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Heritage

A Community Archaeology project was set up by the Friends of Fairy Dell with the aid of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The project included a number of workshops with local people to identify the heritage of Fairy Dell, an urban green space in the southern part of Middlesbrough.


A series of workshops were followed by a week of archaeological excavation on the line of a former sunken lane.

Workshop 1

5th March 2014

Historic research session where the group looked at early maps, aerial photographs and historic documents to trace the medieval history of Middlesbrough

Workshop 2

12th March 2014

The group identified historic features within the Dell and its environs including veteran trees, sunken lanes and Victorian garden features.

Workshop 3

19th March 2014

As above

Workshop 4

26th March 2014

Plans were drawn up for targeted archaeological investigation and interpretation of key features

The archaeological excavation took place between 12th May 2014 and 19th May 2014. The fieldwork was supervised by Rachel Grahame (supervisor) and David Errickson (site assistant) and assisted by over 35 volunteers.


Location and Geology

The site is located to the south of Middlesbrough between Marton-in-Cleveland and Nunthorpe at NZ 51270 14760 (Figure 1). It is a park measuring c.17 hectares, bounded to the north by the A174 (Parkway), to the west by Newham Way, to the south by Gunnergate Lane and the east by Weymouth Avenue and Tollesby Lane.

The Dell is a steep sided beck valley and is characterised by native and planted woodland on the steeper banks and a more open grassed valley at its base.

The geomorphology of the area consists of Devensian till overlying Mercia mudstone (British Geological Survey of Britain 2014).

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Historical and Archaeological Background

The historic research workshop demonstrated that Fairy Dell was agricultural land for much of the 18th and 19th century and the presumption was that this was also the case in the medieval period. The group also identified the medieval settlement of Newham which is first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086AD (Page, 1924). This was located on the higher ground on the western side of the Dell.

The village was noted to survive as earthworks on aerial photographs taken in the 1940s


Click to enlarge

The settelment was built over in the early 1970s (Coulby Newham - Elmwood). The field survey workshop successfully identified a former back lane to the village which is now a hedgerow with extant ditch that runs down to the base of the Dell.

A second sunken lane was noted running from the centre of the village (the green?) to the Dell.

In the mid 19th century the Dell became part of the gardens and grounds belonging to Gunnergate Hall which was built in 1857 for Charles Leatham. After his death it was bought by John Vaughan. John Vaughan died in 1868 when Gunnergate Hall passed to his son, Thomas. Refurbishment of the hall by Thomas up until 1879 meant the hall had sweeping lawns, well wooded grounds, and a lake with a boat house, tennis courts and greenhouses.


In 1881 Gunnergate Hall was bought by Carl Bolckow and sold again in 1885 to the Mayor of Middlesbrough: Sir Railton Dixon. In 1946 the hall was eventually demolished and the land was acquired by Middlesbrough Council. Many of the Victorian garden features are still visible within Fairy Dell, however much of the Fairy Dell Park was developed and landscaped in the later 1970s.

 In 2005, the Friends of Fairy Dell won just short of one hundred thousand pounds from the ‘Big Lottery’s Peoples Millions’ competition in conjunction with Middlesbrough Council. A number of improvements were made to the Dell including better public access. No previous archaeological work is known to have taken place within the Dell.

Aims and Objectives

 The aims of the project were:

1. To raise public awareness of the heritage value of the Fairy Dell area including its sunken lanes.

2. To promote the good management of the heritage features of the Fairy Dell area.

3. To work with local people to explore the archaeology of Fairy Dell through exploratory trial trenching

4. To provide heritage based educational opportunities for local schools. The results of the excavation will form part of a permanent archive of the site. The archive is currently held by Tees Archaeology under the site code MFD14 and will be passed to the Dorman Museum.

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