Medieval Timbers found at Darley Abbey Weir

During the recent work to build a fish pass in the island on the Darley Abbey Weir, archaeologists from Trent and Peak Archaeology have found medieval remains. These include the rubble foundations from walls which have since been removed and lines of oak posts. Whilst these artifacts as still undergoing analysis, the archaeologists have now released their interim report on what they have found.

Their investigations revealed that the island at Darley Abbey was formed as a series of flooding and re-deposition events overlying multiple phases of archaeological features constructed within the River Derwent. These include two deliberately constructed and near contemporary structures/platforms built of timber and stone and dating to the late 15th century/early 16th century of, as yet, uncertain function. A likely interpretation requiring further exploration is that
the structures represent part of a mill complex managed by the monks of Darley Abbey. The earliest timber dated by dendrochronology provides a date of AD 1453 and AD 1478 and the latest AD 1510-1535, which may indicate that the site fell into disuse at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.
Once abandoned, the timber structures appear to have been destroyed by riverine erosion, with the remaining structural elements apparently then providing a foundation of sorts for the construction of the artificial island.
The observations provide highly significant evidence into the late medieval and early post medieval management of the River Derwent and the development of the pre-industrial landscape of the Derwent Valley World Heritage Site.

The timbers - and the structure they represent - recovered from Darley Abbey represent an extremely important find. This is the earliest timber structure – probably indicative of a mill – built for the purpose of mechanised production recovered from the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site. The Darley Abbey Fish Pass structure adds an important new chapter to the early development of industry at the World Heritage Site; a story perhaps dominated here by ecclesiastical control over the means of production. Given that the significance of the Derwent Valley Mills is derived from its early industrial heritage, and particularly early milling, the Darley Abbey Fish Pass structure is a recovery of regional, if not national, importance.Click on the PDF for the full report and photographs.

The question that now arises is what should happen to these timbers. The first thing that needs to happen is their conservation. This is a specialist task and will require additional funding. If not conserved the timbers will quickly deteriorate. However, there is little point in conserving the timbers unless there is somewhere they can be stored, if not displayed. Derby Museum have said they don't have the room but might be able to take one piece. The Darley Abbey Historical Group (supported by the Darley Abbey Society) are keen to set up a heritage centre in the village and would love to able to display these items along with other artifacts found locally. They have arranged a meeting with the archeaologists in the village hall so that residents of Darley Abbey can find out more about this exciting find and discuss the prospects for a heritage centre. The meeting will be held on Wednesday 5th March at 7.30 pm in the Village Hall. All are welcome and admission is free.

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