Inspiring a community in the heart of a World Heritage Site: Community Archaeology in the Ironbridge Gorge

Hi, I’m Sam, and I’m the Council of British Archaeology (CBA) funded Community Archaeology Training Placement based at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust in Shropshire. I started my training post back in April this year and have so far been involved in a variety of events and activities that will hopefully provide me with the skills to work in community archaeology when my placement finishes in 2014.

My average day usually always starts the same way, checking emails and messages, and responding to any enquiries that may have come in from volunteers, local societies, schools, or members of the community with an interest in archaeology. For example, on Saturday we’re running a taster session for the Young Archaeologists Club as part of the Festival of Archaeology, so this morning there were a handful of emails regarding that.

Guiding a World War themed walk back in June

Guiding a World War themed walk back in June

Once emails etc have been checked, my day can vary quite considerably, and I suppose that’s the beauty of working in community archaeology.  The variety of my work is essentially because my role here at Ironbridge is to engage the local community with the archaeology in the area. Sometimes this is a simple task, especially when people already have an interest in the subject, but at other times the target audience may not be able to jump in a trench and excavation to their hearts content, but this does not mean that they don’t want to be involved. Therefore we look to involve everyone by leading guided walks, running public lecture series and workshops, visiting local schools and holding regular volunteer sessions for people to become involved in projects such as finds recording, archiving, research and even some excavation.

Volunteers working on a finds recording project

Volunteers working on a finds recording project

So what does my day entail today? Emails have been checked, and so my attention can now turn to an upcoming volunteer project looking into the site of a china works based in the village of Madeley, just down the road from the museums offices. This will involve a small scale excavation planned for September, so I’m busy putting together the project design and most importantly making sure that we’ll have the right equipment and man power for the job. Then this afternoon, I’m going to be allowed out of the office and into the sunshine, to lead a guided walk around the sites associated with the ceramic industry in Jackfield and Coalport.

At times, any job in archaeology can seem a little repetitive and mundane, but being able to work with people who have a genuine interest and love for the archaeology and heritage of this area does brighten up even the dullest of days. I am forever learning new things and finding new paths to explore, and I can safely say that I enjoy my job.

Small, but (almost) perfectly formed

Today is a mixture of post-excavation, research and reporting. The first item on my ‘to-do’ list is to download and catalogue the records from my site visit earlier this week. This was a watching brief on restoration work at the former Stirchley Station. This is located in Telford Town Park and is part of a series of works to improve public access and interpretation. (Read about some earlier work at the Stirchley furnaces site here).

The station was on the London and North Western Railway’s Coalport Branch, which opened in 1861 and closed in 1964. The railway largely followed the route of the Shropshire Canal, which was completed in 1792. All of the stations were built by the owner of the ‘All Nations’ Pub in Madeley. The line of the railway is now the ‘Silkin Way’, a footpath and cycleway that runs through Telford.

For many years the platform has been overgrown, but is now being cleared and restored (left-hand photo below). During the course of this work contractors discovered a chamber which was at first thought to be a well.

After cleaning, it turned out to be a simple drainage sump, with water from the platform and trackbed being fed into it. So, nothing very exciting, but a very tiny piece of information which somehow adds to our collective understanding. Such is the nature of most archaeology!