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!