Financial shortage in the present leaves traces of past facing an uncertain future

posted 15 Mar 2011, 14:28 by Paul Brayford
From Yorkshire Post  Friday 11 March 2011

With important historical sites across Yorkshire in need of investment, could our link with the past soon be severed for ever? Sarah Freeman reports.

In the shadow of Sheffield’s Meadowhall there is a mystery which has baffled even the most eminent archaeologists.

To the untrained eye it looks little more than a dirt track which wends its way through woodland. To mountain bikers it has been a natural playground. To those whose job it is to dig into the country’s past, it could well be a vital piece of evidence of how we lived more than 2,000 years ago.

Only fragments remain of the prehistoric earthwork which once stretched from Wincobank, the site of an Iron Age hill fort, to Wath upon Dearne and beyond.

Known as the Roman Ridge, but actually predating the arrival of the Romans in Britain, no-one is exactly sure what it was for. It may have been a territory marker or possibly a grazing area for cattle, but while opinions differ, the one thing experts all agree on is that having survived the centuries, and the mass industrialisation which turned Sheffield into a manufacturing giant, it has to be preserved.

While much of the ridge has fallen victim to the passage of time, one of the most significant stretches can be found in woodland near Swinton owned by Richard and Sue Fulbrook, who were recently offered a £2,000 grant by English Heritage to help repair the damage to the earthwork caused by years of use by mountain bikers.

“Part of the reason for buying the wood was to maintain public access and also to protect the monument,” says Richard. “This is a very important yet fragile earthwork and really we are incredibly fortunate that it has survived for so long. Everyone can play a part in ensuring it is protected and this is our way of just doing our bit.”

The couple admit to having a passion not just for prehistoric earthworks, but wildlife and trees, all of which is music to the ears of Trevor Mitchell, who as regional director of English Heritage has the job of preserving and maintaining Yorkshire’s most important historical sites.