A day looking after Surrey’s Heritage…

Working as a Historic Environment Record (HER) Assistant means that my day is pretty varied. I spend my time working on the database and with GIS mapping, looking at historic maps and photography as well as reading archaeological reports and carrying out small pieces of research. Our main roles are to maintain and enrich the HER and to carry out searches of the database for a whole range of people. Usually we are providing information to commercial archaeological units, but we also get requests from people interested in their local area and academic researchers.

'Surrey Described and Divided into Hundreds' John Speed. Copyright Surrey County Council 1970.

‘Surrey Described and Divided into Hundreds’ John Speed. Copyright Surrey County Council 1970.

This morning we had a number of searches to carry out. For the most part, the data requested was to be used in desk-based assessments as part of the pre-application planning process. For us, this involves extracting all the data within a specified radius of a site so that the company writing the report can try to identify the archaeological potential of the site – basically they can make an assessment to see if their proposed development will impact on any heritage assets, either above or below ground. In checking through the results of the search, you get a chance to look at some of the interesting sites and buildings thrown up in the results. As I have only just moved to the county everyday there is something new to learn about. We also had a very large search to run for a PhD student so the computer was left to chug along while I moved on to the next task …..

1948 aerial photograph of the Dunsfold area, captured by RAF and later used by Ordnance Survey. © Crown

1948 aerial photograph of the Dunsfold area, captured by RAF and later used by Ordnance Survey. © Crown

We have a huge scope in terms of enriching the database and one of the ways we have been getting a wider range of information into the HER is through a number of volunteer projects. Some people have come to us with a project in mind, for example we have a recent graduate from the local university who is interested in Victorian hospitals and asylums and has been adding some really high quality research to our database – which is always very welcome! At the moment we are putting together a project on WW1 and WW2 airfields, we have some 1946-7 RAF aerial photographs in our archives, firstly we need to work out which parts of the county they cover before we start looking to identify the aerodromes – which, alongside our 1948 photographs should make a really exciting volunteer project. It will also link nicely to a project one of our other volunteers has been doing identifying air crash sites in the county. So I spent the rest of the morning working on a project design for this task.

The afternoon was spent updating the database with information that has come to us through archaeological reports on work carried out across the county. Doing this job you read about all the archaeological work carried out  and you really get a good sense of the history and development of the region you work in. Our other HER assistant has been working on inputting an interesting multi-phase site in Dorking which revealed all sorts of interesting features, such as a Middle Bronze Age ring ditch and a mid 13th century well. We have a fantastically rich dataset to look after and add to which offers us so many opportunities. Not only does it allow us to protect the archaeological resource, through providing detailed information on the county, but it places you in prime position to really get a hold of the archaeological landscape, how it developed and begin to look at gaps in our understanding and ways of filling those voids.

Everything needed to keep the HER updated

Everything needed to keep the HER updated!!

Whilst we are not out making new discoveries everyday, the excitement in our work is when we get to bring the information together so links and wider understandings can be made… archaeology, it’s all about the context!

The Surrey HER sits within a wider Heritage Conservation Team, other members of the HER team, one of our Development Control Officers and the County Archaeologist have written about there day, so head over and have a look….

Our HER Officer has been looking at data for Natural England, who will use the information on heritage assets to help land owners best manage their environment. The data he has been supplying help to make recommendations on how best to protect heritage assets on the land.

One member of our team is running two roles at the moment and as the Admin. Assistant and a HER Assistant he is the link between all sides of our team

One of our Development Control Officers was in the office today, although he has a interesting site visit to a quarry with plenty of archaeology to look forward to on Monday, and has written about his main tasks.

And finally our Team Manager has listed some of the responsibilities he has and how he had to deal with them today.