Breary Banks Field Project


Breary Banks is a landscape resonant with identities forged at a key moment in our histories. First constructed as a camp for navvies - itinerant labourers who built much of the country's industrial infrastructure - it became a training camp for volunteers when war broke out in 1914, briefly receiving German Prisoners of War as the First World War entered its later stages, before returning to its original purpose for the construction of reservoirs to supply the rapidly expanding industrial towns of the West Riding. As such, it offers a unique opportunity to explore Britain's pursuit of war from 1914 and will also contribute to our understanding of the transformations which British society was undergoing at the beginning of the twentieth century. It will also further our understanding of the contribution made by the people of Leeds, Yorkshire and beyond, to the making of modern Britain and the legacy of the Great War.
The site has four key phases: its origins as a camp for navvies working on the construction of reservoirs to supply Leeds with water; the training camp for the Leeds Pals battalion and other locally affiliated troops (the 15th (Leeds), 19th (Bradford) and 20th of the West Yorkshire, followed by 15th Battalion of York & Lancaster Regiment) prior to embarkation; a prisoner of war camp holding German Officers; and finally its reversion to a navvy camp for the completion of the reservoirs.
It enables us to explore three ‘marginal’ communities and their relationships with the landscape in the early twentieth century: those who were initially feared - the navvies and the prisoners of war – and those who were celebrated and commemorated – the recruits, the young men of Leeds and West Yorkshire. It will look at the relationships created within the landscape between these groups and the rural population and explore to what extent they were - or became - connected. It will examine issues of 'the rural', of living conditions, amenities and eco-system services relating to water, and, of course, the impact of the First World War on communities and society, including attitudes to, and definitions of, 'others'.  
As such it fits within the research agendas of the Department of Archaeology which is committed to historical archaeology as a means to tell untold stories about ordinary people caught up in global events. The site's complex and ephemeral archaeology is often what confronts archaeologists seeking to establish new narratives about the recent past.
The project is also the focus of Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Heritage Lottery Fund project ‘Nidderdale and the Great War’.


Project Director

Dr Jonathan Finch, University of York



Helen Goodchild (University of York)

Al Oswald (University of York)



David Barker, Archaeological Consultant Historic Ceramics

Jane McCormish (YAT)



Paul Burgess, Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Manager

Leeds Galleries and Museums

Margaret Nieke, Natural England

Pott & Agill Studies Group

Swinton Estate

Publications and Reports

Finch, J. 2013 Breary Banks Interim Report, Department of Archaeology Field School

Breary Banks fieldwork