely to have been ‘a temporary occupation site, where blade-making was a primary aim of the occupants’ (Radley 1964, 3).

During the 19th century, C.V. Collier and W.S. Sykes recovered a flint scraper, flakes and flints that had been charred by fire within Wincobank Wood, to the south of the hillfort. The W.M. Cole collection includes a Mesolithic chert waste flake and a Neolithic flint knife from Wincobank (Garland 1978, 1). Catherine Coutts stated that Dorothy Greene recovered 70 Mesolithic flints from ‘a section through the Roman Ridge’ within Wincobank Wood in 1976 (Coutts 1996). This statement is problematic as the last remaining part of the Roman Ridge to have stood within the wood occupied an area that was cleared of trees by 1923 and is not known to have been excavated; the location and nature of this ‘section’ remain unclear.

4.1.2 Bronze Age

Bronze Age activity on Wincobank Hill is indicated by a bevelled flint knife dating from the early part of this period that was recovered by C.V. Collier and W.S. Sykes in Wincobank Wood during the 19th century (Garland 1978, 1).

Bronze Age settlement on the hill is suggested by Joseph Hunter’s account of round ‘tumuli’ that were situated close to the hillfort until the late 18th century. These features resembled ‘barrows’ that Hunter had observed at other sites and comprised ‘two or three round tumuli…near the summit, and therefore near the great earth-work’ (Gatty 1869, 24). The barrows were situated ‘in the fields on the declining side towards Grimesthorpe’ but had been ‘removed about the year 1795’ (Gatty 1869, 24). This would suggest that the barrows remained extant at the time of William Fairbank’s 1788 and 1795 maps of the Wincobank, Grimesthorpe and Brightside areas; however, they were not marked on any of these plans.

Burial mounds were typically located on elevated sites in order to maximise their prominence in the landscape; any associated Bronze Age settlement on Wincobank Hill may thus have been situated within sight of, but at a lower elevation than, the barrows. The mounds, like several other ancient features in the Wincobank area, may have been levelled in association with the ‘improvement’ of agricultural land during the post-medieval period. No archaeological finds are known to have been reported in association with their removal.

Elijah Howarth, then curator of Sheffield Museum, excavated several mounds in the vicinity of Wincobank hillfort in 1899, one of which contained burnt material that appeared to represent a hearth (Howarth 1905b, 4). Several pieces of ‘jet’ were discovered in one of the mounds, although this material may in fact have been cannel coal or worked shale (Beswick 1984, 3).

4.1.3    Iron Age

John Wainwright and Samuel Mitchell, two 19th-century Sheffield antiquarians, suggested that ‘Winco’ was derived from the British (‘Celtic’) terms wen or win, meaning a high hill, and coed, meaning a wood (Mitchell 1855, 70; Eastwood 1862, 376). Current opinion, however, favours an Old English or Old Norse derivation for the ‘Winco’ element in ‘Wincobank’ (Smith 1961, 214).

Wincobank hillfort is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM no.13375) located at the top of Wincobank Hill, overlooking the Don Valley. Described in the English Heritage scheduling record as a ‘slight univallate hillfort’ (EH 1993, 1), due to the presence of a single continuous rampart and ditch, several further banks and sections of ditch are in fact present at various locations around the fort (Merrony 2010, pers. comm.). The counterscarp, constructed from material that was excavated from the ditch, has also been interpreted as a full rampart (EH 1993, 1; Armitage and Montgomerie 1912, 8; Merrony 2010, pers. comm.).

The first archaeological excavation of Wincobank hillfort, conducted by Elijah Howarth in 1899, revealed that the fort’s inner bank consisted of a 5.5m-thick, timber-laced, stone rampart with a rubble-core (Beswick 1985, 29). The timber that was used to revet the rampart is likely to have been taken from trees that had been felled in the adjacent woodland, while the stone is likely to have been sourced from the sandstone outcrop or ‘spur’ that runs up the south slope of Wincobank Hill.

In 1979, Pauline Beswick, keeper of antiquities at Weston Park Museum, conducted a watching brief on the cutting of a drainage ditch through the fort’s north-east rampart. Carbon-14 dates from charcoal recovered by Beswick indicated that the hillfort is an Iron Age construction that was built c.500 BC (Beswick 1985, 32). Wincobank hillfort will be discussed in detail, below (Section 6).

Iron Age or early Romano-British settlement in the Wincobank area is also indicated by beehive querns, including a gritstone upper quern stone, discovered in the area between the hillfort and the Roman Ridge. There is currently no archaeological evidence to indicate prehistoric settlement activity within the hillfort or to indicate the location of a local elite site, whose occupiers may have controlled access to the fort.

The Roman Ridge is a linear earthwork consisting of a single, or in places double, bank and ditch that runs for approximately 27km from Sheffield to Mexborough, passing along the eastern slope of Wincobank Hill (May 1922, 4; Cronk 2004, 1). On Wincobank Hill, the Ridge’s earthen bank appears to have been constructed on top of the outcrop of Parkgate Rock sandstone that runs north-east from Grimesthorpe. The artificial bank does not appear to survive within the study area and the Ridge’s former course is represented by a section of the natural sandstone spur along the eastern perimeter of a former football field in the south-east part of the site.

Within the wider 1km search area, the Roman Ridge remains extant to the east of Sandstone Close and for several hundred metres to the north of Jenkin Road. These parts of the earthwork are Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAM no.s SY231C and SY231D). The date and function of the Ridge have not been determined. The Roman Ridge is discussed in detail, below (Section 7).

Ella Armitage identified a small, possibly Iron Age, camp on the south-east slope of Wincobank Hill during the early 20th century (Cronk 2004, 47). This site, known currently as the ‘small camp’ was revealed following the extensive felling of trees in this part of Wincobank Wood during the 1920s and was marked as a curvilinear feature on the 1935 Ordnance Survey map (Plate 3). The small camp was situated above Grimesthorpe Quarry, on the crest of the natural spur of Parkgate Rock that carried the Roman Ridge and may have formed part of that earthwork (Cronk 2004, 47).

Aerial photographs of the area from 1945 (Plate 4) suggest that at that date the small camp may have survived as two sides of a curvilinear ditch, with its western side close to the western edge of the sandstone spur, while its south-east line spanned the width of the outcrop.

It is not clear to what extent the Roman Ridge’s artificial earthen bank survived in the second quarter of the 20th century or if the sandstone outcrop alone remained extant. If the latter, the ditch of the small camp that was visible on the 1945 aerial photograph may have been excavated into the natural outcrop itself, rather than having formed part of the artificial earthwork. This raises the possibility that the camp and the Ridge were not contemporary features.

Between the mid-1950s and early 1970s, the area immediately to the west was used to tip waste materials from steelworks, and was subsequently landscaped to create a series of football pitches. This raised the ground level and buried all but the uppermost 1-1.5m of the Roman Ridge. A 1959 aerial photograph showed that dumped material had buried the western line of the small camp, although its southern perimeter remained visible across the width of the sandstone outcrop. A 1989 aerial photograph revealed that the site of the small camp was occupied by landscaped ground immediately to the east of one of the football fields. It is not clear to what extent the camp had been buried, damaged or destroyed by the tipping and landscaping process. Ella Armitage’s unpublished notes on the small camp do not appear to have survived and the probable date and function of this feature remain unconfirmed (Cronk 2004, 45-48).

Wincobank Wood is an 11 hectare secondary ancient woodland that occupies the slopes of Wincobank Hill to the south and west of the hillfort. The post-Ice Age ‘wildwood’ survived in marginal areas such as the slopes of steep hillsides and is likely to have occupied the majority of Wincobank Hill, with settlements and their associated field systems being located in cleared areas. Extensive tree clearance would have taken place in association with the construction of the hillfort in order to provide unobstructed views of the approaches to the site (Rotherham 1989, 1). Wincobank Wood will be discussed in detail, below (Section 8).

Sidney Addy, a 19th-century Sheffield antiquarian, attributed the name ‘The Ridgeway’ to an ‘ancient track’ that led up to the hillfort along the Silkstone Rock outcrop on the south slope of Wincobank Hill and continued down the north slope of the hill along the section of the Roman Ridge that stood to the north of Jenkin Road (Addy 1893, 233-237). Addy believed that an ‘ancient path’ crossed the intervening area and connected the hillfort with the Ridge. Claiming that ‘with a little care…the actual course of the ancient way’ could be traced on the ground, Addy produced a plan (Plate 5) that showed the track’s course ‘from its point of contact with the camp’, near the hillfort’s south-east entrance, across the fields to the Roman Ridge at the north-east (Addy 1893, 233-237).

Addy stated that the ancient way ran ‘by the side of the hedgerows’ (Addy 1893, 233-237) and the 1892 Ordnance Survey map (Plate 6) indicated that a hedgeline was present 3ft (0.9m) from the boundary of a field immediately to the north-east of the hillfort. A wall also ran along the boundary in 1892; the date of this feature is not known.

There is no direct evidence to confirm that the ‘path’ identified by Addy in 1893 was in fact ‘ancient’. The period in which the route had been established is unknown, although it may have been extant during the early 17th century as it ran along the southern boundary of a privately-enclosed field that had been created prior to John Harrison’s 1637 survey of the manor of Sheffield (NAA 2001, 65-66). It is possible that the track was established along the boundary of this field and thus dates from, or shortly after, the period of enclosure. There is no evidence to demonstrate this, however, and it is also possible that the track pre-dated the enclosure process and that its course had determined the southern extent of the field.

It is possible that the ‘ancient way’ identified by Sidney Addy followed the alignment of a feature that was discovered by Elijah Howarth during the 1899 excavation at Wincobank hillfort. Howarth revealed ‘big pieces of loose sandstone…as if forming an old causeway’ in a trench near the gap in the hillfort’s south-east bank (Howarth 1905b, 1). Although the stones that formed the surface of this feature appeared initially to be ‘scarcely regular enough’ for a causeway, they proved to be supported by a deposit of earth containing ‘flat pieces of stone almost like brick or tile’ to a depth of approximately 0.45m (Howarth 1905b, 1).

Although no dating evidence for the causeway was recovered by Howarth, Pauline Beswick argued subsequently that the gap in the south-east bank may have marked the hillfort’s original entrance (Beswick 1985, 32). In that case, it is possible that the ‘old causeway’ may have been an Iron Age feature and that an ‘ancient way’ did indeed connect the hillfort with the Roman Ridge.
Addy produced a plan that showed the suggested course of the ‘Ridgeway’ between the fort and the Ridge (Plate 7). LiDAR data obtained for this report appears to reveal a substantial linear feature that runs from the south-east side of the hillfort along Addy’s route, immediately to the rear of housing on Fort Hill Road (Plate 7).

The LiDAR data may show elements of the northern limit of excavation associated with the creation of the back gardens of the houses during the 1960s. However, these plot boundaries were themselves determined by the pre-existing field boundary and it is possible that the remains of the wall shown on the 1892 map, or perhaps the course of Howarth’s ‘old causeway’, remain extant.

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