The Shropshire Historic Environment Record (HER, also known as the Shropshire Sites and Monuments Record or SMR) is a continuously expanding resource covering all aspects of the historic environment. It includes not only archaeological sites, finds and features, but also historic buildings, structures and landscapes. The HER is compiled and maintained by the Historic Environment Team at Shropshire Council. It covers the whole of the historic county of Shropshire, including Telford and Wrekin. See our records online at http://search.shropshirehistory.org.uk/collections/search/advanced/

The devil is in the diversity: July in Shropshire HER

As the wonderful Day of Archaeology project draws to a close, I am sure you will join me in thanking the organisers for highlighting the sheer variety of what archaeologists do, day in, day out. For a discipline that, I feel, is uniquely poised to explore, investigate and challenge the diversity of human beahviour in all its glory, it is, I hope, fitting that I am choosing the final Day of Archaeology post from Shropshire Historic Environment Record (HER) to celebrate some of the diversity of what we do, in recording the past of the largest inland county in England.

A bit of a grandiose mission statement for this post, but for the last 40 years, the HER has played a crucial role in ensuring that the diversity of heritage in the county is properly recorded, and forms a key resource for anyone interested in finding out further about sites, finds and buildings – from the Palaeolithic period to the 20th century.

It’s not just Castles and Hillforts

Shropshire Historic Environment Record holds nearly 40,000 records, collected over 40 years, of findspots, buildings, structures and landscapes of historic and archaeological interest. In fact, our mission statement, if you like, is to pull together information on all features which relate to the way humans have used, settled in and exploited the landscapes of Shropshire.

I always start by saying “It’s not just about castles and hillforts”, although these obviously feature in our work, and are something that the Marches border area is justifiably famed for.

The HER has recently been involved in work at two castle sites, in fact, funded by the Castle Studies Trust. This has involved using the latest digital technology to acquire detailed 3d models of these sites. This example, from Castle Pulverbatch, shows the power of this technology. By detailed analysis of this metrically accurate survey data, we will be able to investigate the earthworks of the motte and its two baileys – linking this with the results of recent geophysical survey which has been undertaken on this site.

Flying high: Aerial photography

Shropshire Council has been lucky, over the past decade to be directly involved in carrying out aerial survey, funded by Historic England. As detailed in a previous Day of Archaeology post this programme of survey continues to reveal many new archaeological sites (mainly showing as cropmarks or parchmarks) as well as adding significant detail to known cropmark sites, buildings, structures and landscapes right across the county. These vary widely in date, size and scale. In July we undertook 2 flights from Welshpool Airport, covering a wide area – the video below summarises one of these flights and features some of my snaps taken out the window!

Whilst up in the air, we recorded a variety of cropmark sites, including Iron Age farmsteads, the extensive parchmarks of the streets, insula and individual buildings of the Roman town of Wroxeter and also took the opportunity to photograph the iconic cooling towers of Ironbridge Power Station:

The iconic cooling towers of Ironbridge Power Station.

Ironbridge Power Station, formally known as Ironbridge B, was constructed in 1963-1968, as part of a programme of construction of 1000 MW coal-fired power stations. It was built to adapt to a narrow site, and its bank of four cooling towers, pigmented with red iron-oxide, were erected in an unusual, gently sweeping arc reflecting their position hemmed in to the south by the rising escarpment of Benthall Edge at the narrowing of the Ironbridge Gorge and to the north by the existing railway lines.

The station was decommissioned by 2015, and plans are currently being formulated for the future use of this site, which lies at one end of the Ironbridge Gorge World Heritage Site.

The HER holds an extensive building recording of the site, undertaken in early 2017 by Ric Tyler,  available through the Grey Literature Library, which includes fascinating archival research into the development and operation of the site.

Thanks to help from our volunteers and work experience students we are making available as many aerial photographs as we can via our website, Discovering Shropshire’s History – why not explore our records?

Stop Lines: recording the remains of 20th century conflict

Like many other HERs, the centenary of the First World War has given us pause to reflect on the records we have of structures and sites which attest to the home front of military action during the 20th century.

Initially our work has focused on recording War Memorials across the county. In November 2016 we completed visits to all 163 freestanding war memorials in the county. You can read more about this on the Shropshire Remembers website.

Work has continued with Historic England on their War Memorials Listing Project. This has not only been dealing with new designations but also evaluating protection for existing designated War Memorials. Work in July included providing information on the Shropshire War Memorial in Quarry Park, the work of George Hubbard FSA FRIBA, of Hubbard and Moore, around a central figure by Allan Gairdner Wyon FRBS.

War Memorial, Quarry Park, Shrewsbury

Attention has now turned to ensuring we have adequate records for other sites that attest to 20th century conflict. These include airfields, prisoner of war camps and defence lines. Working carefully on Defence of Britain Survey data, work experience student Tom has been preparing records for entry into the HER, and carrying out virtual visits using Google StreetView. He identified that remains survive of anit-tank blocks, airfield buildings, battle headquarters, home guard headquarters and observation posts, pillboxes of many types – and much more.

We have also been making a concerted effort to ensure we have adequate records related to the Cold War. One of the most visible signs are Royal Observer Corps posts – 44 are now recorded in the HER.

Variety is the spice of life!

HER volunteers have been crucial to the varied thematic enhancement projects this year which have added to the records we hold. Whether this has been working on railway station architecture, non-confrmist chapels or dendrochronology dates for buildings or upland archaeology in South Shropshire – we continue to be impressed by their dedication and are extremely grateful for their support.

The variety of records we hold means that, as an HER officer, you always need to be prepared for a variety of questions – topics in my inbox recently have ranged from Neolithic and Bronze Age Shropshire to the date of Electricity Works in Market Drayton.

It certainly does help keep the day interesting!

 

 

“A concept made concrete”: 40 years of Shropshire HER

A belated Happy Day of Archaeology from Shropshire Historic Environment Record (HER)! This July has been an exceptionally busy one for the team, which is our excuse for not actually publishing on the Day of Archaeology itself. However, seeing as 2016 marks the 40th anniversary of Shropshire HER, we thought it would be an ideal opportunity to tell you a bit more about what the last 40 years has involved…

By the way, the “concept made concrete” reference is a reference to the brutalist building we have occupied since the start, Shirehall, Shrewsbury. It continues to be a ‘marmite’ building for the town, but our offices on the 5th floor certainly afford good views over the Marches. The header image was taken from my desk, looking out over the concrete domed roof of the council chamber…sorry about the dirty windows!

Where it all began

Compilation of the Shropshire Sites and Monuments Record (SMR) began in May 1976. In those early years, the records were created on A5 record cards with their location marked on a set of record maps, and linked to collections of supporting material such as air photos.

Searches of the card index were carried out by means of “Optical Coincidence sheets”. These had cells for every number between 1 and 9999. Holes were punched in sheets that represented a range of different attributes . In this example a hole is punched in the cell for 251 in the Church Stretton Parish sheet, the Cross Dyke Type Sheet and the Scheduled Monument Status Sheet.

Searches of the card index were carried out by means of “Optical Coincidence sheets”. These had cells for every number between 1 and 9999. Holes were punched in sheets that represented a range of different attributes . In this example a hole is punched in the cell for 251 in the Church Stretton Parish sheet, the Cross Dyke Type Sheet and the Scheduled Monument Status Sheet.

By 1979, about 3000 records had been created, mostly relating to archaeological sites and find spots. Then, in 1979, MSC (Manpower Services Commission) labour became available, and using this resource, by 1983 records of over 6000 historic building had been added, derived not only from the Statutory Lists of Listed Buildings, but also from the results of MSC surveys as well as thematic gazetteers.

It now became difficult to interrogate a card index of such a size, but the advent of personal computers meant that computerisation was now an option. From 1984 to 1985 the core fields of the archaeological records only were entered into a basic system (on the Shirehall’s first PC!)  that allowed indexes and gazetteers to be printed out.  In 1990 the data was moved to the “STAIRS” mainframe system, and over the next couple of years the computerised records were fleshed out with their Description and Sources details. By 1995, the records for the Listed buildings had been computerised as well, by scanning the statutory lists, although the remainder of the buildings records remained on record cards.

The record maps - the back bone of many SMRs up and down the country.

The record maps – the back bone of many SMRs up and down the country.

Meanwhile, in 1990 the issuing of the PPG16 planning guidance had led to the production of a rising number of reports on developer-funded excavations, evaluations and watching briefs, which needed to be fed into the SMR, as well as an increasing demand for information from the SMR. The 1990s also saw a wide range of projects aimed at, or with the potential for, enhancing the range and coverage of the SMR.  These included:

1993 to 1995: The Industrial Survey, which added 820 Industrial sites to the SMR;

1993: Paul Stamper’s Historic Parks and Gardens desktop survey which added 290 records ;

1993 to 1996: The Central Marches Historic Towns Survey which added 1446 records

1995 to 1997: The Shrewsbury Urban Archaeological Database added c1100 records

1994 to 1996 North West Wetlands Survey: 8 areas studied.

The Marches Uplands Survey included the recording of c 2200 features along 12 fieldwork transects.

The associated Marches Upland Mapping Project involved the transcription and analysis of AP evidence for the MUS survey area and generated c 1400 records.

The Millennium saw new challenges and opportunities for the SMR. GIS (Geographic Information System) software was now available, allowing the records to be viewed and interrogated via computer mapping. STAIRS was closed down, but the SMR was migrated to a specialist relational database system called SMR (now HBSMR). This in turn allowed all the Interventions (excavations, Evaluations, Watching Briefs) and Surveys to be recorded in their own right as “Event” records.

Subsequently the database developed modules for storing the Historic Landscape Character Assessment records created by the 2001 to 2004 HLC project, and another for Designations, so that Scheduled Monument, Listed Building and other designations could be recorded and managed in their own right and then linked to the monuments to which they relate.

In the last decade, the SMR has morphed into the Historic Environment Record (HER). It now underpins the work not only of our Archaeological Advisors, but also, since the creation of Shropshire Council in 2009, that of the Conservation Officers. Considerable progress has been made, largely with the help of a number of volunteers, not only in computerising the records for unlisted buildings but also bringing their level of detail up to that of the other records. Recently the HER has used an add-on to HBSMR called “Library Link” to link and manage our large and growing collections of digital images and report pdfs.

Where we are now…and where we might be heading

Our focus on a day to day basis is the results of fieldwork carried out as part of the planning process. This includes ensuring that we have to date information on all investigations relating to the archaeology and historic buildings of the county. Much of this work is unpublished, but our library, includes a wide array of fieldwork reports (from watching briefs, archaeological evaluations, excavations etc.), surveys, photographic records and desk-based appraisals.

Historic mapping of a trio of farmsteads near Trefonen

Historic mapping of a trio of farmsteads near Trefonen

National and local projects undertaken over the course of the last few years have also significantly enhanced our records, and our focus remains on making the results of these accessible to all researchers. The Historic Farmstead Characterisation Project, for instance, mapped and described the locations and characteristics of all historic farmsteads across Shropshire based on Ordnance Survey 2nd edition maps of c.1900, published after the final significant period of development of traditional farmsteads and the general use of vernacular materials. Modern maps were then used to identify the rates of survival to the present day. The results of this project – which mapped over 6000 farmsteads – forms an integral part of the HER collections.

A particular project that may interest readers is the Shropshire Council Aerial Survey Project (you can read more about it in lat year’s Day of Archaeology Post). Undertaken in several stages from 2008, with funding from English Heritage/Historic England, the project has sought to reinvigorate aerial survey in the county.  It has photographed many previously identified sites, as well as recording additional detail of previously known sites. The project has included survey of a wide range of ‘targets’, representing good geographic coverage of the county – including photography of cropmarks, earthworks, buildings and structures.  The full results have been integrated with the Historic Environment Record, and the full size digital images are available for consultation at Shirehall. A large number of these images have also been made available on the Discovering Shropshire’s History website.

From 1976, the HER has relied heavily on voluntary help and this tradition continues to this day. Our volunteers have recently been involved in a wide range of both field and office-based projects. Particular successes include work on the war memorials of the county (which are currently the subject of a programme of designated by Historic England), identifying non-conformist chapels from the desk and in the field, and a number of projects enhancing the way we have recorded street furniture, toll houses, workhouses, and enhancing our building records with dating information.

A few photographs of Chapels in Shropshire, taken by an HER Volunteer. All photographs (C) John Haynes:

A few of the 150+ free-standing War Memorials recorded in Shropshire HER with volunteer help. All photographs (C) John Haynes:

The Historic Environment Record will never be complete! Whilst we work hard to ensure that our records of the varied historic environment of the county are as complete as they can be, we rely on new contributions representing a wide range of research topics.

Although the means by which the HER is compiled, maintained and disseminated has changed beyond measure in the last 40 years, our core objective is still to make available in one place as much information as we can on all aspects of the historic environment to all those who need it or want it. 

Penny Ward (HER officer 1983- 2016)
Giles Carey (HER officer 2016 – present)

Flying high: work experience with Shropshire HER

This week, Victoria James has been on work experience with Shropshire Council’s Historic Environment Team. Here she tells me about what she has been getting up to…

This week I’ve been on work experience with the Historic Environment Team at Shropshire Council, and although the archaeological work going on here isn’t always necessarily hands-on, it’s still as fascinating as ever. The team maintain and compile the Historic Environment Record (HER), which covers every single aspect of the historic environment – including archaeological sites, historic buildings, structures and landscapes – over the entirety of Shropshire.  Much of the work is desk based, but this week one of my tasks has involved working with some of the aerial photographs taken by the team for the HER.

Double ditched Iron Age enclosure and field system, Patten Grange. Much Wenlock. Copyright: Shropshire Council

The team use aerial photography to gain a greater understanding of the archaeology of the county, where past uses of the landscape leave a small trace for the archaeologist to decipher. A key element of this is the formation of cropmarks, which can tell us a lot about what’s going on below the surface. Ditches and walls buried underground affect the crop yield in different ways, as ditches allow the crop to grow better and in a darker colour, whereas buried walls negatively affect crop growth and mean a lighter colour of yield. Although this can be hard to see from the ground, crop marks are clear to see from aerial photographs, which then allow the team to identify areas of archaeological interest and show this to the people working on the land above it.

For me, this was fascinating, as I had no idea that crops could tell us so much about what had happened on that site years before or how aerial photographs could be such a massive help in discovering what’s buried underneath the land. I got to look at many aerial photographs and pick some which will eventually be put to use on the Discovering Shropshire’s History website.

SGetting in the plane

Getting ready to take some aerial photographs on Wednesday. Copyright: Giles Carey

Not only did I get to see some of the previous aerial photographs which had been taken, but during my week of work experience part of the team actually went and took some more. This involved some members of the team getting the opportunity to fly over the county and view the land below, as well as taking some aerial photographs themselves.

Another thing I got to do on work experience was help out reorganising just some of the many books and files that the team has. There were lots of books and files dating back many years from all different topics – although almost all focused on archaeology, buildings or the history of Shropshire – and I had to organise some of these to make them easily accessible to anyone who might need one, which is a likely possibility at any point, given that the team has a variety of things that they have to do.

Additionally, I got to read through an updated version of Pevsner’s book on historic buildings of Shropshire and put these into a spreadsheet to view the corresponding records on the HER and to make a note of any that weren’t there. I found this really interesting because I got to read about different historic buildings in Shropshire and their features, which made me realise just how many there are! Some of the buildings I already knew of beforehand, but I’d never really considered the history of some of them until now, despite the captivating stories behind them.

Overall, this week I’ve been able to see another side of archaeology which isn’t publicised as much as the excavation side of things. The team here still get to go on site visits to different local places of historic significance to try to conserve our local history, but they also get to maintain the HER and do everything that goes along with that. I’ve been able to see what the team really does and how much hard work they have to put into it, but it has also been a really fun week and I’ve learned a lot about not just the job, but about my home county as well.

Victoria James
Work experience student

Many thanks to Victoria, there will be more to follow from the rest of the Historic Environment Team shortly…