Team set to uncover more of village’s past

The pele tower at Cresswell.
The pele tower at Cresswell.

Another archaeological dig to uncover more of a Northumberland coastal village’s little known past will be taking place over the next month.

As part of a project to restore and open to the public Cresswell’s 15th Century pele tower, volunteers will be taking part in a month-long dig on land close to the landmark.

Earlier this summer, the Cresswell Pele Tower Charitable Trust was delighted to reveal that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) had awarded it a £677,600 grant to restore the Grade II-listed building, which is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It is currently in a ruinous state.

Added to two earlier development stage grants, it means HLF has agreed to support the project to the tune of £780,000.

Work on the repair and restoration of the three-storey tower, which will remove it from Historic England’s register of At Risk structures when the project is finished, is expected to begin within the next few weeks and be completed in around 12 months’ time.

Last year, in the build-up to the grant application being submitted, a community archaeological dig near the landmark unearthed scores of items including pieces of flint, axe heads, Iron Age sherds, stone tools and medieval ceramics, as well as two Bronze Age burial kists that together added to existing evidence suggested people were living in and around Cresswell as long as 10,000 years ago.

Now, before restoration work begins, volunteers will again be digging near the structure to see what further treasures can be discovered – starting on Monday.

Barry Mead, the pele tower’s assistant project manager, said: “We will be opening a number of new trenches around the tower and by the end of the dig we hope we will have made all sorts of new interesting discoveries to help piece together a picture of what life would have been like at Cresswell when the pele tower was built and indeed, much earlier than that.”

Digging will take place until October 5 and two open days are also being held at Cresswell on Sunday, September 16 and Sunday, September 30 from 11am to 3.30pm when finds from previous archaeological excavations will be on display in the Village Hall and there will also be a chance to see close up the new tower trenches.

Visitors will be unable to tour the tower itself, however, because of the number of bats currently roosting in the building.

The project to restore the pele tower so that building can be preserved and opened to the public, as well as becoming a venue for exhibitions and concerts, is being supported by Greater Morpeth Development Trust, Northumberland County councillor Scott Dickinson, Parkdean Resorts on whose land it is situated, Cresswell Village Hall Association and a number of local businesses.

The pele tower was built when the notorious Border Reiver raiders were roaming what at the time were the ‘badlands’ of the Scottish Border and the north of England.

In the middle ages, there were around 150 pele towers in Northumberland standing as fortified manor houses to give protection to families and their livestock against raids on their homes and land.

Cresswell is one of only a handful remaining in Northumberland that are in a relatively good state of preservation.