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Pupils from both Hylton Castle and St Benet’s Primary schools were among visitors to a two week archaeological dig in the grounds of Hylton Castle.

The dig led by professional archaeologists from Northern Archaeological Associates (NAA) Ltd working together with local volunteers, was the latest stage in the restoration of this historic landmark and its grounds.

Funding of £2.9m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) supported by an additional £1.5m from Sunderland City Council, the community led cultural heritage project will create a new education centre and visitor attraction at the site.

Local ward councillor and one of the founding members of local voluntary group the Friends of Hylton Castle and Dene who have been campaigning for more than twenty years to return the castle to the centre of community life, Councillor Denny Wilson said: “It’s taken a long time to get the project to the stage where it is today, but it just shows what can be achieved with persistence and determination.

“As a community we’ve been trying to restore the castle for a long time, and kept on going. With the support of Sunderland City Council we’ve attracted Heritage Lottery Fund funding to help achieve our dream.

“ This innovative project is great news not only for people in Hylton Castle, but from across the city. Along with the Tall Ships, City of Culture bid and work on the old Fire Station to create a new city centre arts and leisure venue, it’s further demonstration of Sunderland’s commitment to celebrating its past and looking forward to its future.”

The dig took place in former ornamental gardens to the South of the castle where a new eco-friendly Ground Source Heat Pump is to be installed and in front of the castle where additional parking is planned. The new cultural heritage centre which is scheduled to open in 2018.

Built over three floors, the Castle Gatehouse will accommodate classrooms, a café, exhibition and flexible community spaces for meetings and events. The community run Trust established to manage the project will also see young people appointed to sit on the board alongside adult mentors.

During their visit children from the schools learned all about the castle’s 600 year history, and had a chance to handle finds from the excavations, as well as talk to the volunteers and archaeologists involved in the project.

Uncovered during the excavation was a stretch of a cobbled road, thought to date back about 200 years along with remains of paths, surfaces and a possible wall together with fragments of tiling, pottery and wood.

NAA Ltd project manager on the site, Penny Middleton said: “This dig has been very special, because of the interest and involvement of local volunteers and schools.

“What we’ve helped them uncover are more clues to the past of the historic buildings and grounds. We are particularly excited about the cobbled surface which is part of a circular path known as a carriage turn and probably dates to the 18th century. You can see it depicted on old maps and pictures of the castle.

” Inside the castle, we have also found the remains of the old medieval floor surfaces, as well as later 18th and 19th century features.”

Penny added: “All of this helps us to paint a picture of what life might have been like at Hylton Castle the past. Everyone has been so enthusiastic and interested in the project, especially the kids, who have been brilliant. They are really keen to learn about their past and there should be loads of opportunities to find out more once the new Castle centre has been built. Not too many school kids can say they have a medieval castle on their doorstep! “

Deputy Head at Hylton Castle Primary School in Caithness Road, Mrs Lisa Wood said: “All our of children from years  one to six have visited the site, and were really excited to see what was going on at the archaeological dig.

“As part of history projects within our school they learn about the castle, it’s really important that they know more about the cultural heritage of our community.”

Children who attended the dig from Hylton Caste Primary included Layla Latimer, 10, who said: ”It’s amazing because the way it has been built, how long it’s been up for and the things you can find inside it.”

Classmate Bradley Aslett, 10, added: “ It’s good. It makes Hylton Castle a special place because it’s the only castle in Sunderland.”

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