The Papers of William Charles Copperthwaite of Malton – Part 1

By Gail Falkingham, Record Assistant

The Copperthwaite Papers

Whilst researching our collections to write a forthcoming blog about the archive material for Malton held by the County Record Office, I found a reference in our collections database to the Copperthwaite papers [Ref: ZUN]. The record entry states “Notes relating to the history of Malton from the Romano-British period to the nineteenth century, made and collected by William Charles Copperthwaite and others”.

ZUN 2  Copperthwaite’s notebook ‘containing illustrations of Roman and British pottery and inscriptions found during excavation work at Norton and elsewhere..’

As an archaeologist myself, I was intrigued to find out more about this collection, which was deposited with the County Record Office in 1978, where it has been looked after ever since.  Thought by archaeologists to have been lost for the past forty years, the material has been hiding in plain sight! The printed catalogue in our searchroom provides a 3-page listing of all the items.

I was excited to discover that not only are there handwritten notes and drafts of lectures on the history of Malton and St Mary’s Priory, Old Malton, but also a notebook containing sketches of Roman finds from the town and surrounding areas. It was this notebook that particularly interested me, as well as two hand-drawn plans of the area around The Lodge and Orchard Field, where the earthwork remains of the former Roman fort and vicus (civilian settlement), and later medieval castle survive.

Earthworks of the Roman fort defences at Orchard Field, Malton. By Stuart and Fiona Jackson / Derventio CC-BY-SA-2.0

Roman Malton and Norton

Nowadays, the site of the Roman fort and vicus in Orchard Fields, between the Malton-Pickering road, disused Malton-Thirsk Railway and the River Derwent, is well-known as Derventio*. However, this was not identified as Roman until 1736, when the York historian Francis Drake believed it to be the site of Camulodunum (now attributed to Colchester). It was not until a hundred years later, in 1836, when a paper by the Rev. George Young on ‘Some Roman Antiquities discovered at Malton’ was read to the Royal Society in London, that the extent and significance of Roman Malton was more widely recognised.

The second half of the 19th century was a time of great change in the town. In July 1845, the York to Scarborough Railway Line was opened. Prior to this, roads and the River Derwent, had been the main routes of travel and communication. Victorian Malton and Norton grew in size and, as they did, extensive remains of Roman and medieval occupation were unearthed. These were being disturbed by building work and the laying out of new roads and drains. A number of local antiquarians built up private collections of these finds, and made notes about what was being found. Many of these collections were later sold and dispersed, others became part of the collections of the Malton Museum.

ZUN 4 ‘Plan of the Roman Camp and the Town and suburbs of Malton the Camulodunum of Ptolemy and the Derventio of Antoninius, showing also the walls and castle of the Norman era’, c. 1865-1866 (36.5” x 30”).

Captain William Charles Copperthwaite (d.1890) was one such antiquarian and a fascinating character. He was Borough Bailiff, and agent to Earl Fitzwilliam in the mid-19th century. Evidence from trade directories of the time shows that he lived at The Lodge in Malton in the late 1850s and 1860s.

ZUN 5 Sketch plan showing the Roman walls, Roman camp at Malton and site of the castle, with sites where archaeological artifacts were discovered, undated (19.75” x 14.5”)

Between 1927 and 1930, the first archaeological excavations within the Roman fort at Malton were undertaken by Dr John Kirk and Philip Corder, focusing on the defences and site of the north-east gateway. In 1949, a Romano-British pottery kiln site was excavated by Raymond Hayes and Sir Edward Whitley across the river in Norton. This, and other finds, confirmed that extensive remains of industrial activity and burials survived alongside the Roman roads heading southwards from the fort. Further excavations in the vicus were carried out by Terry Manby and Peter Wenham between 1968-1970, revealing a town house with hypocaust heating and mosaic floor. In 1978, JF Robinson brought together all these finds in a report and gazetteer in his publication on the archaeology of Malton and Norton for the Yorkshire Archaeological Society. He notes, however, that the Copperthwaite papers were unavailable for him to consult at that time.

Nowadays, information about the archaeology of Malton and previous archaeological investigations is held in the North Yorkshire Historic Environment Record, maintained by the County Council. This consists of a database with associated digital mapping, and an extensive library of archaeological reports and publications; access to this database is available online via the Heritage Gateway. Since 2016, the Department of Archaeology at the University of York has carried out an annual season of archaeological investigations over a large area outside the north-east gate of the Roman fort, running parallel with the disused railway line.

Why this collection is significant

This collection of papers in the County Record Office is a rare and important survival from the 19th century. They are of interest in themselves for the information they contain, and what this can tell us about the history and nationally important archaeology of Malton and Norton. Orchard Field Roman fort, the sites of the castle and St Mary’s Priory are all designated as scheduled monuments. 

The papers have the potential to shed new light on artefacts held in local museums, such as Malton Museum and the Yorkshire Museum in York, and sites recorded in the North Yorkshire Historic Environment Record (NYHER). In addition, they could inform new research and lead to further archaeological discoveries in the area.

* It is possible that a minor Roman town to the south of Stamford Bridge in East Yorkshire is Derventio and that Delgovicia is the Roman settlement at Malton. As no inscriptions with place names have been discovered at either site, there is uncertainty about these attributions.


Next time in The Papers of William Charles Copperthwaite Part 2, we will focus on some of the Prehistoric artefacts illustrated in Copperthwaite’s notebook.


To find out more

A short video about these papers was posted on our Instagram account @north_yorkshire_archive on 30 April 2020.

The North Yorkshire Record Office online catalogue has been updated to include details of the items within the Copperthwaite papers.

Details of the scheduled monuments and listed buildings in Malton and Norton can be found in the National Heritage List for England.

Details of archaeological sites and finds in Malton and surrounding areas can be found in the North Yorkshire Historic Environment Record (NYHER). The online NYHER database may be searched via the Heritage Gateway website.

Malton Museum has photographs of the historic archaeological excavations in Orchard Field, and you can take a virtual tour of their displays.

Further reading

‘History of Malton and Norton’ by NA Hudleston, 1962. GA Pindar & Son: Scarborough.

‘A Gazetteer of Roman Remains in East Yorkshire‘ by M Kitson Clark, 1935. Roman Malton and District Report no. 5. Leeds: Yorkshire Archaeological Society.

‘The Archaeology of Malton and Norton’ by JF Robinson, 1978. Leeds: Yorkshire Archaeological Society.

‘Recent Fieldwork at Malton Roman Fort’ by S Roskams, 2018, in Roman Yorkshire, the newsletter of the Roman Antiquities Section, Yorkshire Archaeological and Historical Society August 2018. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1w–4CMUgZ386C7ZFTxQXsvuYt_mqlKSq/view

‘Derventio (Malton): Roman Fort and Civilian Settlement’ by LP Wenham, 1974. Huddersfield: Cameo Books.

‘The 1968 to 1970 Excavations in the Vicus at Malton, North Yorkshire’ by LP Wenham & B Heywood, 1997. Yorkshire Archaeological Report No.3. Leeds: Yorkshire Archaeological Society, Roman Antiquities Section.

2 thoughts on “The Papers of William Charles Copperthwaite of Malton – Part 1

  1. Thanks Gail, this is really helpful and so interesting. Looking forward to the next instalment. Hoping you might find location of three barrows located near Orchard Fields. No evidence on the ground but would be useful re landscape pre fort.

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