Thursday, 29 August 2013

Starting Family History courses available

One of the most popular reasons for people to come to The Hive and use our resources is  family history, which is very popular. Whether it is triggered by watching the latest series of Who Do You Think You Are?, discovery of old photos or letters, a conversation with relatives or simple curiosity we are used to people coming to us to trace their family history.

Here on level 2 in The Hive we can provide access via computer to census information and civil registration (birth, marriage and death) indexes for England and Wales and well as some other sources. If your ancestors are from Worcestershire we can help even more as we have parish registers, wills, marriage licences, trade directories, and newspapers for the county, as well as archives covering schools, local estates and hospitals. A guide to what we have and some tips for getting started can be found here.

To help you get started we will be running a number of courses in the autumn for anyone interested in tracing their family history.

We will offering two 8-week courses in Starting Family History, in partnership with Worcester College of Technology, running on Tuesday mornings from 24th September and Wednesday evenings from 25th September. These will teach you the basics of how to go about starting your family tree, as well as explaining about the main sources you'll use, such as census, civil registration, parish registers and wills. Useful for anyone wanting to begin family history, it will also be helpful for those who have begun but want to know a bit more about the sources, how to understand them and how to get the most out of them. As the course takes place in The Hive there will be opportunity to put your learning into practice by using the resources of on the Explore the Past floor. The course costs £95 and should be booked through the College on 01905 725594/743456 or

We'll also be repeating our popular workshops on Thursday mornings in September and October. The three workshops, which can be booked individually or together, begins with the census and an introduction to using the website. The second workshop goes beyond the census to the next most commonly used sources on the website. The third workshop focuses on what has been added over the past 2 years. Each workshop begins with a presentation and explanation of the different historic sources, and examples of searching on the big screen, before moving onto the computers for you to have a go yourself at searching on the website. Workshops are £6 each and need to be booked in advance via, at the desk, or by phone 01905 766352.

On the first Wednesday's and Saturday we have one hour induction tours which take you round the different resources we have here with in the Explore the Past area in The Hive. These cost £5 and again should be booked in advance via, at the desk, or by phone 01905 766352.

So if you've decided that you'd like to make a start of your family tree, or to restart after a break, we hope to see you soon.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

War Memorials Worcestershire

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service (WAAS) and Worcester City Council Historic Environment Record (WHER) are considering applying to Heritage Lottery Fund to run a project to record our County's war memorials.
Our war memorials are at risk for a number of reasons:
· The locations of many of them are unknown;
· Many are falling into disrepair and we do not know who is responsible for their upkeep;
· Some have been vandalised or targeted by metal thieves;
· Some have vanished because they were inside now closed chapels or local businesses;
· Some have been moved from their original locations to facilitate development;
· There is often a lack of funds to restore those in a state of disrepair;
· In many parishes there is a lack of public awareness about their local war memorial(s);
· Some are constructed from the local sandstone, which wears easily, and we are in danger of losing the names of those recorded upon them.

The project aims to develop a programme through which we will engage local communities with their military heritage through the recording of the county's war memorials and those commemorated upon them.  Alongside facilitating a programme of memorial recording and archival research, direct engagement with the local armed forces community will enable groups to gain a broader awareness and understanding of the conflicts from which these monuments emerged, and a deeper appreciation of the sacrifices of those which they commemorate.

WAAS and WHER will only go ahead with the application if we feel that local communities and groups in Worcestershire would welcome the project and wish to participate, therefore, we would be very grateful if you would complete a short survey to let us know your thoughts.

Simply email to receive a copy of the survey. Completed surveys should be returned to Emma Hancox at the previously mentioned addresss, or posted to Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service, The Hive, Sawmill Walk, The Butts, Worcester WR1 3PB.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Nash's Almhouses jigsaw and real artefact activities at The Hive

On Wednesday, 21st August visitors to the Children's Library were able to find out about an unusual aspect of the history and archaeology of The Hive site, by participating in an event provided by staff from the Archive and Archaeology Service.  The activities were based around a giant 5 metre long jigsaw of a terrace of almshouses and several  boxes of real artefacts from the 19th century through to the 1960s.

When archaeologists were excavating the site before The Hive was constructed, one of the buildings they discovered was the foundations of a small row of terraced houses.  Further investigation of old documents and historic maps in the Archives revealed that these nine almshouses were built around 1838, nearly 150 years after a charity was originally set up by John Nash, a successful clothier, in the late 17th century.  These plain small red brick houses named after Mr Nash, had only one room down and one room upstairs, with an outdoor shared privy (toilet) and water pump.  The houses were finally demolished in 1974 when they were no longer up to modern standards.

At the event everyone was able to examine a wide variety of weird and wonderful artefacts.  The sort of things that might have been used by the residents who lived in these very ordinary houses.  All were everyday objects such as a Victorian china potty; a 1950s tea strainer; a bone-handled button hook; a marble bottle, a brass box which might have contained cigarettes or chocolate,(sent from Queen Mary to all the soldiers on the frontline during the Great War) and a 1940s badger bristle shaving brush, to name just a few! 

It was a great opportunity for people who use The Hive to discover more about the fascinating history of site and to actually handle and find out about real artefacts from the past. 

Friday, 16 August 2013

Long-straw wheat and flax on the Worcestershire Young Archaeologists' allotment

Harvesting is in full swing on the Worcestershire Young Archaeologists Club (WYAC) allotment. Two of our historic crops (long-straw wheat and flax) are looking good, and on the last weekend in July we started to harvest our wheat.

Long-straw wheat 


The wheat is called Maris Widgeon which is an heritage variety of wheat, grown only on a small scale in the UK today mainly for thatching and also used for straw crafts such as corn dolly making and straw plaiting. It is probably one of the closest varieties to the type of wheat grown in the British Isles from Saxon times onwards, for centuries until short-strawed varieties became the norm about 50 or 60 years ago. Traditionally straw had many uses, from use as animal feed and animal bedding to thatching, so long straw was valued and nothing from the crop was wasted. Straw has been going out of fashion, so to speak, because of our modern farming methods and modern lifestyles, but not on the WYAC allotment!

Harvesting the wheat: Photo supplied courtesy of Rob Hedge
We are growing the wheat so that Young Archaeologist members can learn about the qualities of a traditional wheat that played a central part in farmers lives for so long: how to harvest it, process it, and use the product. Young Archaeologist members have been harvesting the wheat both by scything and uprooting; some showing a natural talent for scything, so perhaps we have some natural-born farmers in our midst.

We then used some of the straw to practice the ancient custom of corn dolly making – making a simple Lammas favour.  We didn't quite have the time to indulge in straw plaiting, which is another traditional use of straw that in some parts of the country was, at one time, a major cottage industry. Straw plaiters (mainly women and children) were crucial suppliers to the straw hat makers in London.

Making a Lammas favour. Photo supplied courtesy of Rob Hedge

A completed Lammas Favour. Photo supplied courtesy of Sheena Payne-Lunn

A straw plait

 Straw hats made from straw plait

We then abandoned the straw and instead winnowed some broken up wheat ears from last year’s crop, then ground some of the grain in our replica rotary quern to make a fine example of some wholemeal flour.

Grinding wheat grain. Photo supplied courtesy of Rob Hedge.

Wholemeal flour product. Photo supplied courtesy of Rob Hedge.

In September we will be sowing another long-straw wheat crop for next year, and there will be an opportunity to find out how we know what crops people were growing in the past, from the archaeological evidence. We will be looking at some burnt Roman grain and crop processing waste from a different type of wheat.

Our flax, that we are growing for the fibres which are used to make linen, is still ripening, but soon we will be processing that too. In order to produce these fine fibres we will have to try rippling, retting,  breaking, scutching  and heckling: more skills to learn in the near future.

For a further account of the day which includes information on digging a test pit and the finds recovered, see Sheena Payne-Lunn’s contribution to My Day of Archaeology for the Festival of Archaeology 2013.


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Mapping small wetlands in Worcestershire: the results

Wandering around the Worcestershire countryside for any length of time is likely to take you past small wetlands of varying descriptions – fishponds, moats, mill leats, osiers, marsh and reed beds and other boggy areas which were once river or stream channels. In a recent post we introduced a project which maps and assesses small wetlands in Worcestershire which are essentially our wetland heritage. They are places where wooden structures, organic artefacts and ancient plant debris can all survive in the wet conditions, from which we can find out about past activities and landscape. The number may be surprising to some. A total of 4911 sites have been mapped through our recent English Heritage funded project and through previous projects, and that only covers areas most at risk from development, and an area covered by the Grow With Wyre project.
Pollen grains from peaty deposits within these small wetland features can be used to reconstruct longterm changes in the environment. Changes in woodland and grassland over thousands of years can be shown in a pollen diagram (see below). Other plant debris such as seeds and pods can also show what plants were growing on the spot.

Birch Pollen

 Waterlogged Flax Capsules
Only a small proportion of our mapped sites had been previously recorded on the Historic Environment Record or HER (around 16% of the sites mapped through this project). We mapped many natural features such as marshes, and other areas where marshy deposits tend to form, such as in old silted up river channels (palaeochannels) and pronounced meander loops. These are potential sinks of information on our heritage and past landscape but they rarely appear on the HER because they have no obvious cultural element. Marshes and ponds (of no known specific use) were particularly unlikely to have been included, and so the level to which we have been able to enhance this record is considerable. Most of the fishponds and moats have been on the HER for some time, and as we expected, other small wetlands included were those which have a cultural association such as mill ponds or leats and occasionally osiers (willow plantations). All these can be viewed on the HER which is open for public consultation on the 2nd floor of The Hive.

Patterns in the data:
Using the digital mapping it is possible to, effectively, sweep around the county looking for patterns in the data. We can see clusters of small wetland sites, for example around Wolverley and Cookley, Wilden on the River Severn near Stourport and through the Arrow Valley Country Park running through the centre of Redditch and Beoley in north-east Worcestershire. Types of wetland sites can also be more prominent than we thought. As mentioned in our previous post osier beds (willow plantations), for example, are particularly common along the River Severn, and have been included as they are frequently marshy, and although a small number are known to be of 19th century date, some could be much older. In the case of the more recently planted osiers, they are likely to have been planted on unprofitable and potentially marshy or floodable land, so upon sampling may reveal older peaty or waterlain deposits. They were generally used for producing willow hurdles and basketry, previously a much needed commodity for transporting goods. Some of these sites are particularly large (over 30,000 sq metres, and in one case over 40,000 sq metres) and it is worth considering their value.

How old are these sites?
Mapping these wetlands does not necessarily tell us how old the sites are so we cannot be certain yet of whether a particular site is of a similar age to any nearby known archaeological sites, monuments or landscapes. The method does, though, at least provide a starting point for research and help to make decisions about management of our wetland heritage.
Many of the sites could prove to be medieval to late post-medieval in date. It is harder to map older prehistoric sites as they often lie buried under river silts but, nevertheless, we do have some mapped examples which we know have been with us since the end of the last Ice Age. A bog at Hartlebury Common and a marsh at Ipsley Alders, Redditch both started to build up in Late Glacial times leaving us with a peaty record of landscape change over thousands of years. 

Bog at Hartlebury Common

The largest meander loop that we have mapped is quite pronounced and is one that contains the whole of Evesham, assessed as being of high potential, principally because it is so large. Within that meander we have previously come across 18th century peaty deposits exposed during engineering works by Severn Trent at Abbot Chyryton's Wall where we found shoe leather with plant and insect remains that hint at early market gardening activities.

The volunteer contribution
The ground-truthing survey was carried out by a team of volunteers, some who previously were involved with the Grow With Wyre project, and members of South Worcestershire Archaeology Group (SWAG) and Redditch Local History Society (RLHS).
The photographs and recording forms which volunteers filled out were invaluable. Mentioned in an earlier post was the tendency for the office based team to over-estimate tree cover from aerial photographs as part of the site assessment. In a sense, it is like ‘not being able to see the wood for the trees’ because you are looking down at the tree canopy on an aerial photograph, but a photograph taken on a site visit makes the scene clearer

Marsh west of Winnall Coppice, supplied courtesy of Carole Gammond/Jacqui Bradley

From these photographs we can see that an adjustment we have made to assessing tree cover and accessibility of a site has improved our overall site assessment.
Photographs of general ground conditions, showing for example, steep slopes, overgrown vegetation, dried out marshland, can all be helpful, and even a chat with a passer by might point to a friendly landowner who would allow access to one of our mapped sites.
Volunteers often have local knowledge about modern ground disturbance which has affected wetland sites but may not be apparent from the mapping and aerial photographs, such as recent flood damage and minor flood defence work. Redditch is an area which has seen much disturbance during the development of the new town in the 1960s, much of which is known by members of the Redditch Local History Society. Before the new areas of Redditch were developed there were numerous ponds, all of which were mapped, the remnants of which may exist in pockets around Redditch. Sometimes potential areas of marshland are spotted by volunteers which were not obvious on our maps, such as this one in a small meander loop in Arrow Valley Country Park.

Arrow Valley marsh in a meander loop. Image supplied courtesy of Redditch Local History Society
A green valley (Arrow Valley Country Park) threads through the town, within which there are thick buried peats. In the Washford area of Redditch a large timber in a buried peat deposit was revealed during modern development, and has since been dated to the Bronze Age. An afternoon’s walk along the valley will take you over buried marshland and old river channels, mostly invisible below the surface. It is an environment which is a store of information on past landscape of several thousand years.
To date we have covered areas of Worcestershire most likely to be affected by development, and in addition a large area of the Wyre Forest through the Grow With Wyre project. Our thanks go to the volunteers and to Tegan Cole who carried out the GIS mapping and assessment. In future we hope to be able to map and assess more of Worcestershire by working with volunteer groups. The project was led by Worcestershire Archaeology, and the project leader was Liz Pearson. For further details please contact