Hall’s past uncovered by ancient practice of dowsing

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THE ancient art of dowsing has been used to uncover the secrets of the past dating back almost a thousand years at one of Yorkshire’s stately homes.

Research has been compiled over more than 18 months in the hope of establishing the lay-out of medieval buildings at Markenfield Hall, near Ripon.

The study discovered evidence of tracks, pathways and clusters of dwellings linked to the original medieval village to the south of the hall, as well as a burial site for plague victims.

A team from the Ridings Dowsers, which has members from across Yorkshire and as far afield as Cumbria and Manchester, visited the hall to carry out the research.

Dowsing rods were used to shed new light on the structures dating from 1050, and the findings will be showcased in an exhibition when the hall opens to the public this month.

One of the researchers was the treasurer of the Ridings Dowsers, Mike Barwell, who compiled a report which has formed the basis of the exhibition.

Mr Barwell, a retired company director who lives in South Cave in East Yorkshire, admitted many people are sceptical of the use of dowsing to uncover historical artefacts and archaeology as no actual excavations take place. But he maintained the technique, which employs wooden or metal rods that apparently move of their own accord to pinpoint the location of hidden items and water sources, has a proven track record.

He added: “There is undoubtedly a lot of cynics out there, but dowsing provides the opportunity to collate and compile information on a huge array of things that are hidden below ground.

“We were extremely privileged to have the opportunity to visit Markenfield Hall. It is such a wonderful place, and the research has given some very interesting findings.

“We all leave a footprint behind – both physically and spiritually – wherever we go, and dowsing allows us to glean an understanding through a metaphysical connection.”

The team of dowsers were called in by Markenfield Hall’s owners, playwright Ian Curteis and his wife after they were introduced by a mutual friend.

Mr Curteis said: “My wife and I were highly sceptical when we were first introduced to the Ridings Dowsers.

“They came to the hall one Saturday lunchtime and we all stood in the courtyard with dowsing rods in hand, not knowing what to expect.

“We could not have been more surprised or amazed when the rods began to move of their own accord as we walked over a known water source.

“What was even more astonishing was the moment that the dowsers handed the rods over to me – they asked me to focus on a specific period in time, and as I walked across the courtyard the rods started to move – I was dowsing for history.”

The hall lays claim to being one of the finest surviving 14th century English country houses and was built by John de Markenfield, a servant of Edward II. But the dowsers’ findings suggest the setting of the hall’s courtyard dates back as far as 1050, when a building was used to house animals as well as a weapons store and a tower.

The research was carried out over weekends in October 2010 and April last year and the dowsers marked the outline of the vanished buildings with coloured flags.

Mr Curteis said: “From the ground (the flags) seemed to be a jumble of colours – but when viewed from above all of a sudden the outlines became clear.

“It was almost possible to imagine the courtyard as it would have been in medieval times – a bustling hive of activity and alive with the comings and goings of an important family household.”

A copy of the dowsers’ report and photographs illustrating the findings will be on show when the hall opens to the public from June 17 to 30 from 2pm to 5pm daily.

paul.jeeves@ypn.co.uk