Historic England

Ancient Monument Inspectors on Tour

Today I’m on what I loosely refer to as my “Summer Progress”. It’s the time of year when I try to visit some of London’s Ancient Monuments that haven’t been checked for a while. London has 157 Ancient Monuments, which are sites that have been identified as of outstanding importance, and are a mixed bunch, from the Tower of London, through to Prehistoric earthworks, like Boudicaas Mound on Hampstead Heath. I have the utterly fabulous job of helping to protect them, on behalf of Historic England and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. One of the aspects of the job is working with owners to make sure they are in a good state of preservation. The Monuments that is, not the owners!

Inside the Sutton Dovecote

Inside the Sutton Dovecote

A great many of London’s monuments are right in the urban zone, under busy streets, inside basements of office blocks or in pub cellars. But a lot of the monuments are actually out in the rural areas of Greater London and don’t tend to face the same pressures of development, tourism or damage. But they can get overgrown, too desiccated (not today though!), or if they are structural, can suffer from crumbling mortar or other problems, including graffitti. And if there is no active fieldwork or conservation, these sites can get overlooked for regular visits as I spend most of my time on in meeting rooms or on sites which have live projects where I battle to protect the archaeology and get good schemes of interpretation. This is where the summer progress comes in – summer isn’t really a less busy time of year, but the weather normally makes these sites easier to visit and monitor than in winter. So every Friday morning for a couple of months, my colleague Iain Bright, the Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments for London, and I, are going out to visit a range of our monuments (I’m very protective and not a little possessive!).

This morning we went out to Elmers End in Croydon, to visit a medieval moated site located in the South Norwood Country Park. It is a thirteenth century manor house with a double moat surrounding a house platform. It survived like this for a few centuries, once owned by Sir Robert de Retford, but has had a chequered history since then, the greatest indignity being its submersion below a Victorian sewage farm. Nothing survives above ground now, but it’s clearly visible as a crop mark and a few little humps and bumps. As we found, the vegetation clearly distinguishes the inner and outer moats, with much lusher vegetation on the lines of the moats, and small hints of the earthworks. The house platform can also be read in the landscape as it is a little elevated above the area. We met agents for the local authority who own the site and discussed management of the site, the vegetation and providing interpretation, all of which needs to be combined with management of the park which is a nature reserve. But it was a positive visit (apart from the rain) and the site is in good heart.

Elmers End Moated Site

Elmers End Moated Site

 

Lush vegetation on the Moat

Lush vegetation on the Moat

Last Friday we went to visit a post-medieval ice well in North London – a great big subterranean brick lined chamber for storing ice on the estate of a country house, and also a Saxon linear earthwork known as the Grims Dyke. The Friday before, the rather mysterious prehistoric earthworks on Riddlesdown Common in South London, which I think are much more extensive and probably form part of an Iron Age enclosure – we’re now looking into antiquarian records to try and get a better idea of this site. We also checked up on the immense 17th century Sutton Dovecote which has had a little graffiti but otherwise is well preserved. Next Friday, another moated site is the subject of our Progress. The survival of numerous medieval moated sites in London came as a surprise to me when I became Inspector, but of course Greater London is about so much more than the Roman city of Londinium and the seat of Royal and political power in Westminster. So many areas have still never been built over, so whilst urbanism in the core is a real issue for conserving archaeology, and takes up most of my time, away from central London, we still have exceptional survival and great potential for future archaeological discoveries that we can add to the Schedule of Monuments.

Me at the Pinner Ice Well

Me at the Pinner Ice Well


Death, dating and dirt

This year despite doing the same job in same location as I have done for the previous 3 Days of Archaeology the name of organisation I work for is different. This is due to the recent split of the old English Heritage into Historic England (who I work for) and the English Heritage Trust. Historic England is the public body that looks after England’s historic environment by championing historic places, helping people understand value and care for them.  English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites.

My day started with reading some new guidelines from APABE – the Advisory Panel on the archaeology of Burials in England which had been written by my Historic England colleagues Jane Sidell and Simon Mays. More and more projects are taking place on land which includes some very large burial ground so this guidance is particularly welcome.

Next I read and responded to a number of WSI (written schemes of investigation) for commercial projects in London. These are basically method statements and have to be approved before work can commence. My colleagues in GLAAS Greater London Archaeological Advisory Service provide advice to the planner in many of the London boroughs (the City of London and Southwark have their own in house archaeological advisers). The archaeology advisers will contact me on projects which include aspects of archaeological science such as Geoarchaeological borehole surveys. Random interesting fact 1 – when writing about the East and North East London wetlands the term Lea is used for the natural river valley and its deposits whilst Lee denotes the manmade channel of the Lee Navigation.

The highlight of my morning was a site visit to see the Crossrail site of Bedlam near Liverpool Street which is being excavated by archaeologists and osteologists from MOLA. All staff on site must to wear full PPE (personal protection equipment). Random interesting fact 2 – because this is a rail project the colour of that clothing is orange rather than the more familiar yellow. So for the purposes of my visit I donned the full orange.

The skeletons were being carefully recorded before being excavated. The site is covered by a large tent in order to shield the public from accidental views of human remains but is also makes the process of excavation a lot easier for the archaeologists especially on rainy days. In addition to evidence relating to the use of the graveyard, a large quantity of bone working waste had been found this week, which comprises mostly sawn through fragments of cattle metapodials (cannon bones) including a fine example of a pinners bone. These were used to hold the metal blanks during the process of filing them down to fine points. Examples of these artefacts are online.

After lunch I joined my colleagues in GLAAS for some training in Radiocarbon dating from Alex Bayliss. Establishing the chronology of a site is key to understanding and interpreting the archaeological features and finds present. Helping to arrange and provide training both inside the organisation and for the wider sector is a big part of the work of the Science Advisors.

Alex’s presentation on radiocarbon dating

Alex’s presentation on radiocarbon dating

On returning to my desk I checked my email and was pleased to discover that the results of a project looking at what we currently know about London’s burial grounds was now available online. This project was carried out by Allen Archaeology and funded by Historic England.

Sylvia Warman, Science Advisor Historic England

Tales from the Stores

I am the maternity cover for the Archaeological Archives Curator at Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth. The team at the Fort are part of Historic England and provide advisory services to the archaeological sector as well as carrying out research. My post here at the Fort is incredibly varied. We have a number of stores in which the archaeological archives for projects carried out by Excavation and Analysis are maintained. The collections here are not permanent; instead we hold archives that are here for post-excavation assessment and analysis. We have a number of large sites; Raunds and Whitby Abbey to name two.

We also maintain paper and photographic archives from current and older projects. In particular, the Conservation team have a large archive that documents the work they have undertaken since 1950, initially as part of the Ancient Monuments Laboratory and more recently (1999 – this is recent for archaeology) as part of the Excavation and Analysis team here at the Fort. Their archive includes x-rays and ledgers detailing the work carried out on archaeological artefacts from sites across England.

My day to day role is to make sure that the stores are in working order, that the collections are maintained in a good condition and to enable access to the material. We have a large number of enquiries associated with the collections and the amount of data available to the public is extensive. We hold a large zooarchaeological reference collection and this includes a herd of sheep. Our reference collections are in continued use by both our internal specialists and visiting researchers.

The Fort is an incredible place to work. Fort Cumberland is situated on the south east tip of Portsea Island and as a result the weather coming off the sea is at times slightly bonkers. I had never properly experienced sea mist until I started working here. We also have some brilliant wildlife with foxes, a small owl, a kestrel, hibernating butterflies and swifts to name a few. Last month, I chased a moth around the garden behind my office to discover exactly what the bright, deep pink fluttery thing really was (the Cinnabar Tyria jacobaeae).

As well as the wildlife I also support a team of wonderful colleagues. We are currently in the process of implementing our digital archiving procedures. As you can imagine, this is a large task, with huge amounts of data being created by the Archaeology, Conservation, Technology, Dating and Enviro teams every day.

Today is relatively quiet for me. I am travelling North next week to deposit a number of archives and so I have been liaising with Curators at the English Heritage Helmsley and Wrest Park stores. We also helped the Dendrochronology team find space for the Dendro sample reference collection and I am sorting out the transfer of some of these cores to Sheffield University where they will be used for teaching. I have also been involved in some of the post-excavation work on our National Archaeological Identification Survey (NAIS) sites and this will be my afternoon’s task, bringing our assessment report to completion.