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Historic England Research Records

Peel Island

Hob Uid: 38836
Location :
South Lakeland
Grid Ref : SD2952091900
Summary : Medieval site, thought to be defensive and/or industrial.
More information : (SD 2952 9190). Partial excavation of an early mediaeval site of Piel (Peel) Island, in Coniston Lake, undertaken by Mr W G Collingwood (c 1896). 13th century pottery and nails found."All appearances point to its having been a little fortalice for security from attack, and its name bears this out". (1)

(C AD 1896) the author carried out excavations on Piel Island in Coniston Water. Between the two main ridges which form the island a gap about 170 ft long, 33 ft wide and 20ft above the water "has been quite filled with buildings", and sealed at each end with a double wall. A flight of steps near the north end leads over the ridge to a "curious foundation" 30ft by 15ft constructed from a natural ravine. There had been a door at the NE end, a window on the NW side, and a recess on the SE side cut in the rock with stones forming a seat; the floor was flagged. At the SW end was a D-shaped building 10ft 7ins by 7ft, originally of considerable height. The straight part of the wall was 2ft 4ins thick, the curved part 1ft 6ins, it is very much of the type of the earliest iron smelting furnaces. "Every part of the island is built up in such a way as to suggest that it was intended as a rude fortress".

In digging out the "side building" the following finds were made; a piece of flint; fragment of bone; an ancient key; "early mediaeval" potsherds; also slabs of gritstone which appeared to be fragments of large querns or millstones, and parts of red sandstone mortars. "A piece of ancient red brick found in the digging is very like a sample of Roman brick from Hardknott Camp, but is probably mediaeval". Evidences of iron working were shown by lumps of porous purple dross (which is scattered over the island), great quantities of nails, bolts, rivets and lumps of iron, lying amongst burnt stones and blackened soil, and fragments of charcoal. "The conclusion is that there was a forge here, and that earlier still Peel Island was a rude fortress". (A model of the site is now in Coniston Museum). (2)

A barrow, uninhabited tree covered island oriented north-east south-west, the perimeter of the island consists of high rock ridges leaving an internal central depression which is completely secluded, sheltered and an ideal defensive position, the previous classification of fortalice would appear to be correct.

The description of the artificial remains by Authority 2 is correct, as also is the attached plan. The remains of the
walling may be traced only with difficulty there being much humus, thick undergrowth and excavation spoil throughout; a survey of the walling was not possible.

The better preserved portion of the remains is the "D" shaped building noted by the preceding Authority. Here the walls stand to a maximum height of 1.3m, elsewhere a height of 0.1m; 0.2m is average.

A complete and thorough perambulation of the island revealed only 3 small pieces of scoria and the supposition of a forge is considered doutful, the island is quite small and timber for building would be an important factor, it does not seem creditable that both ore and fuel would be imported into such a minor site on a large scale. Also found during perambulation was the head of an iron nail.

A representative collection of finds from the early excavation are exhibited in the Ruskin Museum, Coniston, as also is an early model of the island based on the plan in Authority 2. (3)

Sources :
Source Number : 1
Source : Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of London
Source details :
Page(s) : 258
Figs. :
Plates :
Vol(s) : 16, 1895-7
Source Number : 2
Source details : Trans L&C Hist Soc 53 ( 1901 15-18 21 plan opp p 13 (Excavation report) (WG Collingwood)
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Figs. :
Plates :
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Source Number : 3
Source : Field Investigators Comments
Source details : F1 FC 28-AUG-57
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Monument Types:
Monument Period Name : Medieval
Display Date : Medieval
Monument End Date : 1540
Monument Start Date : 1066
Monument Type : Settlement
Evidence : Sub Surface Deposit

Components and Objects:
Related Records from other datasets:
External Cross Reference Source : National Monuments Record Number
External Cross Reference Number : SD 29 SE 12
External Cross Reference Notes :

Related Warden Records :
Related Activities :
Associated Activities : Primary, FIELD OBSERVATION ON SD 29 SE 12
Start Date : 1957-08-28
End Date : 1957-08-28