Welcome ! This is a blog for people who want to be a friend of Wincobank Hill, for those who are fascinated, curious or concerned about the unique hill fort set high above Sheffield's Don Valley, encircled by ancient woodland that conceals the mysteries of history.

Who was here and why? Did they live, work or keep watch here? What part did this place play in the politics of an emerging nation? Was this the cradle of the British metal industry? And where was the water?

So many people are beginning to retell their stories, ask good questions and make suggestions that it's time to share what is happening ....

Sunday, 25 May 2014

The Hillfort is ready and waiting

Wincobank Hillfort is ready and waiting for the thousands of visitors who will come to see the world's greatest cycle race as the riders toil up the twisting defensive approach of Jenkin Road and fly down Newman Road.  The ghosts on the timeless vantage point have seen much, but never so much fuss since the Romans were here.

Come and see for yourself, before the crowds come. Join us for our community festival on Saturday 5th July and on the Sunday for the great spectacle itself.

Monday, 31 March 2014

The History Mystery Rio Tinto Expedition

Photos by Byron Cowling and Hilary Allen

In January 2014 a delegation from Wincobank in Sheffield travelled to the vast Rio Tinto mine in southern Spain to find the WW1 war memorial the creation of which was documented in a 1920s album that Byron's children had found in a garden some years ago when houses were being cleared ready for demolition on the Flower Estate, in Wincobank.

The diagrams and archaeological photographs revealed that the axles of four huge Roman water wheels had been melted down to provide the bronze for the plaques which were inscribed with the names of the British directors of Rio Tinto who had died in the Great War.
Earlier investigations had confirmed that a number of water wheels had been excavated at Rio Tinto and part of one is on display at the British Museum.

An additional exhibit at the British Museum shows an axle and other metal work from the same excavation.

It is extraordinary enough that such priceless artefacts were recycled in this way.  The locals were very curious as to why there was even a WW1 memorial when Spain did not take part in to war.

 The diagram shows how the Romans used these water wheels to pump water from the mine.                                                             
For us the question is -  how and why did this mysterious album with its unique content end up in a back garden in the Flower Estate in Sheffield?

For more information on the Wincobank History Mystery you may like to read the diary entries below and look out for more information on our website https://www.wincobankhill.btck.co.uk





Many will now know the story behind the journey but for those who don’t please bear with me.

Some time ago now members of Friends of Wincobank Hill were working with Dr Roger Doonan of Sheffield University, learning the task of Geophysics and mapping of the hilltop using magnetic resonance equipment.

While taking a break Dr Roger, Byron Cowling and I, David Green, sat discussing what we may find from the results and spoke about the lack of a major water source, a well now found by our friend Mike Bruin.

At this point Byron said that he had a book at home on wells and water wheels and proceeded to fetch it.

On his return he presented me with what looked like a very old scrap book.

Turning the first page the old book became a very old Photo-album and after the next few pages I suddenly realised the prints were of silver nitrate process around the turn of the century.

I closed the album and passed it to Roger saying - this has been sent for you.

Dr Roger Doonan is an archaeologist in the field of Metallurgy and one of
only a few people in the country to recognise the serious importance of the photo-album at this first viewing.




After a long drive from Faro Portugal to Bella Vista Spain we (Hilary, Ken, Byron, Roger & David) were all pretty tired so after dropping off Hillary & Ken at the Victorian House at Bella Vista where they were staying we three went off to find our Hostel in Rio Tinto across the main road.

We were just a little bit hungry by this time so we decided to have a walk through the town in search of a hot meal. The town was strangely quiet I thought.

After introducing Byron to Deep Fried Choc√≥ Tapas and a reasonably priced meal it was off to bed. Incidentally Choc√≥’s was deep fried Cuttlefish in batter.

 DAY 2 MONDAY 13th JANUARY 20014

Today Roger made contact with the Museum Archive people at Rio Tinto and made an appointment to meet.

While we waited for the appointment time we went off to pick up Hilary and Ken at Bella Vista and having some time to kill we had a quick walk to find the Monument (page 1 in the album).

This proved easier than we thought and we got our first look at the actual monument to the fallen of Rio Tinto Company who gave their lives in the 1st world war.

Byron posed by the monument to give us some scale to the scene.

Inspecting the plaque we found no visible makers mark.

Next we went to visit the museum itself, I was quite impressed with the re-construction of a Roman Mine.

We had a good look round the museum until it was time to meet the archivist in another building down the road.

Roger took the lead introducing us all and it became very difficult as the gentleman spoke no English and between us we managed to form a conversation.

Roger opened the album at the first page and with gasps of excitement and the odd fabiloso and marveloso we had got his attention.

We arranged to meet next morning to see the archive and after an exchange of gifts reminiscent of exchanging shirts at a football match we left a very excited fellow.

After lunch we set off to inspect Bella Vista Township and a visit to the Victorian Managers Cassa later in the day we had booked earlier at the museum.

Returning to the monument it was decided to have a climb up the spoil heaps that were almost on the doorstep and take a look around.

It was great having our very own Geologist with us to explain the multitude of different ore material around us.

With second wind Roger and Byron shot off and we three brought up the rear they had found the first of our other goals a massive mine working was literally over the next hill and we five were in awe at the sight that met us. 

The Devils Hole - not quite sure where that name came from but given to a mine working, a man made structure dug out of the country side was by far the most awesome sight you could imagine.

Time told us when we had to leave and we made our way back to Cassa 21 the home of the Managers of Rio Tinto Company.

The house was just as it was when the last manager left.

Our Guide around the house pointed us in the right direction for the Ingles Cemetery.

When we got there we found the cemetery was extremely over grown and a much neglected piece of land.

I managed to get a few names but many of the graves were damaged.


This morning we split up with Byron and Roger heading for the archive and armed with lots of questions.

Although they seemed to get very little in the way of answers it was obvious that we needed a visit to the London Offices of Rio Tinto and thankfully we now had the name of a company archivist here in Rio Tinto.

The Gift I mentioned earlier was a very large directory of the company archive, a very useful gift indeed.

While this was going on we three intrepid researchers went off set to match the photographs of the album to now time.

Hilary's natural friendliness led to her striking up a somewhat one way conversation with a passing couple of young men of whom we still don’t know what they were doing in Bella Vista that day.

Between us we managed to find out that one of the guys was a photographer and journalist and we three were interviewed and photographed, we showed them the album and explained our visit.

Later, on our walk through and photo-logging Hilary and our little band were invited to visit the Bella Vista Social Club. We accepted and waited for Roger and Byron to arrive.

As we entered the club we soon realised that it had been kept in its Victorian Style, this was obviously the place for the management to meet after a days work and for the ladies to relax around the pool or have a tennis match during the day

After lunch we set off to search for the Roman Cemetery site and the river with such an aptly named site.

We found the Cemetery but was unable to gain access the Roman Cemetery was nestled if nestled is a good term between the absolutely huge business of Ore collection.

Further on our trek we came upon the Rio Tinto and a damaged bridge that once spanned the Red River.

Roger Byron and Ken included, all went into boy mode and tried their best to scare the living daylights out of Hillary and I, almost succeeding may I add.

After time and a pause for a photo shoot to log our arrival we set off back to our accommodation to clean up before our evening meal.

A very pleasant evening was spent at a bar restaurant themed on the movie El Corazon De La Tierra the Heart of the Earth and we believe many of the cast had visited there as well.

After the Meal we all went off to our beds.

Arriving back at our hostel we were met with a message from the Civil Civitas who requested a meeting to talk.

Being a small township we first thought word had gone round about 3 strangers in town and we laughed over what it could be about so after imagining the worse that it could be Roger replied and offered to meet next morning.


Apparently when the young man interviewed us yesterday had posted his piece to the local paper via email, so not only did the paper get the report but so did every Spanish speaking country in the world as wide as Venezuela in South America.

The Local Civil Civitas turned out to be Senior Rafael Pera Carrasco the Director for Tourism & Trade at the Council of Culture and Senior Miguel Bunguellos Perina a very good English speaking archaeologist, who worked for the Civic Council and he had learnt his English whilst working in York as a conservator.

We spoke about who we were and about our journey to Rio Tinto.

We then showed them the album and they were overjoyed and excited that we were ordinary folk on a Quest.

Before they had to leave they apologised on behalf of the Lady Lord Mayor who was upset she could not meet us as she was hospitalised and in labour, we were shocked that she was upset not to meet us and we sent her our best wishes.

Reviewing our conversation we now had yet another Spanish friend to add to our quest.

During our conversation about the names in the album Miguel told us the story of a Nurse Gladys Naylor who faithfully tendered the Grave of the Man With No Name until she passed away. (WW2 war hero whose dead body was washed up on Spanish Shores with documents planted upon him to mislead the Germans need to watch the film) we were surprised to find her name in the Rio Tinto archive document.                    

Roger, Byron and Myself set of to pick up Ken and Hilary.

Hillary had decided today was a good day to relax and have some me time so the four of us decided a little road trip was in order.

We set off towards the Roman Cemetery where materials were taken to make the Memorial Column and we took in some of the most awesome sites of man’s destruction of the landscape and yet in that act, creating a vista given its own kind of beauty, I could not help thinking about the massive loss of life during and after the removal of the Ore though.

Heading back after our little jaunt we just had to stop off at the round-about at the end of the divide road that separated Bella Vista from Rio Tinto, to see a railway engine stationed at its centre.

After collecting Hilary we decided we would take the opportunity to do the museum visit to some mine workings.

Hilary had discovered that their landlord at the Victorian House was responsible for the rescue and preservation of artifacts (statues and columns) from The Roman Cemetery having used the mattresses from his beds to move them.

On display at the local museum. Visiting the museum de minas was very interesting and we were to see a Little Devils Hole small in comparison to our first find but non the less spectacular.

On an impulse to see where a road lead us, we took what can only be described as a scary ride to who knows where and we were chased by a huge dog who nearly caught up with the car, we then found a spot of according to Roger as a wonderful Example of Volcanos at work in a Strange Environment, I think?

On our return to Bella Vista we collected our bags and
Left heading for Huelva which was to be our next resting place stopping off at Niebla on the way,


Last night we arrived at Huelva quite late but it didn’t stop us from taking a night view of the city and port.

Today we got up quite early so as to go down to the port to see the massive iron steel construction at the end of the Rio Tinto Rail Line which brought the Ore to be delivered by ship around the world.

We were not disappointed the working of the steel columns and iron girders were brilliant.

Atoning to the age of the construction mention was made to the fact that before Rail had arrived it was mule trains that transported the Ore. Poor mules.

We decided to head for Niebla following the coast line and as we were leaving Huelva I managed to take a snap shot of a giant statue that I have now discovered to be that of Christopher Columbus.

We then had a brief stop at Playa De Matalascanas where Byron thought it might be fun to take a dip but settled on a paddle instead.

I, on the other hand, found a statue to Sancho Panza a character featured in the book Don Quixote apparently the patron of the apartment block in which the statue sits.

Moving away from fictional characters this part of our Journey was in search of Dame Enid Whishaw who is mentioned in the Album along with the archaeological digs at Niebla.

We finally arrived in Niebla and walked the historic and somewhat ancient walled city.

It was strange to see the Roman Bridge still spanning the Rio Tinto.

The fellas set off to search for the caves pictured in the Album whilst I and Hilary set off to see what was around us.

Roger Byron and Ken found a vandalised footpath come walk way and set off to investigate.

Damaged walkways not being to my liking I entered a gate marked by a plaque as Embarkation Point and went inside.

Opening out into a very large area and with a lots of imagination it could have been a busy market area or for warehousing and shipping business and what looked like five wells although it was suggested that four that were near the walls may have been the bases for some sort of crane and pulley idea.

I mentioned ancient walls because of the Roman Bridge and the finding of what looked like Hypocaust fragments.

I also found Roger Byron and Ken, Roger & Byron moving a steel girder to repair the walkway (mad or what).     

After a very pleasant day we were saddened by the fact that we did not find the cave workings or the school created by Dame Enid Whishaw but that will do for the next trip.

It was back to our hostel for the evening.

Although I haven’t said much about our accommodation I found staying in hostels a pleasant change especially the one in Huelva which was a converted Hacienda and very pleasant.


Another early start because it was our day off and sightseeing was the order of the day.

Given the distance between Cadiz and Huelva and Seville and Huelva, Seville was to be our day out.

Arriving in Seville we found a city of beautiful architecture and plenty of brilliant photo opportunities and space to walk around.

After a pleasant walk along by the river we arrived at my destination The Cathedral. where to find Christopher Columbus his coffin carried aloft by Conquistadors was a fine monument. And the great frieze which was to my sadness covered undergoing conservation work, Seville Cathedral is a beautiful must see visit.

Roger had learnt that Bernard Whishaw the husband of Dame E.M. Whishaw was buried somewhere In Seville and Byron found The Sign of the Illuminate, in a small Cathedral Chapel all very Dan Brown.

We then went off in search of the Bullring which when we got there was closed.

Lots left to search for in Seville especially Dame Enid’s story.

A very nice day out none the less.

 Sometime during the week Roger received a message from Penny Rea back in England that a Jim Royal who had seen the article in the Huelva news about our visit was keen to meet us.  So we arranged to meet at a petrol station outside the town so he could guide us to his home.

It was getting late but we were made very welcome by Jim, his wife and two lovely daughters. Jim is a Geologist with a big interest in the 1st World War and had done some research into the Monument. He gave us some interesting pointers for us to follow up later.

Our short visit was great and its good to have another friend to add to the list.


So its the last day in Spain and back to Faro Portugal.

I think it goes without saying that the company was great and that Roger deserves a mention.

It was Roger who organised everything and yet kept it fluid. His driving skills kept us on a safe path even though he loved buzzing the car with the lane markings to try out Hilary’s temper.

Cheers to our new friends in Spain and hope to see you again sometime. 

Adios Amigos!


Friday, 31 January 2014

Five go to Rio Tinto: 12th - 18th January 2014

On Sunday 12th January Byron Cowling, David Green, Hilary Allen, Ken Allen and Roger Doonan travelled to Rio Tinto in Andalucia, Southern Spain to see for themselves the war memorial and the sites of the photographs in the album found by one of Byron's children about ten years ago. We wanted to know more about the people named on the memorial plaque and, most of all - “What was the connection with Wincobank and Sheffield? – How did the album arrive here?” We wanted to take “then and now” photos of the sites depicted in the album and find out as much as we could about the mine – especially during the time period of the album. Work stopped in the mine about ten years ago, but a local resident , a retired engineer, was hopeful that it might reopen sometime in the future.
We were successful in doing many exciting things and making good contacts but made only a beginning on our main objectives.
The monument is situated in the “English village”[Barrio Ingles], built for British employees at the beginning of the last century, called “Bella Vista”. This was an attempt  at a “little England” built in an English style, but with local materials,so that the mine officials and their families could live in the manner to which they were accustomed  separated from their other employees.
We were able to take” then and now” photos here though there are a great many trees now blocking what had obviously been a clear, or cleared, view with later buildings  encroaching on the monument space. Bella Vista is,surprisingly, adjacent to the deep workings of the mine. Our first view of the nearest crater was absolutely mind-blowing in its size,colours and depth – quite  shockingly beautiful . We found the English cemetery, now in disrepair, where the British employees were buried ,again separate from those of other nationalities.“Any  Sheffield names “wondered Dave.
We were unable to visit the Roman necropolis shown in the album  as it was fenced off and declared unsafe, but we took photos through the gate. In the town itself we visited the museum where the artefacts found on the site are on display, along with a replication of the underground mine workings and an actual railway engine with elegant wooden carriages furnished with fabulous leather seats that could be made into beds for the directors and important visitors to the mine. Byron and  Roger went into the museum archives to see if the answers to any of our questions could be found there but the files were so dense and references hard to follow so that with limited time they had little success. However the archivists  were  interested in our  search and will let us know if they find anything themselves. We had found a useful contact.
Whilst they were there the rest of us, whilst taking photos in Bella Vista, also made an interesting contact. Speaking almost no Spanish, Dave speaks a little, we met  by chance a journalist,who spoke no English but was very interested in the album . He took photos of us with the album and the next day arrived with civic dignitaries, [and an English speaking interpreter], to interview us. Thus we made it into the Rio Tinto newspaper and the internet!
We visited other areas of the mine and the lovely Moorish walled town of Niebla , the site of an archaeological dig shown in the album. The red river – rio Tinto – flows under a Roman bridge past this town. We had learned that the colour of the river is not due to working the mine but to natural leaching of the minerals. This colour is recorded in ancient documents.
The city of Huelva is located where the two rivers  Tinto  and Odiel join and flow together into the  Atlantic. Here we walked on part of the stunning double-storied pier that took two levels of train tracks carrying minerals from Rio Tinto mines to ships, and so across the world. Made from girders - from Scotland!
A final free day took us to Seville and ,on the way back to Huelva, to the home of an English geologist who had emailed Penny back in Wincobank. She emailed us. His private hobby was military history and he was therefore also interested in the story behind the war memorial. Hopefully another useful contact. 

We returned home with no answers, more questions, but a clearer picture of Rio Tinto itself and some useful threads in the story of the album.

To see the article in the Huelva News click here   There is an automated translation facility on the web page.
To hear a more from the intrepid travellers and to see their photos, come along to the meeting of Friends of Wincobank Hill from 6.30pm on Thursday 6th February at Upper Wincobank Chapel, Wincobank Avenue S5 6BB

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Penny reporting from Caerau Hillfort, Cardiff

There's something pretty special going on up a hill in Cardiff.  Not just any hill - but one just like ours.  And what's nice is that we were invited to join the party. The logistics of organising a coach trip to Wales defeated us and, as there really wasn't room in Cousin Betty's bungalow for all the Friends of Wincobank Hill, I went on my own with a mission to bring back the news of those long lost Celts who once lived on the hillfort in the district of West Cardiff now known as Caerau and Ely.

I just missed the weekend community dig and celebratory hog roast that had followed the first fortnight of excavation. I didn't stoop to pick up a trowel, neither did I shake the sieve,  But I talked to people and I listened.  And now I'm trying to remember what was said.  There was just so much that made me realise how similar the two projects are and just how much we can learn from each other.

Wincobank has its trials with speculative builders trying to plug the greenspace gaps between houses.
Fifteen years ago or so, Caerau was under threat from a new dual carriageway planned to run right through the middle of the hillfort.  A damage limitation compromise still resulted in the loss of a slice of woodland. You can just see the road cutting between the trees.
 The housing development couldn't get much closer either, Heritage Close is exactly what it says - close to the heritage - probably on top of it.   Just like the houses on Fort Hill Road are almost part of Wincobank Hillfort.

All the other challenges are there too - vandalism, litter, graffiti, off road vehicles.  The woodland paths are overgrown and steep. Barbed wire encloses the summit to contain the cattle who usually graze on the hillfort. The picturesque ruin of St Mary's Church is a focus for anti-social behaviour and local people, who remember it as an active church and lively youth club are trying to keep it tidy and protect the ancient graves.

It is the Friends of St Mary's who are the main community partners and several members were on site, working in the blazing sun to scrape away the dry and dusty soil searching for fragments of molten metal in the clay that might suggest early metal working. Not far away, a team of university students were gradually revealing the gulley and post holes of an enormous round house that was large enough to shelter three generations of a family along with their cattle. I was really impressed with the patience and persistence of the diggers and how willing they were to explain to visitors what they were doing and how important this experience was to them.

Every find was carefully logged on an individual sheet, bagged up and sent to the finds store at the local Glyn Derw High School where school pupils had the opportunity to help sort and wash the collection.  The school staff had welcomed the opportunity to be involved with this three year project and were delighted that their young people were able to benefit from working alongside the university students.  There was clearly a very good relationship between university and school based on an understanding of each other's needs and priorities. The school staff had found opportunities for meaningful history research, art, creative writing and technology and talked about individual children who had  been really inspired and affected by the project.

There was much talk about a beautiful brooch that had been found, but wherever I went it seemed to be somewhere else.  The closest I got to this finding it was this enlarged photograph pinned on the notice board in the school art room so I am still guessing that this it.  I was amazed that such a beautiful piece could survive and keep its colour for thousands of years.  Perhaps this brooch will appear in the history books of the future and I will be able to say I was near to its discovery and I think I nearly saw it. Hundreds of school children and community volunteers will certainly be able to tell their grandchildren that they saw it, held it and remember the excitement. A priceless memory.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Making iron the Iron Age Way

In April 2013, as part of the Woolley Woods Bluebell Festival, local people were offered the chance to take part in a two-day Ancient Metallurgy course, learning how our early ancesters may have made iron.  Scroll down to see how plenty of mud, straw, iron ore, charcoal, muscle power to pump the giant bellows and a lot of patience produced results and smiles all round.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

University Challenge

.   Climbing Wincobank Hill was a misty and mysterious experience for 30 students from the University of Sheffield who were out on a visit as part of their Heritage,  Place and Community Module.
On arrival at nearby Upper Wincobank Chapel, they were given a brief introduction to the history of the area and an outline of the challenge of trying to engage all  local residents in preserving and protecting the heritage through activity that includes and benefits all sections of the community.  After a walk through the woods and around the perimeter of the hill fort the group returned to the chapel where they shared their ideas on how to make the most of the site and find a win-win solution to some of the major issues such as the traditional, albeit illegal use of the site for off road motor cycles.  There were some really thoughtful suggestions made and it is to be hoped that some of the students will opt to use Wincobank Hill as the subject of their case study and share their work with us.  A lovely group - please come again.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Litter ! what are we going to do ?

 What are we, as a nation, going to do about the growing problem of litter and dumping?  As council services are cut and the charge for disposal of rubbish increases how are we going to prevent our open spaces degenerating into rubbish dumps?

So many people complain about the council not clearing up the streets and alleyways that it may have been better if the council had never cleared it up in the first place because it has made us lazy.  We expect someone else to do the dirty work.
It is reasonable to say that we should not have to clear up after others - so therefore we need to work harder at stopping dumping in the first place.  Campaigning for less packaging, more biodegradable material and recycling of glass bottle would help.  The glass problem has got worse since the supermarkets started selling alcohol and refused to operate the deposit system that off-licences had run for years.  But they do on the continent.  A litter fine can be levied, but by whom?  The council do try to track people down but the bags of used nappies we picked up today had  no address.
 In Singapore there is a £1,000 fine for littering.  That would be worth collecting.  It is up to us to lobby for action to prevent our open spaces becoming a health hazard.  It is also up to us to get out there and pick it up.  Many people do, but we need more.

Wincobank Wombles will be out on Wincobank Hill every second Saturday in the month this year, tidying up, cutting back the new growth on the hill fort and having a laugh with friends.   Bring the family and come and help.  10 am - 12.30pm . Meet at Upper Wincobank Chapel.