Leicestershire

Busman’s Holiday

Just a short blog this year – some of my previous ones have been quite epic!  If you want to know more about my general Historic Environment Record work then please check my previous posts.

Recently I’ve been to a few archaeology events.  It’s been good to go to a few Festival of Archaeology things to remind myself how fun archaeology can be (sometimes when you’re stuck in an office all day you start to forget!).  Since my son is now 4 1/2 we’ve had fun dragging him round things..!  Also my Father in Law is a flint knapper, and my Sister in Law assists him, so we’ve seen them as we’ve visited things.  It’s a bit of a family affair, really.  🙂

Bradgate Park Fieldschool Open Day

Flintknapping and hornblowing at Bradgate Park – photos from Fieldschool Facebook page

We went to the Bradgate Park Fieldschool Open Day at the beginning of July.  This is a student training and research excavation project being run by the University of Leicester.  They’ve been test pitting/excavating all sorts of things including a Scheduled Monument of a moated site, which has come up with some amazing results.  And of course, at Bradgate Park there’s always the Palaeolithic site to talk about.  (I posted about that previously.)

Romans at Jewry Wall

Roman lady and man at Jewry Wall Museum (his lady expression makes me laugh…)

The other big event we went to was ‘Bringing the Past to Life’ at Jewry Wall museum in Leicester.  This is a major re-enactment spectacle in the museum and Roman Bathhouse ruins.  It has to be said that my little boy was more interested in running around than paying attention to much, though we did get him interested in mosaic jigsaws and tic tac toe.  Plus his Granddad was there, and his Auntie, and he was also very interested in the Leicestershire Industrial History Society display because they had a model of Stephenson’s Comet.

Of course we also managed a summer holiday in Norfolk where we made him look at things such as windmills and castles.  But I don’t think we’ve had as much as a Busman’s Holiday as my colleague, who has been off digging with local groups.  Maybe that’s yet to come!

Light at the end of the (Glenfield Railway) tunnel

I’m Helen Wells, I’ve been the Historic Environment Record Officer at Leicestershire County Council for over 10 years.  My job is basically curating what we know about buried and built archaeological remains in Leicestershire and Rutland.  I don’t usually get to leave the office, but I’m going to tell you about a rare trip away from my desk – into the Glenfield Railway Tunnel.  The tunnel is recorded on the Leicestershire and Rutland Historic Environment Record and I’d always wanted to go inside.

So, as part of the Festival of Archaeology, I recently accompanied a group of others into the dark, damp, chilly, disused railway tunnel.  Not publicly accessible, the only access to the tunnel is via special trips.  A footpath runs past the portal.  Since us archaeologists are in a team with ecologists at the County Council I should also say that the tunnel is a hibernation roost for bats, and it’s illegal to disturb them…

Expedition into the tunnel!

Expedition into the tunnel!

The tunnel was one of the earliest railway tunnels in the world, designed by George Stephenson; its construction was supervised by his son Robert.  It opened in July 1832. Due to the pioneering nature of the engineering works, there were various unexpected hitches.  One of these was that the trial borings had suggested clay and stone, but running sand meant the tunnel had to be completely lined in bricks.  It cost £17,326 to built instead of the budgeted £10,000 – well over a million pounds in today’s money.

Glenfield Tunnel in 1969

Glenfield Tunnel in 1969

It closed in 1966 and was bought by Leicester City Council in 1969 for £5.  The east end of the tunnel was filled in by a housing company, so though you can walk through a door in the mainly blocked up tunnel portal at the west end, the east end is only accessible via a manhole and a steel ladder.

(The following two pictures were taken by a colleague in 2007.  The 1969 aerial photograph higher up the page shows the railway line before it was filled in.)

Blocked eastern end of the tunnel

Blocked eastern end of the tunnel

Metal ladder at east end of the tunnel

Metal ladder at east end of the tunnel

The tunnel is not far below the ground, and whereas it originally ran through fields, today it is covered in houses.  This has led to problems!  In 2007-8 strengthening works were carried out, with reinforced concrete arches inserted into the weakest areas of the tunnel.  This work cost £500,000, which makes the original £1,000,000 spent to build the tunnel look rather more of a bargain!  (And the £5 it cost to buy the tunnel in 1969 less of a good deal…)  The reinforcements were a striking feature of the tunnel during my recent trip.

Concrete reinforcements inside the tunnel

Concrete reinforcements inside the tunnel

Though a fascinating place to visit, it is very difficult to know what can be done to re-use the tunnel.  The eastern end being buried does mean it’s tricky to re-use as a cycle path, for example.  Though it has turned into a maintenance headache, if it hadn’t been bought in 1969 who knows what would have happened to it.  It’s a brilliant bit of early railway history.  If you get the chance to visit I’d definitely recommend it!

Want to find out a bit more?

This article at Forgotten Relics has some great pictures, one of which demonstrates the tight clearances this tunnel had.

The Leicestershire Industrial History Society have some great resources on the tunnel.  Keep an eye on their events for further tunnel expeditions!

Finally, a quick mention for Story of Leicester, who provided many of the facts I used here.

Really, really, really, really old stuff!

This is the third time I’ve taken part in the ‘Day of Archaeology’, and I don’t want to repeat myself, so please do take a look at my previous blogs “Day in the life of a HERO” and “We can be heroes, just for one day”. Suffice it to say, I’m the Historic Environment Record Officer for Leicestershire County Council – for more information do look at the Leicestershire & Rutland HER page on our website!

I have started off today by thinking about the Palaeolithic. I think it’s fair to say that the Palaeolithic doesn’t come up all that often in archaeology. There are chance finds of Palaeolithic date – such as hand axes that are found in fields – but there aren’t a lot of sites, as such. To find the Palaeolithic you usually have to dig quite a big hole, since it’s usually deeply buried!

The reason I’ve been thinking about it is that on the HER we have a list of period dates, and it seems that the Palaeolithic ones are painfully inadequate. (I attended an HER meeting this week and it was brought up there). In the East Midlands Research Framework (2012), which you can download here, it gives the following periods and dates (kya means ‘thousand years ago’):

Period 1: Cromerian and Intra-Anglian (950-450 kya)

Period 2: Pre-Levallois (450-250 kya)

Period 3: Levallois (250-150 kya)

Period 4: Mousterian (60-40 kya) -> Neanderthals!

Period 5a: Early Upper Palaeolithic (40-27 kya) -> Modern Humans

Period 5b: Late Upper Palaeolithic (13,000-9,500 BC)

Now, I don’t know about you, but dates of 950,000 years ago kind of blow my mind! The gaps in the chronology, by the way, indicate glaciation periods when no-one lived here (the most recent being the Dimlington Stadial).

There are a few Palaeolithic sites that have been investigated in recent times in Leicestershire/Rutland, all from different periods, and all very different in character. The earliest is at Brooksby, then there’s one at Glaston, and also Bradgate Park.

Activity on the River Bytham, at Brooksby Quarry (Period 1)
HER Ref. No. MLE21117

Something this old really does make your brain hurt when specialists start talking about it. There are all sorts of mysterious scientific analyses that can be carried out. It’s just so ancient! These weren’t humans like us. They were making tools from stone, not flint.

Brooksby Quarry

Brooksby Quarry

The River Bytham was a huge river that flowed west from Lowestoft, along which humans may have travelled into Britain. It has left behind sand and gravel deposits that are now being quarried, giving us a brilliant opportunity to learn about this period of time.

So far hundreds of artefacts have been recovered by ULAS, many of which are very fresh and don’t seem to have travelled far. These include cores and flakes made from local quartzite pebbles. Early humans must have been living alongside the river and making tools, which is pretty exciting!

Hyena den at Glaston, Rutland (Period 5a)
HER Ref. No. MLE9061

This is another site investigated by ULAS, back in 2000. Evidence of a hyaena den was recorded, which contained bones of woolly rhinoceros, mammoth, wolverine, early horse and hyenas. This is the first open air hyena den excavated, and a flint leafpoint provides evidence of human activity in the vicinity – rare evidence for a temporary hunting camp. You can read more about the project here (which is where this rather good picture came from!).

glaston_animals

Glaston hyena den

Creswellian site at Bradgate Park (Period 5b)
HER Ref. No. MLE9435

This site was first discovered in 2001 and test pitting was carried out earlier this year, again by ULAS! Basically, thousands of flints have been recovered from an eroding footpath in the park. These flints are evidence for human activity on site – it has been suggested that the site was a hunting stand where hunters intercepted animals such as horse and deer passing through Little Matlock Gorge. The exciting thing about this site is that it is in situ – there are deposits that are associated with the flints. At the moment it’s not clear what further work will be carried out on the site, but it’s certainly a nationally important site!

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Bradgate Park test pitting

So, that’s a quick dash through some of the oldest archaeological sites on the Leicestershire & Rutland HER. You can look at these, and other records, via the Heritage Gateway. Records cover everything up to now, so we’re covering about a million years of human activity!

Obviously it’s not possible to be an expert in everything throughout those million years, so forgive me if I’ve made some terrible errors when writing this. I’m not a Palaeolithic expert. Today, on this Day of Archaeology, I just found it interesting.  🙂

 

We can be heroes, just for one day

Hello!  If you’re reading this perhaps you want to know what it’s like to be a HERO (Historic Environment Record Officer), just for this one day.  (I know it’s a bit tenuous but I wanted a quote for my title and I love David Bowie, so…!)

I last blogged as part of the Day of Archaeology in 2011.  If you want to read my blog from back then please read a day in the life of a HERO.  There’s a fair bit there that I don’t really want to cover again, like how I became a HERO.  I think today I’ll just blog about what I’m up to.

View from my office, County Hall, Leicestershire

View from my office, County Hall, Leicestershire

I work for Leicestershire County Council in the Historic & Natural Environment Team (part of Planning, Historic & Natural Environment, so we sit with various planning officers). The other people in my team consist of a war memorials project officer, conservation officer, 2 planning archaeologists and our team leader – we’re also in the same team as several ecologists. There used to be more of us but due to the ubiquitous cuts that’s the team at the moment.  The conservation officer and our team leader don’t work full time, also because of the cuts.  So they’re not here today.

I’m in charge of the Historic Environment Record for Leicestershire & Rutland, which is basically a database that attempts to record all known archaeological remains and historic buildings in the county.

The first job of the day is to check the Heritage Gateway upload that I set running last night. About 70% of our HER records are available on-line through the Gateway (our Heritage Gateway update page details what’s on-line at the moment). Yesterday I added some new records (and edited some old ones), so I thought I’d better upload them!  The new records include a rather interesting medieval cruck-framed house, 5-7, Market Place, Whitwick (MLE20894) that is due to be demolished as part of a scheme to build a new Co-op.  (It’s not listed.) Our planning archaeologists have been commenting on the scheme, hence the reports that have provided me with new sites.

Then it’s time to do some fun map regression!  I love the part of my job that’s basically detective work, though sometimes it’s infuriating not to get definitive answers to questions…  Yesterday the Principal Planning Archaeologist brought several things in Ashby-de-la-Zouch to my attention.  First is an early ‘tramway’ that ran from the Ashby Canal to Ticknall.  This was on the HER already, but the mapping wasn’t quite right.  Then there are a whole bunch of industrial sites dating from the C18th-C20th.

Ashby-de-la-Zouch

Historic maps (1735, 1837, 1888) and HER extract for Ashby-de-la-Zouch

The sites are (the links will work when I’ve done the next Gateway upload!):

The next job is something that brings in money – a commercial data search.  Searches are requested by land agents and solicitors as well as commercial archaeology units, to help inform land purchases, planning decisions and as part of fieldwork.  For a fee, I send various digital files (maps, GIS files, gazetteers etc) out containing all the archaeological sites and historic buildings on the HER.  (Non-commercial enquiries are free.)  Interesting sites in Appleby Magna, where this search was for, include Moat House (MLE10939), a C16th house that sits within a moat.  The moated site, along with formal gardens, fishponds and village earthworks, is a Scheduled Monument (National Heritage List Entry No. 1011458).

As a fun Friday afternoon activity I think I’ll go through a book I’ve just bought (another HER officer recommended it to me).  It’s called ‘Actions Stations: Military airfields of Lincolnshire and the East Midlands’, by Bruce Barrymore Halpenny.  We’ve been trying to put World War I sites onto the HER in advance of the First World War Centenary next year and I’m hoping it can add a bit more information.

Short 184 Seaplane

First World War Short 184 seaplane built at the Brush Works, Loughborough

Reaching the end of the day, the book doesn’t contain much First World War information (I’m up to ‘L’ in the gazetteer), but it does have some information about the Brush Works at Loughborough (MLE8697), which built aircraft in both the First and Second World Wars, and Loughborough Meadows (MLE15968), where they test flew their planes. The updated information will be on the Heritage Gateway after my next upload.

As you can see, for an ‘archaeology database’ the HER contains quite a few records that are pretty modern, as well as things like castles and medieval houses.  It certainly makes for an interesting job, learning about all sorts of different things on a daily basis!  You never quite know what the day will hold…

A week with the Hallaton Treasure Project

Today, I’m not being very archaeological at all (currently watching a repeat of Only Fools and Horses on my day off) so thought I’d write about the last week of my job as Project Officer working with the Hallaton Treasure.

The Hallaton Treasure is an internationally important Late Iron Age find comprising over 5000 Iron Age and Roman coins, a Roman cavalry parade helmet, the remains of around 400 pigs and other unique silver objects which were all buried at an Iron Age shrine in south east Leicestershire between 50 BC and AD 60ish.  Many of the finds are displayed at Harborough Museum, Market Harborough where I’m based most of the time.

Coins from the Hallaton Treasure, copyright Leicestershire County Council

Saturday 23 July

Spent the day working at the museum’s I Love Archaeology! event as part of the Festival of British Archaeology.  I was joined by Leicestershire Finds Liaison Officer, Wendy Scott, who kindly gave up her Saturday to talk to visitors about Roman coins and show them some of her handling collection.  I had fun showing kids (and a few adults) how to strike their own replica Corieltavian coins with our bespoke coin striking kit.  Also got to show off a few coins from the Treasure which aren’t usually on display and allowed visitors to carefully handle them.    A lovely day.

Sunday 24 July

Hallaton Treasure Roadshow visited a Festival event in the village of Great Bowden near Market Harborough organised by the very active Great Bowden Heritage and Archaeology  group.  They were launching their new book “Furlong and Furrow” and I had another enjoyable day talking to people about the Treasure and doing more coin making.  My roadshow events usually involve me dressed as “Seren the Iron Age” woman and this was no exception.  Had a go at making a thumb pot out of clay which was one of the fun activities organised by the group for the event.  It turns out that Seren is a rubbish potter and I gave up after my third disastrous attempt.  Was good to get out of my itchy, woollen tube dress at the end of the day!

Monday 25 July

My first full day back in the office for a while was spent catching up on emails and working towards the next major stage of the project – the displaying the Hallaton Helmet at Harborough Museum following three years of conservation at the British Museum.  Conservation work will finish in December this year and the helmet will be displayed at the end of January.  It’s such an exciting project to be involved in, but there is still lots to do before the public get to see this magnificent example of a 1st century AD, silver-gilt, cavalry helmet.

Cheekpiece from the Hallaton Helmet, copyright University of Leicester Archaeological Services

Tuesday 26 July

Another Hallaton Treasure Roadshow, this time at Charnwood Museum, Loughborough.  A great museum featuring lots of local archaeological finds, well worth a visit.  About 100 people took part in the day which included kids craft activities such as making a “Roman helmet” out of card or an Iron Age torc from glittery pipe cleaners.  Older visitors could chat to me about the Treasure.  Hopefully I didn’t bore them too much, once I get started it’s difficult to stop!

Wednesday 27 July

Back in the office, more helmet planning.  Took a call from a Roman re-enactment group who we hope to work with at the public launch of the helmet at the end of January.  Chatted about hiring stunt Roman cavalrymen and ponies to ride around the town centre.  Also sent some emails to the conservation team working on the helmet regarding photographing the finds and timescales etc.

Arranged to visit Tullie House Museum, Carlisle to see their new Roman Frontier Gallery which currently has a Roman cavalry sports helmet from Nijmegen, The Netherlands.  This helmet as loaned to the museum following their unsuccessful bid for the Crosby Garrett Helmet.  Can’t wait to see it and chat to staff about Roman helmets next month.

Thursday 28 July

Another Roadshow event, this time at The Guildhall, Boston where the Hallaton Treasure Travelling Exhibition is on display.  This exhibition has been touring the East Midlandsfor two years and is another interesting aspect of the Hallaton Treasure Project.  The Guildhall recorded their highest ever number of visitors in one day, hope in part due to the free activities we were providing.  Was impressed by the many finds being displayed in the Guildhall which have just been dug up in an excavation taking place in the town’s Market Place.  A wooden patten was the latest find and staff had to spray it with water every hour!

Friday 29 July

Welcome day off.  Getting ready for last Festival of Archaeology event taking place at Harborough Museum tomorrow.  Re-enactors in for Celts V Romans – should be a great way to end a hectic few weeks.

FLO work – a 15 year olds perspective

 

My Archaeology Work Experience with Wendy Scott, FLO for Leicestershire,  by Lewis Monkfield (15).

 First Week

Monday – I went to the record office in  Wigston to set up a Viking exhibition, it was ok but maybe because it was my first day I wasn’t that confident to help or do anything. (he was very helpful! WS)

Tuesday – I went to the record office again as I more determined and confident to join in and help out as I knew what was needed. We then finished the exhibition mid-day and went back to County Hall and started on some objects which had to be recorded.

Wednesday – I was at County Hall identifying all the objects and treasure a detectorist found and started weighing, measuring and taking photographs of them. That then took all day and was still unfinished.

Thursday – I then went to Burrough Hill near Melton to do a dig, unfortunately I didn’t find anything but it was an experience to see what it is like for people who do this daily. I did find out that at the top of Burrough Hill there had been a body discovered, unfortunately they didn’t excavate it so I was unhappy. After lunch I met a nice women (ULAS finds officer) who showed us some Iron age and Roman finds. I met another women (Phd Student) who helped me identify bones of various animals and humans and how to tell if they were female or male which was nice of her.

Friday – I  spent all day putting the photographs on the computer and started to crop them ready for adding to the website. I had to do a lot of editing of Roman coins which had to be sent to the British Museum once completed, which took me some time.

 Second Week

Monday – After completing the photos I then had to put them on a database.  I had to describe them and say what age they were. To go with that I had to match the pictures to the objects and add a find spot, this is to show people who look at the database where the object came from.

Tuesday – I went to the archaeology store in Barrow and looked at all the collected items from people. There was a large variety of different things. The things I liked most and fascinated me were the bugs, beetles and birds in the Natural History collection, which were shown to me by Carolyn Holmes the Curator.

Wednesday- In the morning I was again identifying more objects which I didn’t like doing so early in the morning as I was still half asleep. But then when it came to mid-day I went to Melton Museum to set up an exhibition, I liked this as I organised many objects in my own way , also I met  man called Denis Wells (Secretary of Melton and Belvoir Search Society) who is really nice man to let us look at and display his objects. When I looked at it completed it looked really well organised, as we divided each level into a different time period.

Thursday – it was nearly the end of my work experience and for this day I helped Wendy sort out resource boxes and  categorize different period times and materials into their own little section. This was helpful as I learnt a bit more on how to identify what period they are from.  I tried to laminate words to go with the resource boxes and I made a mess, so yet again I had to cut the words again and laminate them. Wendy sent me home early as I was getting stressed!!

Friday – Last day – Today I helped Wendy finish the resource boxes and upgraded the Roman box and finished everything that was needed which was; cutting which I don’t like doing, and laminating which I mastered this time round. Because of my hard work for two weeks I was allowed to leave early as I was a big help to Wendy during work experience.

I have learnt a lot during my two weeks here at the County Council, as it was a challenge for me. I also had a lot of fun during work experience and I have met a lot of people. I also want to thank Wendy Scott for putting up with me for two whole weeks. I am delighted that Wendy has allowed me to see what she does for a living, which is kind of her. This work experience has shown me what she has to do day in day out, which is hard work! But most of all I’m happy that I came here as I have learnt a lot from Wendy.

Lewis digging at Burrough Hillfort