Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

England East Midlands


From the industrial heartland of Derby through to the rural vistas of the Peak District, Derbyshire has much to offer. Several prehistoric stone circles can be found up on the Peaks, including Arbor Low and the Nine Ladies, erected during the Late Neolithic or Bronze Ages. Evidence of Roman activity is less dramatic, although traces can be seen at sites like the Navio Roman fort. Derbyshire’s medieval heritage includes the castles at Codnor and Peveril as well as religious sites such as Derby Cathedral and the Church of St Mary and All Saints, Chesterfield, known for its distinctive twisted spire. Post-medieval sites include elite residences like Bolsover Castle and Chatsworth House, both built in the 17th century. Derbyshire also has a rich industrial heritage, reflected at sites like Magpie Mine, used to mine lead from the 18th century through to the 1950s, and the Derby Silk Mill, now home to the Museum of Making.


Part of the East Midlands, Leicestershire lies at the heart of England. As well as a few scattered round barrows, the area’s prehistoric communities are represented by the Iron Age hillforts at Burrough Hill and Beacon Hill. Later part of Roman Britain, it was during this period that the settlement of Ratae Corieltauvorum grew up, forming the basis for the modern city of Leicester, now Leicestershire’s county town. As well as having part of its Roman baths still standing, the city is also home to the ruins of a medieval Augustinian abbey. England’s Middle Ages was brought to an end with the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, in which King Richard III was killed. After his body was rediscovered by archaeologists in 2012, it was reburied in Leicester Cathedral, a largely Victorian structure. Other prominent heritage sites in Leicestershire include the 17th-century Stanford Hall and the late 19th-century Stonywell.


The second largest county in England, Lincolnshire is characterised by its broad, flat landscapes. Some of the oldest evidence for human habitation here comes from the Early Neolithic long barrows known evocatively as the Deadmen’s Graves. The Romans subsequently established the settlement of Lindum Colonia, which eventually evolved into the county town of Lincoln. Several Roman features, like the Newport Arch, can still be seen in the city. Lincolnshire also has a range of medieval sites, from the castles at Tattershall and Bolingbroke to the Lincoln Medieval Bishops’ Palace, standing in the shadow of Lincoln Cathedral. The county is also home to a number of significant post-medieval houses, from the 15th-century Gainsborough Old Hall, which King Henry VIII himself visited, to the 17th-century Woolsthorpe Manor, where world-famous physicist Isaac Newton was born and raised.


Set in the very centre of England, Northamptonshire is sometimes called the “Rose of the Shires.” There are various hillforts in the county, as at Borough Hill and Rainsborough Camp, reflecting the divisions and tensions of Iron Age Britain. After the Roman invasion, the area became home to elite residences like the villa at Piddington as well as several Roman settlements, now beneath modern towns like Irchester and Towcester. Northamptonshire’s varied medieval heritage includes the rare Anglo-Saxon church at Earls Barton, the earthworks of Fotheringhay Castle, and the 13th-century Eleanor Crosses at Geddington and Hardingstone. One of the most unusual buildings in the county, and perhaps all of England, is the 16th-century Rushton Triangular Lodge. The county town of Northampton developed during the Middle Ages and later became a major international hub for shoemaking, a heritage explored at the Northampton Shoe Museum.


If there is one thing that Nottinghamshire is famous for above all else, it is the legendary medieval outlaw Robin Hood, who in traditional tales dwelled with his Merry Men in the county’s Sherwood Forest. Today, there are many traces of the Middle Ages found across this county, from the ornate decorations of Southwell Minster to the ruins of Mattersey Priory, and from the imperious walls of Newark Castle to the humble medieval field systems still visible at Laxton. However, Nottinghamshire also has an older history; on the border with Derbyshire lies Creswell Crags, a cave in which has been found England’s oldest rock art, dating from the Palaeolithic period. The county is also home to several significant post-medieval and modern heritage sites, from the 16th-century country house at Rufford Abbey to the 19th-century Southwell Workhouse and a perfectly preserved 1920s suburban home, Mr Straw’s House, in Worksop.


Rutland has the distinction of being the smallest of England’s historic counties and in the latter half of the 20th century had to fend off being annexed into some of its larger neighbours. Evidence for Roman activity in the county comes in the form of a stone shrine discovered on the Rutland Water Nature Reserve in 2008. Possible evidence of a Norman fortification can be found at Alstoe Castle, which survives as a series of earthworks, while later in the Middle Ages the area became home to an Augustinian community at Brooke Priory. It was possibly monks from another monastic settlement, Thorney Abbey, who created the Old Maze at Wing, which survives to the present as one of England’s most intriguing heritage sites. Those interested in early modern history will want to visit Rutland’s county town at Oakham, home both to a fortified manor house and to a 17th-century market cross and stocks.