History of Crambeck and its Area

The Crambeck area does not appear to have been inhabited before Roman times.   However, a tribe of peaceful agricultural folk – the Parisi – once lived in the area.   They are thought to have originated from Paris in the 5thCentury BC.

In the 1960s archaeologists discovered the ruins of a Roman fortress in Malton/Norton.   This was known as Derventio.   The town grew up around the garrison as Roman soldiers intermarried with local women.   Industry abounded and there were brewers, goldsmiths and potters in the area.     Mosaics remnants have been discovered dating from the period.

Remains of Roman villas have been found in the area  but because the houses were built of wood, excavation has revealed little apart from deep post-holes indicating where they were once located.   There are signs of significant technological and agricultural advances in the time of the Romans, all of which expertise was lost when they left Britain.

The first signs of habitation around Crambeck seem to have been from the late Roman period as the pottery trade spread from Norton.   The area from Crambe to Crambeck was particularly good for pottery making because of the presence of two different sorts of clay, plus timber for burning in the kilns and the river for shipping the goods.   Pottery was considered a wintertime industry, the workers being occupied with forestry or farming for the rest for the year.

After the Romans left, we have no information on the history of Crambeck until the 3rd Earl of Carlisle built Castle Howard in the 18th Century.

Roman Remains at Crambeck

The area containing the remains of Roman pottery kilns at Crambeck is a scheduled National Monument.   The site lies on a slope bounded to the east by the steep river cliff of the River Derwent and to the west by the A64.   It includes the fields, paddocks and tennis court area.   At the south west corner, extensive quarrying has taken place during which some of the remains have been removed.

The identification of a major Roman site was first made in the mid-19th century when large amounts of Roman pottery were found and six pottery kilns were revealed during the construction of the Crambeck reform school.   Subsequent investigations have revealed a complex pattern of small enclosures separated by boundary ditches within which the remains of kilns survive.   At least seven surviving kilns have been identified within the area of the Monument.   In addition, the complex included clay dumps, fuel stores, drying areas, stores, workshops and possibly accommodation for the workforce.   The ditches which extend right across the Monument have been dated to the second century AD and are interpreted as part of an early Roman field system which were later used as enclosure boundaries for the potteries.

In addition to the potting activities it has been suggested that iron smelting may also have taken place and at one location on the Monument, fragments of iron slag have been found.

The potteries at Crambeck lie at the centre of a wider pottery production area as shown by further kiln sites which have been excavated at Crambe to the south and Norton to the north-east.

The Crambeck industry started production towards the very end of the third century AD and soon started to supply areas of north-east England.   The principal market for Crambeck products appears to have been in north-east Yorkshire and centred on the town of Malton just to the north.   The location of the production centre was determined by the availability of suitable Oxford clay outcrops and the proximity of water transport on the River Derwent.   Once established, in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, Crambeck suddenly became a major supplier throughout the north west and north east of England.   The industry maintained this dominant position until the end of the Roman period when it rapidly fell into decline.

The predominant production was of tableware, especially bowls, mixing bowls known as mortaria and dishes which are to be found at both civilian and military sites throughout the north of England.

Roman pottery making sites in Britain provide important information about the technology of pottery manufacture and its development.   They are rare nationally and all examples which are known to survive in good condition and still retain most of their components are considered to be of national importance.    The Roman pottery at Crambeck survives well and significant information about the original form and technology of the kilns will be preserved through its scheduling as a National Monument.

Recent History

Crambeck Village was developed in 1989 by converting and rebuilding properties previously owned by the Castle Howard Regional Community Home.   The Home was founded by Lord Carlisle in 1856 who installed the Rev. Ishmael Fish as its first supervisor.   Responsibility for the Home changed over the years and its name changed from the Castle Howard Reformatory at Crambeck to Castle Howard Farm School to Castle Howard Approved School before being renamed as the Castle Howard Regional Community Home by Humberside County Council in 1974.

The home was a reform school and housed young lads who had fallen foul of the law or who were in need of special care due to family problems.   There were secure detention facilities for serious offenders, whilst others had an opportunity to learn worthwhile trades such as farming and motor mechanics.   There was a fine gymnasium which was widely used by local sporting clubs and a cinema used by the pupils and visitors.

One project carried out by the boys in the Agriculture class was to develop the nature trail down the edge of the stream beside Crambeck Village. They surveyed and recorded hundreds of wildlife species and excavated the woodland pond to turn a marshy area into the healthy habitat for freshwater creatures that we have today.

At the bottom of Crambeck Lane are the few cottages that remain from the old hamlet of Crambeck.   Back in the 1950s there was a narrow road which went from Castle Howard Station, along the east side of the railway line to the Crambeck level crossing.   Several cottages were sited along this road and rented out by Castle Howard. You can find an account about life in these cottages, written by Norman West who spent his childhood in Crambeck, on the Castle Howard Station website – www.castlehowardstation.com.

Close to the cottages were the ruins of an old flax mill and, during the war, a saw mill was constructed, where trees from the woodland over the Derwent would be towed over the river by rope for processing and then loading onto trains.   A coal yard, supplying the Castle Howard Estate, was also a prominent feature of this area and its remains can be seen to this day.