Archaeological Geophysics | The Hermitage, Pontefract

The Hermitage


Did you know…?

The Hermitage was discovered in October 1854 by workmen laying a new sewer in Southgate, the Hermitage consists of two chambers; a well, reached by a spiral staircase of 63 steps and an oratory, both excavated by hand from the solid rock. The oratory, with an altar including a cross, a fireplace and a seat has a domed ceiling (almost 8 feet at its highest point) and measures 14 feet by 8 feet. The first hermit recorded in Pontefract was Peter of Pomfret who was executed by King John in 1213 for predicting his downfall. In 1386 there are records of a Robert de Laythorpe granting the hermit, Brother Adam, the hermitage and accompanying land for life.

Met Consultancy Group (Met) were commissioned to undertake a laser scanning survey of a little known Grade I listed building including The Hermitage.

Project Overview

Met Consultancy Group (Met) were commissioned in 2010 by WSP Development and Transportation Ltd to undertake a laser scanning survey of a little known Grade I listed building. Although not strictly a building, a monument can be found below the Southgate entrance to Pontefract General Infirmary, which has been described as “surprising and remarkable”.

Many archaeological surveys have been carried out over the years but due to the unusual nature of the building a truly representative and accurate survey has never taken place. It has been hewn from the solid sandstone that Pontefract stands on meaning no corners or straight edges exist. The building also spans several levels with a long spiral stone staircase descending 11metres from the main chamber levels down to the lowest level where a well can be found. This would have taken a considerable number of years to cut before becoming a source of drinking water for the hermits.

The layout posed a number of surveying problems starting with accessing the site as you enter from inside the hospital and then descends below ground level. Global Positioning System (GPS) was used to set up external control at street level, and a survey of the road and hospital frontage was undertaken to give the relationship with the underground chambers. A control network was then surveyed through the hospital and into the underground Hermitage, winding down to the basement. Once the control was set up, laser scanning was undertaken to measure on a close grid every facet of the chambers, corridor and spiral staircase. The scanning measured all points of ceilings, walls and floors to give all parties an accurate record for the future.

From the scan a whole series of connected point clouds were produced and these can be interrogated by the clients in future for research. The scan density was close enough to pick out individual cut and chisel marks as well as the more interesting and macabre features such as the carved skeleton. The client also received standard 2D plan and section drawings showing the exact relationship of the underground features to the surface.

This was a very unusual commission and it was a privilege and rare opportunity to use modern survey techniques to help record and perhaps unravel some of the mysteries of a unique and ancient building.