Historical Objects on Country Walks

Finding historical objects on country walks

It is well known that spending some time outdoors for daily exercise can have a positive effect on physical and mental wellbeing.

However, it is an often overlooked fact that observations on country walks can also provide fascinating insights into the natural history, geology and archaeology of an area.

We are pleased to share here the first in a series of articles by renowned local historian Derek Barker on the historical objects which may be seen on walks.

These articles will be based on the historic bulletins of Sidney Jackson (1902-1979), eminent expert in Natural History, Geology and Archaeology and curator in Bradford Museums until 1967.

Important note:

As long as government guidelines on social distancing are being followed people are allowed to leave their homes in certain circumstances. Woodlands, moorlands, public rights of way and other public green spaces remain open for individuals and households to take daily exercise.  Anyone venturing out should follow government advice.

Please use the link below for information and guidance from Bradford Council about the use of public green spaces at the current time:


Sideny & Marie Jackson

Marie and Sidney Jackson


Sidney Jackson ‘Jacko’ (1902 – 1979), despite being self-taught, was in charge of Natural History, Geology and Archaeology at Bradford museums (based at Cartwright Hall) for 28 years before retiring in 1967. I never met him, moving to Bradford in 1979 the year he died, but there must still be Bradford people in their late 60s and 70s who attended one of the memorable educational walks he provided for children. When I looked into this topic, some years ago, I found several of his former pupils were now in senior archaeological and scientific posts. Jacko attended Bradford School of Art in 1915-17 to train as a textile designer: later he was justly famous for the quality of his archaeological drawings. I have provided two examples: showing cup and ring marks, and loose-rail fence posts. He introduced the concept of the glass-fronted beehive to Cartwright Hall, an example of which is still to be found at Cliffe Castle Museum.

Carved stone heads, which he believed were often of ‘Celtic’ origin, were Jackson’s great interest. His card index lists over 650 from all over the country, but particularly West Yorkshire (378). His second love was for Iron Age querns which were once used for hand-powered corn grinding. I think we can be quite certain that few today could match his knowledge in the combined fields of natural history, archaeology and geology. Public enquiries on these subjects were frequently answered by return of post. There cannot be many people in modern Bradford appreciate what a cultural debt is owed to Jacko. Traditional archaeology and natural history are still represented at Cliffe Castle Museum, Keighley but with only a fraction of the prominence he would have considered appropriate. His successor, Stuart Feather, was responsible for the creation of Bradford Industrial Museum. Feather felt, and I feel, that the study of industrial history and archaeology was very suitable for Bradford, but I’m fairly certain his illustrious predecessor would not have agreed. Although not without his faults Sidney Jackson was a unique and irreplaceable man.

The extent to which archaeological inferences can be securely drawn from surface finds, rather than finds discovered in context by excavation, is still an important a question and one which was frequently explored in the excellent Archaeology Group Bulletin which Jacko edited. The journal was founded in May 1954 and appeared monthly until 1967. Copies are still available in Bradford Libraries, and the Yorkshire Archaeological & Historical Society transcribed the whole series for a CD-ROM. The AGB is an extremely good source of information about what might be called ‘country walk archaeology’. What was the function of that odd shaped piece of stone? Is that a prehistoric flint tool? Is that a Neolithic cup and ring mark? What is the likely date of that barn? Topics that have rather been abandoned by the professional but can still be of great interest to the amateur and to which I shall return in the future.

When the Local Studies Library re-opens you can learn more about the subject in ‘Mr Jackson at Cartwright: A Gentleman and Scholar’: The Bradford Antiquary (2012) 3rd series 16, pp. 75-87.

Derek Barker

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