Historic England

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

A Day in the life of an archaeological HARPO

My name is Sarah Howard and I am a Historic England Heritage at Risk Project Officer (HARPO, not to be confused with a harpy, although it does depend on what kind of mood you get me in). My day to day job involves looking after nationally designated sites that are threatened within the North West of England and particularly within the counties of Lancashire and Cumbria. Every year the North West Heritage at Risk Team update the Heritage at Risk Register with some sites coming off, some added and others indicating progress towards their removal. In many cases, historic buildings and archaeological sites are at risk due to general decay from neglect or lack of maintenance, but many of the sites I deal with are in the uplands and here we have a particular problem with bracken. In the Lake District, this vegetation was once used for a multitude of purposes, but is now growing out of control and quickly spreading across the landscape, not only obscuring archaeological sites, but also potentially causing mayhem to below-ground deposits due to their robust root systems or rhizomes. Many of my sites are quite off the beaten track, so I had the challenge to get all my site visits in western Cumbria and the central Lake District done in 3 days (to borrow the Time Team trope ?). It was also a great opportunity to have a bit of an adventure, to rediscover the excitement and wonder of my field, actually in the field!

The video below is a recap of June 15th 2017 when I visited two Romano-British sites (The Hawk near Torver and Tongue House Barn near Kentmere). Thanks to the hard work of Lake District National Park volunteers, these sites have been cleared of bracken and are once again prominent features within the cultural landscape of the recently inscribed Lake District World Heritage Site.


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.