Monthly Archives: September 2021

Simplified Geology of Humber Region 17.

There are two natural islands in Hornsea Mere, Swan Island (see a bit of above) and, the smaller, Lady Island. The photo above shows how meres developed in lower land between undulations which became vegetated. Even millennia ago the current-day Hornsea Mere would have been a large example, many would have been much smaller.
From about 11,000B.C. successions of flora would have colonised the higher ground next to the meres, lime, oak and elm trees are mentioned in the Bulletin (s.p.b.). Fish and wildfowl would have colonised the meres and ‘their exploitation by man dates back to Mesolithic times 8300 – 4300B.C’. At this point the Bulletin references the excavation at Star Carr, this a site at the edge of the once Lake Pickering, not in Holderness. But the Team go on to state that similar finds to those found at Star Carr have been found at Skipsea, Brandesburton, Hornsea and Catfoss (in Holderness), this then evidence of early pre-historic occupation by Man. As yet there is no evidence of occupation on Holderness by a tribal unit as was the case on the Yorkshire Wolds. An excavation of a much later site at Barmston (dated to late Bronze Age) revealed a timber platform jutting into the mere (now no more). Whether this was to exploit the resouces of the mere or as some form of defence or for other purposes is speculation. Evidence of similar structures of a similar date have been found at Skipsea and Ulrome, these three being relatively close together and suggesting a local technology.
Although I know of no specific evidence it seems likely that the early colonisers of Holderness would have developed some boat-building skills, capable of producing coracle-like boats. Maybe they just waded into the relatively shallow waters.
By the early Middle Ages it seems likely that some meres had already dried-up and ‘Anglian and Danish settlers cleared much of the forest cover between the fifth and ninth centuries’ (Bulletin) thus accelerating silting-up of meres from soil erosion.

Simplified Geology of Humber Region 16.

In 1988 Humberside County Council Archaeology Unit published a Bulletin summarising their North Holderness Survey. To continue this section of my study I will precis their information before going on to precis the final chapter in Professor English’s book ‘The Lords of Holderness 1086 – 1260’. Inevitably the four unitary authorities that replaced Humberside County Council have been comparitively poor at funding historical research and so it’s often worth checking-out work done prior to 1996.
The map above is copied from the Bulletin. As all the symbols relate to a definite, or possible, site of meres it gives a clear impression of this aspect of the Holderness landscape in late pre-historic times. The low density of meres in South Holderness is partly explained by the fact that the map does not show the pre-historic coastline of South Holderness (before the reclamation of Cherry Cobb Sands and Sunk Island).
The Bulletin was compiled from the studies of the North Holderness Field Survey Team based (then) in Hornsea. It then mentions the phrase ‘lakes and meres’ which raises the question, what is the difference? I guess Hornsea mere could well be called a lake but it is very shallow, maybe then this is key to the difference.
The Bulletin then goes on to make the point (made here in previous blogs way back) that there may have been a succession of Holdernesses during inter-glacial periods when the climate warmed to higher average temperatures than today, to reinforce this point the Team reference fossils of ‘bison, rhinocerous, elephants and lions’ unearthed. Another question, posed in a previous blog, is whether some lower clay strata exposed along the coast dates from before the last glaciation and was not bulldozed away during the last ice age.
With the post-glacial warming of the climate the colonisation of flora and fauna change, comparatively rapidly, over time.
(to be continued).

Simplified Geology of the Humber Region 15.

Although strata of coal and chalk dip far below the surface the drift geology of Holderness is glacially deposited boulder clay.
Two questions need some sort of an answer – What is clay? and what is boulder clay?
Clay is a fine/dense grained soil where each particle has a moist skin. Clay tends to swell when wet and become more plastic, this explaining ‘soil creep’ on hillsides. Conversely it tends to shrink when dry and become very solid – it is stated that two-thirds of the world’s population live in buildings protected from the environment by clay walls, ingress of water will make such walling unstable.
Boulder clay is where the clay soil has been mixed-up with rocks and pebbles and then deposited. This process is not likely to occur naturally in the Earth’s crust but instead is a product of some great force acting on the soils and rocks, particularly the bulldozing action of glaciers and ice-sheets.
That said, clay soils will have a degree of impermeability. Thus in undulating boulder clay soils water is likely to build-up in hollows although there will be some loss of water through the lake/pond bed. This is an explanation for the fact that in its prehistoric state many lakes/meres existed across Holderness, the only surviving one being Hornsea Mere (see above picture).
A natural factor tending to reduce the life-span of such meres is that as the water body becomes more shallow through the build-up of humus on the lake-bed so it becomes possible for reed-beds to establish, this in-turn adding to the humus accumulation until the water becomes sufficiently shallow for other semi-aquatic plants to establish and ultimately shrubs and trees at the end of the process. In fact this naturally occuring process may have frustrated pre-historic and medieval persons living in Holderness as it deprived them of a range of natural resources.
(to be continued)

Simplified Geology of the Humber Region 14.

Another source of evidence dealing with the history of the draining of the Hull Valley and west Holderness is the book the cover of which is shown above, Becks, Banks, Drains and Brains, The Drainage History of the River Hull Valley – this published in 2013 by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council. Given a modest initial print-run I would suspect that only second-hand copies are now available. It is much more informative than the 1958 publication (s.p.b.) and includes lots of historic photos. and diagrams.
A comparison of two maps in the 2013 book shows that the southern-most section of Holderness Main Drain was re-routed to exit directly into the Humber at some point between 1810 and 1885, thus preceeding the construction of King George Dock (s.p.b.). Part 2 of this book is made-up of some interesting ‘Case Studies’ such as; Decoys, Barges and Mills, North Frodingham: From wet land to prime agricultural land in one thousand years, Wawne Township Drainage History and The Enforcers: A flavour of the work of the Commissioners of the Courts of Sewers.
Mostly in the 20th century Hull has developed along either side of the lower course of Holderness Main Drain with the development of King George Dock early in the century in Marfleet parish and the 1950s/60s development of Bilton Grange, Longhill and Greatfield housing estates. Holderness Main Drain provides a ‘green corridor’ passing through arable farmland to the north of Hull and through East Hull itself. This fact/aspect of the Drain is currently much better appreciated today than previously and the flailing of drain-bank vegetation less vigous as a result of popular pressure.
Similarly the Beverley and Barmston Main Drain (1799-1800) passes, now, through north Hull, although here the Drain exits to the River Hull at a point in Wincolmlee, thus reflecting the demands of the Port masters back in the day (s.p.b.s).
(to be continued)

Simplified Geology of Humber Region 13.

The extract from Robert Morden’s map of the East Riding published 1695, see above, makes the point clearly (s.p.b.). A series of rivers in central Holderness flowed west-south-west to become tributaries of the River Hull even though the sources of these rivers were close to the coastline. In south Holderness a series of streams flowed south-west to exit directly into the Humber Estuary, the north bank of the Estuary then being much further north behind the sandbanks of what was to become Cherry Cobb Sands and Sunk Island. The streams of Holderness flowing into the River Hull were seen as beneficial by the Corporation of Hull as, although they carried silt into the River, they added to the volume of water that ‘scoured’ the ‘Old Port’ at ebb tide thus helping to keep a depth of water in the lower River Hull suitable for shipping movements.
Two factors have changed the drainage pattern of Holderness since the 17th century;
(a) the capture of the headwaters of the streams shown on the map extract above by coastal erosion,
(b) the diversion of drainage waters from the natural channels shown above by large scale man-made drainage channels.
In her study ‘The Draining of the Hull Valley’ (East Yorkshire Local History Society, 1958, reprinted 1976) June Sheppard dealt also with the man-made drainage channels along the western fringe of Holderness, these capturing the waters of some of the west flowing streams (s.p.b.s) and carrying these waters initially to the lower River Hull near Drypool Bridge. Incidentally, although the drain has been long filled-in two bridge parapets, built of encaustic brick, survive at the southern end of Cleveland St., this once being a bridge over Holderness Drain, I think, needs confirmation.
At the time of the opening of King George Dock, 1914, a newly dug spur carried the waters of the Holderness Drain directly to the Humber.
(to be continued)

Simplified Geology of Humber Region 12.

It follows from what was stated at the end of the last blog that the pre, or inter, glacial coastline with the sea lapping at the base of the dip slope of the Yorkshire Wolds that here might be the remnants of a low cliff-line at these points – indeed this is so, roughly corresponding with the 5m. contour (at some points during inter-glacial periods the sea level was higher than today by up to 5 meters). The prominence of this ancient cliff-line has been rounded by subsequent glacial advances. Places exhibiting this feature are;
Harland Way – leaving Cottingham on the west, a gentle incline as one passes Cottingham High School (see above photo.),
Boothferry High Road – a steady incline leading towards the Humber Bridge roundabout,
there is no corresponding hill on the A63 (Clive Sullivan Way) because the cliff-line was cut through when the road was built to eradicate what would have been otherwise an incline.
Incidentally, as may be seen from the map on the previous blog, on the south bank of the Humber the 5 meter contour runs parallel to the coastline so the inter-glacial inclines may be seen in streets (in Barton) which lead away from the foreshore e.g. Pasture Road and Fleetgate.
Consequently the ancient inter-glacial coastline would have run north-to-south roughly where the Humber Bridge now spans the Estuary, with the mouth of a stream which preceeded the Humber having its mouth into the bay somewhere along this stretch of the inter-glacial coastline.
Anyway, to get back to Holderness. The retreat of the Devensian Ice Sheets and glaciers quickened as the climate warmed. Therefore an area of post-glacial deposition will have a greater ‘bulk’ the further east-north-east one travels. This explains why the historic drainage pattern on Holderness (that is before man-made drainage channels were dug) was east to west – and not to the sea.
(to be continued).