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8 August 2022

Hull Maritime volunteer, Alison Keld visited the South Blockhouse site to be part of the team excavating the site.

Not many folks get the chance to take part in an archaeological dig. I was given the opportunity through HEY Volunteering. A chance get my hands on history by contributing to the three-month excavation of the South Blockhouse to uncover remains from both the 16th and 19th centuries.

The South Blockhouse formed part of a fortification founded by King Henry VIII in the 1540’s to support his military campaigns, and protect the harbour mouth on the River Hull from hostile shipping. The Blockhouse was used for storage and accommodation for soldiers serving on the defences. Also used as a prison for Catholic dissenters in the late 16th century.

We know about Hull’s military defences including the South Blockhouse thanks to old maps and drawings of Hull.

It was during construction of the access road for the The Deep in 1997 that archaeologists were able to mark the exact position of the Blockhouse when remains of the curved outer walls and parts of gun ports were revealed.

During the excavations an early breech loading gun over two metres long and weighing over a ton was discovered next to the Blockhouse wall. It’s now on display at the Hull and East Riding Museum on High Street.

Breech gun on display at Hull and East Riding Museum
A breech loading gun was discovered next to the Blockhouse wall

The day on site started with a health and safety briefing followed by an introduction to the site.

An archaeologist from Humber Field Archaeology who, as part of Hull City Council, are carrying out this National Highways funded excavation, walked us around the dig area explaining what we were seeing.

After collecting our PPE and tools we were placed in small groups, each with a professional archaeologist able to demonstrate excavation techniques. We then got down to doing some real excavation work ourselves.

Some of the volunteers who are part of the largest volunteer-driven archaeological dig in the city this century

It’s not easy work, but it’s interesting and satisfying as you scrape away uncovering the foundations. I was excited to find what was identified as a rib bone and part of a clay pipe to add to the finds.

A discovery of clay pipe
Rib bone was found

A month after my first experience at an archaeological dig I was pleased to be invited to tour the site with a group of Hull Maritime volunteers.

We were given a personal tour by the very knowledgeable Peter Connelly, Humber Field Archaeology Manager. Its obvious Peter is passionate about his work and he gave a fascinating talk about the history of the City’s medieval defences.

As excavation continues many context numbers are appearing on the site. Each white label is a unique detailed recording of a discovery. Each event is recorded on a context sheet resulting in a permanent archive.

A slow and careful process to record the site, thousands of labels and record numbers are generated
Context numbers are used to create a record, with detail and photos to create a story
Some of the discoveries are on display
Discoveries have been made on site

The excavation site on Tower Street next to The Deep is open to the public from 11am – 3pm Wednesday to Sunday until the 17 September. The site will then be backfilled, as Peter explained, this is the best way to preserve it for the future and retain memories of the past.

It is hoped that eventually the site of the South Blockhouse will become a permanent visitor attraction.

Take a look at for more information.

I must mention the talented Hull based Roaring Girls Theatre Company who performed an entertaining short play for visitors. They brought to life Henry VIII’s visits to Hull to inspect his defences of England against the Scots in the North and the Catholics abroad. Plenty of audience participation and hilarity.

Hull based Roaring Girls Theatre Company who performed an entertaining short play for visitor
They brought to life Henry VIII’s visits to Hull