Ian Blair

Cakes, Cottages and Manky Bones

Hello!  Gabe here.  I teach archaeology-type things at UCL, but I don’t get to dig as much as I’d like to. This year I was very excited to be able to spend the Day of Archaeology at the Museum of London’s community archaeology project at Headstone Manor in Harrow, North London, where I’ve been helping out for a few weeks.  Headstone Manor is a medieval site with a rather lovely moat full of ducks – the site was a farm for centuries, and the dig is aimed at examining the remains of farm workers’ cottages.


In the morning it rained, so to protect our precious field-school participants from getting wet we ran an impromptu indoor teaching session on human remains. The Museum of London provided a skelly – a rather nice medieval male specimen with a truly horrifying spine.  As we laid him out we saw his very worn teeth, and the severe lipping and spurring (growths of bone) on the vertebrae.  The general impression was “ouch”.

Back on the trench when the rain stopped, we got back to revealing the outline of the cottage with its flint and brick foundations and the outlines of brick outbuildings, including a mysterious circular feature (see above, on the left of the trench).


Away from the cottage, we were busy planning the rather tangled set of layers, lenses and splodges in the east end of the trench, which is both nasty and confusing.  While we were cleaning it up a local resident stopped by for a chat.  I told him what we were up to, and he told me he’d never seen middle-class people working so hard – high praise indeed … I think.

Tea break!  Both me and digger Anna had made cakes for the last day of the fieldschool, so we had a classy carby break – I made cherry and almond loaf cake (Nigella’s recipe), and Anna made a delicious chocolate banana cake.


At the end of the day we gathered around the finds processing area to look at some of the stuff that’d been found during the week, including big lumps of an iron hearth, and an assortment of mostly nineteenth century finds including clay pipe, ceramics and glassware.


Finally, a review of the weeks results on the trench by site director Ian Blair.  In the picture you can see the front wall of the cottage (partly robbed out) with part of a brick floor to the left.  All in all we had a great week of fieldschool fun with a fantastic team, some lovely finds and features, and great cakes.  Still, it’s that twisted and spiky medieval spine that sticks in my mind – ugh!

Thanks to everybody on the dig!  See (some of) you next week.

Want to see the dig? There’s a FREE open day at Headstone Manor on July 20th from 12 to 4.  Pop in for some family friendly activities. Come and see some finds from the site, go on a site tour and experience medieval re-enactments.

Headstone Manor is located at Pinner View, Harrow, HA2 6PX. The closest station is Harrow and Wealdstone.