Cambridgeshire

Clemency Cooper: Heritage, Society and Legacy

This time last year, I was still relatively new in my post as Community Archaeology Manager for Oxford Archaeology and renewing acquaintance with the many active community archaeology groups in Cambridgeshire. I’ve been charged with supporting the legacy of the Jigsaw Cambridgeshire project. It started as a five-year Heritage Lottery Funded project (2011-2016) by Oxford Archaeology East and Cambridgeshire County Council to assist local history and archaeological societies in historical research, excavation, artefact identification, recording, and much more. Since the end of the Heritage Lottery Funded term, we’ve continued to provide support to the societies affiliated to Jigsaw and maintained the resources bought and developed during the project.

In 2017, we’ve hosted 2 meetings of the community groups at Bar Hill, affiliated a new society, the Jigsaw website has been redesigned and relaunched, a new artefact identification guide on early prehistoric pottery has been added to the thirty-two existing Best Practice Users’ Guides already available, and the groups continue to undertake their own research and fieldwork, reporting on the results to Cambridgeshire HER and sharing their discoveries with others locally.

I was delighted to recognise a photo on Historic England South West’s Twitter feed yesterday showing the Warboys Archaeology Group. This was to launch Historic England’s latest report on ‘Heritage and Society’ which features Jigsaw on page 4 as a best practice case study for community archaeology. If there’s been one lasting legacy of the Jigsaw project, it has been the creation of a network of like-minded people who support one another, sharing skills, knowledge and resources.

HE South West tweet about the Heritage and Society 2017 report

Earlier in the week, I spent the morning in the village of Covington, on the western edge of the county bordering Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire. Two people who have been the driving force behind the Covington History Group are leaving the village this summer so I was there to meet a couple of the other members who are taking over the reins. It was an opportunity to introduce myself to them, learn about their vision for the group with a smaller membership and discuss what support they need. Starting with test pit excavations during the first year of Jigsaw in 2011, Covington have since undertaken fieldwalking, geophysical survey and excavation, hosting the Jigsaw training excavation for other volunteers in 2015. In 2014, they were awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant for their project ‘Looking back, moving forward: Learning and sharing through archaeology in Covington.’ As part of this project, the group had pottery identification training sessions and put together their own local reference collection including Prehistoric and Saxon pottery, Roman and Medieval. I particularly enjoyed the chance to see this fantastic resource and to walk around the village to see the sites the group have investigated in recent years. Covington History Group are a testament of what the enthusiasm and interest of a few individuals can achieve with guidance, training and resources from the professional heritage sector which, as the Heritage and Society report illustrates, can have an enormous impact on society as a whole. I’m very proud to say that I play a small part of that in Cambridgeshire in continuing the Jigsaw legacy.

Clemency Cooper is the Community Archaeology Manager for Oxford Archaeology, based at our East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our work with community groups and schools, visit our website: https://oxfordarchaeology.com/community-training

Katherine Hamilton: Cataloguing small finds or the various uses of a nuclear bunker

Hi!  My name is Katherine Hamilton and I am the Archives Supervisor for Oxford Archaeology East. For most of this year I have been subcontracted to Cambridgeshire County Council Historic Environment Team (CCC HET) for one day a week to assist them with the re-cataloguing of their on-site archaeological store at Shire Hall in Cambridge.  The store is a nuclear bunker built towards the end of the Cold War, under one of the buildings on Castle Hill.  This is not I should point out as exciting as it sounds, mainly it is rather cold and health and safety states that I should have air breaks every hour as there’s no ventilation down there, for obvious reasons.  There are currently two rooms in which the finds are kept – one for metalwork and the other for non-metal small finds and nice artefacts like complete pots.

The work I do down there is to go through each of the finds boxes stored there and add the contents of them onto a spreadsheet provided by CCC HET, at the same time providing each individual artefact with a unique barcode and recording which shelf the overall box lives on in the store.  Sometimes I can get through a lot of boxes fairly quickly but boxes of coins and particularly beads can take several days to wade through.  (I would happily never see another amber bead if I could help it!)

I really enjoy my time in the bunker each week as it gives me a nice break from dealing with the day to day of my job back in our office in Bar Hill.  It also means I get to see some of the really cool artefacts that have been excavated in Cambridgeshire over the last 50 plus years!

DeepStore – the ultimate destination of Cambridgeshire’s archives

Katherine Hamilton is the Archives Supervisor at Oxford Archaeology’s East office in Cambridge. For more information about Oxford Archaeology and our digital archiving, visit our online library: http://library.thehumanjourney.net/

Castles, community, and John Clare

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Today has been divided between multiple tasks on two different projects. I’ve already talked about my viking food culture project here, but my other job relates to a community archaeology project I’ve been involved in with my colleague (and wife) Aleks McClain.

For the last few years, we have been assisting the local community of the village of Helpston in west Cambridgeshire as they investigate the history and archaeology of their area. Helpston is most famous as the birthplace of John Clare, a 19th-century agricultural labourer, who went in to become arguably England’s greatest rural poet. However, on the edge of Helpston village lies Torpel Manor Field: an enigmatic series of earthworks that has been little explored. The site is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and as the remains of an Anglo-Norman ringwork, represents one of the first fortifications constructed in the area following the Norman Conquest. However, it is clear that the site is a more complicated, multi-phase phenomenon than this.

The site is stewarded by the Langdyke Countryside Trust, who have successfully won Heritage Lottery Funding to care for the site as both a heritage monument and  a wildlife preserve. We have been working the the Trust, leading to the foundation of the Helpston History and Archaeological Group, assisting them in topographic and geophysical survey across the site, and in providing information for display in their newly constructed on-site Interpretation Centre. The group have also undertaken fieldwalking and testpitting at a number of sites across the village, as well as engaging in extensive documentary and archive research.

13 torpel bw small Torpel survey

Earthwork and magnetometry survey at Torpel Manor Field.  Note the mound in the south of the earthwork survey, the complex of perimeter ditches and banks, and a number of outlying structures and building platforms to the north. Geophysics has demonstrated that many of these earthworks conceal the remains of walls and robbing trenches, as well as identifying a number of previously unsuspected features. 

As a result of all this work, a number of gaps in the village’s history are starting to be filled in, so that Helpston is no longer thought of solely as the home of John Clare, and a narrative can now be written that extends from later prehistory, via the Norman Conquest, through to the present day.  There will be numerous academic outputs from this work, but right now we are working on the production of a popular-interest book that explores the biography of Torpel’s landscape.  We hope to self-publish this within the year, and this afternoon was a busy and productive editorial meeting involving myself and Aleks.

IMG_0695Hard at work on the Torpel Story….

I’m not going to give away our findings here, but keep your eye out for further updates later in the year.

Check out our project here (we have a new website in development, to be linked from the same site).

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From Bricks to the Baptist: A Day of Archaeology in Peterborough.

The Day of Archaeology seems to have unintentionally have been a day spent in ecclesiastical settings for me. It started with a visit to St Michaels and All Angels Church in Sutton near Peterborough for the Cambridgeshire Conservation Officer Forum meeting. This gathering happens every three months or so and allows Conservation Officers across the region to share best practice. It is hosted by a different authority each time, and this time it was our turn! Sutton Church was chosen as it has recently had works to create a new meeting space and kitchen within the 12th century fabric.

Douglas from SPAB giving his presentation in the evening. Photo by Toby Wood

Built as a chapel of ease to Castor St Kyneburgha (a stunning church as well), it has lovely Norman period carvings and some great gargoyles! Each meeting has a specialist building conservation presenter and for this meeting we had Peter Minter of Cambridge Brick and Tile Company (and Bulmer Brick & Tile), who brought some samples with him to show issues affecting tiles (make sure you ventilate your roofs, was the overarching message). Following this we visited Sacrewell Farm and Country Centre, just a mile up the road, to see their Grade II* listed Watermill, recently the recipient of a first round pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

In the evening I was back to a church, this time St John the Baptist in Peterborough City Centre, for the celebration event for Peterborough Buildings in Need, a project I have been running for the last nine months. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund this project has had a series of masterclasses and lectures on the theme of valuing the historic environment, alongside volunteer surveys of Peterborough City Centre Conservation Area. The website and end of project report and toolkit are here. The evening had some great talks, including from Douglas Kent from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings or SPAB (in the photo above), and some performance poets reading their poetry about the city (including a poem just for the project, on the front page of the website, and well worth a read!).

Alice Kershaw, Heritage Regeneration Officer

Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough City Council