Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Worcestershire On Film

Our series of archive film screenings, run in conjunction with the Media Archive for Central England, have always been popular. Over 3,500 people have come to events across the county over the past few years, and the annual screening at The Swan Theatre, Worcester, usually sells out. There's often a buzz as people reminisce about places they recognise, and sometimes spot people they know.

Coronation celebrations in Belbroughton, 1937

On Wednesday 14th August we return with a new series of films. We have some newly digitised material shot by Worcester film-maker John Beer including VJ Day being celebrated in the city in 1945 and Worcester grinding to a halt during the snow of 1947.  We also have some other recent finds including the 1937 Coronation being celebrated in Belbroughton and a 1929 visit to the Shelsley Walsh hill climb.  Other highlights from the city itself include production scenes at Royal Worcester from 1958 and a behind the scenes look at the production of the Berrows Worcester Journal newspaper. An historic paper which surprisingly was the first locally to embrace the computer age.  We'll also be remembering the novelist Francis Brett Young who is commemorated at Worcester Cathedral and was one of the most popular novelists of the inter-war years with his tales of both the Worcestershire countryside and the industrial lure of the Black Country.

The Shelsey Walsh hill climb, 1929

Tickets are £6.50 and are on sale from the WorcesterLive Box Office at Huntingdon hall, or you can ring them on 01905 611427. We look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Mapping small wetlands in Worcestershire

Worcestershire is probably not an area that you would associate with important wetland archaeology. The Sweet Track, a Neolithic timber trackway preserved in a Somerset bog, or the Bronze Age settlement of Flag Fen found in the Cambridgeshire fens are more likely to strike a chord. These sites are both found in areas of extensive wetland, something not evident in Worcestershire. What we do have, however, is a myriad of small discrete wetland sites, in which valuable archaeological and landscape information can be found. They include cultural features such as fishponds, moats, and osiers but also natural features such as marshes, reed swamps, ponds of no known specific use, relict river channels, pronounced river meander loops and cut-off meanders. 

Harvington fishponds

Though small and discrete, they are often at far more threat than the largely better documented and protected large expanses of blanket peats in England, yet contain unique and important evidence. Using these sites we can potentially research into our past environment by analysing waterlain deposits which are often organic. We can look at pollen, plant remains, any wet artefacts like leather, timber structures and even the sediments themselves. Though small, these wetlands are localised and increasingly highly vulnerable to destruction by housing and business development, quarrying, water extraction, flood mitigation measures, climate change and sometimes wetland restoration.

Worcestershire Archaeology has recently finished a project which set out to refine a method of mapping and assessing the archaeological potential of small wetlands in Worcestershire using a digital mapping toolkit. The work was funded through the English Heritage National Heritage Protection Programme (or NHPP) and was also greatly helped by a group of volunteers who carried out ground-truthing survey work.

The aim was to raise the profile of these sites as archaeological or historic environment assets. We can rapidly map them using a Geographic Information System (GIS) and assess them in a way that integrates the information into our Historic Environment Record (HER). You can find the HER on the 2nd floor of The Hive.
An essential part of the project has been the ground-truthing of sites using volunteer help.  Our volunteer team are our 'feet on the ground' who photograph and take basic notes on sites that we have seen on our digital maps. Sometimes it is difficult to visualise what these sites look like (from our viewpoint in the office), and whether our assessment of these as 'high, 'medium' or 'low’ archaeological potential is correct.

We are mapping sites which are at least 100 years old and are shown on 1st edition Ordnance Survey maps. We can create a map like this on modern maps.

Arrow Valley Country Park, Redditch

We look at their size and how much they have been affected by more recent woodland cover, development (buildings and hard surfaces) or changes in standing water.

Aerial photographs and LiDAR (a remote sensing technique) can help us, but, in addition, having someone visit the site can give us a good idea of how well our desk-based methods work. This is a relatively large osier bed (willow plantation) east of Lower Astley Wood. It looks completely densely covered by woodland on an aerial photograph but viewed from a bridleway is much more open and marshy on the ground.

Aerial photograph of the osier east of Lower Astley Wood

Osier east of Lower Astley Wood as viewed from a bridleway

Osier beds (managed willow stands producing willow for basketware, wattle fencing etc) are very common in Worcestershire and some cover large areas of land. Although many were established in the 19th century, they are likely to be sited on previously marshy ground, and we can see from LiDAR images that some overlie old silted up river channels. Beneath the tree roots could be well preserved pollen sequences that record hundreds of years of landscape change, charting the felling of woodland for early prehistoric settlements and arable fields over time, and conversely renewal of woodland when settlements dwindled and passed out of use.

We can find waterlogged timber lining old river channels or relating to mill structures, or waterlogged artefacts in moats and ponds. At Bordesley Abbey near Redditch, waterlogged wooden cogs, pegs, wedges were found from excavations of the mill race, and from the bypass channel, weaving apparatus – a 'heddle horse', winding peg and warping paddle.

As well as providing a sink for plant debris that is essentially a record of past landscape, these structures and sometimes medieval domestic rubbish, can also survive remarkably well. Making sure we have these small wetlands on our Historic Environment Record and improving our knowledge about their potential is an important task.

Waterlogged wood from Bordesley Abbey. Image supplied courtesy of the Council for British Archaeology Research Report 92.

A summary of our findings will be forthcoming on this blog soon.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Book on to our Behind the Scenes tour - Monday 29th July

Have you ever wanted to

Read a letter sent from the Titanic...    

See William Shakespeare's Marriage Bond...

Watch our Conservator at work...

Handle archaeological finds including Roman pottery?

Join us on a 'Behind the Scenes' tour of Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service on

Monday 29th July at 2pm

£4 per person, tours last approx 1½ hrs.
Book your place at the 'Explore the Past' desk on level 2 at The Hive, phone 01905 766352, or e-mail explorethepast@worcestershire.gov.uk

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Hanleys' Community Archaeology Dig

The Hanleys' Community Archaeology Dig was undertaken over a three week period in late September/October 2012. Up to 20 volunteers a day joined the training dig run by Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service for the Hanleys' Village Society on a Site located to the east of Hanley Castle towards the River Severn.

Five trenches, amounting to a total length of 160m and an area of about 240m2, were excavated and the findings and project report are now available online. The website is a departure from our normal method of reporting the results of an excavation, but provides an opportunity to share the findings with a wider audience as well as taking advantage of the latest digital technological advances. The information includes a map which shows the position of the trenches that were excavated together with the features and surfaces/layers that were revealed, a full synopsis and photographs of the dig and some of the finds.
The dig participants all had the chance to first learn, and then, under supervision, put into practise each aspect of field archaeology. Prior to the digging of trenches a geophysical survey and fieldwalking had provided much information so that the trenches could be effectively positioned for more in-depth investigation of the site.

The weather was not kind (rainfall was twice the normal amount expected for the time of year), but the volunteers made good progress in uncovering and recording a Roman site of interest. An unusual amount of Roman industrial activity (ironworking) was present, and the finds indicated background activity from the earlier prehistoric period (ie worked flint) to modern times – a substantial gap was also noted, as there was no sign of Sub-Roman/Anglo-Saxon or early medieval activity.

In total 1902 finds were collected and these were mainly Roman pottery sherds.
The results suggest a strong Roman presence on the west bank of the river, and in the vicinity of what later became established as Quay Lane. All in all, the Hanley Castle site provides some of the first solid evidence for the importance of Roman riverside sites on the Severn outside of Worcester. For more details on the finds and the results of the excavation visit the Project website. 

Friday, 12 July 2013

Walkpast Worcester - Saturday 3rd August

Our next walk in our popular Walkpast series takes place on Saturday 3rd August at 2pm and it will follow the Worcester city boundary as described in a 1497 document found in the Worcester City Collection. The perambulation, describing the boundary route, was used by city officials to make inspections to ensure that everything was ok and no one had encroached. It was probably similar to 'Beating the Bounds', which still takes place in some parishes to this day.

We will be tracing the description of the route in a document of 1497, where members of the City Corporation would officially walk round the boundary to check everything was okay. The document states that the officials should not wear armour or carry weapons, although they are allowed to take a stout staff. Some places are familiar, such as the Commander and Pitchcroft, whilst others have changed, such as Cutthroat Lane.

The city boundary was much closer to the city centre, but it will still take us around 3 hours on the day and the total distance covered will be 4 miles.

To book your place, which costs £6, please e-mail hiveadminteam@worcestershire.gov.uk or for more information ring 01905 766352

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

One year on - tell us your Hive highlights

Thursday 11th June is the one year anniversary of the official opening of The Hive and to mark the occasion we will be celebrating our successes so far. Come along on the day when we will be giving out balloons and stickers and gathering people's memories of the past year.

On 11th June 2012 we were honoured to have the Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh visit to tour The Hive and to meet members of staff, students and the public, after which they unveiled a commemorative plaque that now hangs near the entrance of the building. On the day many local community groups, schools and students got involved in the wide range of activities that were planned throughout the building, which were designed to reflect the extent of the learning and leisure opportunities the services within The Hive provide.

To mark the anniversary of the official opening we would like to gather people's memories and highlights of the opening day and of The Hive over the past year.

Were you here on the day of the Queen's visit? Were you involved in any of the activities that took place that day? Has The Hive influenced you in any way since it opened? What highlights have there been for you since The Hive opened?

Visit The Hive on Thursday and you will be able to write down your memories ready for staff to collect. Alternatively, if you can't make it on the day you can submit your comments on this blog or through our other social media accounts:

Twitter@ExploreThePast or @TheHiveWorcs  
If you're tweeting us remember to use the hashtag #HiveMemories so we can easily track all of your comments. 

Facebook: Worcestershire Archaeology

You can also email us at admin@thehiveworcester.org 

All of the memories we gather on the day will be used to build a picture of our first year at The Hive. We will then retain these as a permanent archive to look back on for years to come.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Meet the Archaeologist

What does an archaeologist do? Is it like the programmes you've seen on TV? As part of the Festival of British Archaeology we are going to be giving you the opportunity to find out more. Archaeologist Rob Hedge will be talking about the life and role of an archaeologist, from day-to-day digging to investigating some amazing sites as a digger for Channel 4's Time Team.

He will explore the behind-the-scenes work that helps to tell the story, from how we can tell so much from tiny pieces of pottery, to what happens to the sites and the finds once the digging is completed. In addition to his work for Time Team, he will also discuss his current work for Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service, as a CBA Bursary holder working on community archaeology projects, especially with young people.

The event takes place on Wednesday 24th July at 7pm in the Studio in The Hive. It is free of charge but places must be reserved in advance. You can do this by e-mailing explorethepast@worcestershire.gov.uk, or alternatively by ringing 01905 766352.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

The Hive: celebrating our first anniversary

Today marks one year since The Hive opened its doors to the public and we welcomed in our first customers to the Archive and Archaeology Service. It has been a very busy year that has seen staff and our customers adapting to a completely new way of operating, but it has nevertheless been a resounding success. We are incredibly proud of the service we have to offer the public and to mark the anniversary here are some of our highlights from the past 12 months.

Visitor statistics:
In its first year of opening The Hive has had almost 950,000 visitors. We've welcomed many people to our new service since opening, as you can see from our user figures:

40393 visitors to the Explore the Past floor on Level 2
4344 visitors signed in to view original archives
1157 first time visitors to view original archives
8029 original documents issued
2711 visitors signed in to use our Historic Environment Record

It is fantastic to see how many first time visitors we have had and we are sure that our more accessible location in The Hive has played an important part in bringing in a new range of users to our service.

Our Outreach team have been working incredibly hard in delivering our services to a broad range of people to help encourage the use of the Archive and Archaeology Service for both educational and leisure purposes. So far their activities have reached a whopping 6814 people - which includes behind-the-scenes tours, workshops, school visits, historical walking tours, family and local history training sessions and Worcestershire Young Archaeologist Club activities.

We have worked with the University of Birmingham to develop the Touch History Table, highlighting our resources in a new and exciting way. This attracts a lot of attention from visitors to Level 2 of The Hive, particularly younger users. In fact the table is such a success that we were nominated in the Innovations category of the 2013 Museums + Heritage Awards. 

Archive deposits:
We have had a total of 145 new deposits of records, which our Collections Team are now working to accession and prioritise for processing. Highlights of our recent deposits include papers relating to the Freedom of the City being granted to Winston Churchill, CDs of the World of Kays oral history project, diaries kept by Albert Clarke of the Worcester Yeomanary dating from 1916-1918 when he was a prisoner of war in Turkey and records of the Worcester Girl Guides.

Historic Environment Record:
The Historic Environment Record have been busy adding new and edited records to their already extensive resource, with a huge 13004 records added since we opened to the public last year. This has been a significant year for our HER team too as they have opened a staffed HER public service for the first time, and for more hours than any other organisation in the country.

Our Digitisation team have had their busiest year to date and have continued to work tirelessly on external projects along with requests from users in our public searchroom, which have doubled since we opened at The Hive. Projects they have been working on include the digitisation of Shropshire's parish registers; working with Warwickshire's Historic Environment Record to digitise thousands of aerial photographs dating from the 1940s to 1960s, along with 9000 slides amd working with the library to digitise important pieces including the John Gould collection, Blackwell's Herbal and even Samuel Johnson's dictionary. If you would like to discuss orders please contact John France, our Senior Digitiser.  

A page from the Imagines Deorum et Hominorum, digitised by our team

An image taken from Gould's Birds of Australia Supplement, digitised by our team 

This year we successfully recruited a Conservator, Rhonda, who is responsible for looking after the in-house conservation needs of our collection of historic archives. This is the first time Worcestershire has had a Conservator since 1998 when the Hereford and Worcester county was split - it is also the first time we have ever had a on-site Conservator, so we are really pleased to welcome her here! Rhonda is also able to provide advice and preservation and repair work to external customers so contact us if you would like more information.

Rhonda working in the Conservation suite

We are incredibly grateful for the small army of volunteers we have working for us who have contributed a total of 2665 hours since we opened. They really add so much value to our work in carrying out tasks that we would otherwise be unable to give time to, so thank you to each and every person who has dedicated their time to our service.

Volunteers helping with the task of washing finds

Archaeology Field team:
The Field Archaeology Section (also known at Worcestershire Archaeology) of our service, works to  provide expert support for the Council's core heritage services, facilitated through undertaking archaeological and other projects. The Field team's move to The Hive was seamless and their work continued uninterrupted - the team simply left the University in the morning, and headed back to The Hive at the end of the day! Ninety projects have been completed by the team over the past 12 months. This is not to mention the work the team has done providing advice on historic buildings, presenting papers at national conferences, running the Archaeology Dayschool, maintaining the County Fabric Series (an online resource on the types of historic pottery that can be found in the county), giving Hive tours and talks to groups, providing advice for police forensic experts and setting up a finds identification service. The team are also busy progressing with the analysis of the results of The Hive archaeological excavation; this is a large and complex task as some 20,000 sherds of pottery were recorded in detail. Perhaps the best discovery we have made in the county this year was the remains of a medieval (and possibly earlier) mill

An excavation revealing remains of a medieval mill

This past year has been both busy and exciting in the new opportunities it has provided for our service. We look forward to the year ahead and hope you will join us in one of the many aspects of our work.