Friday, 27 December 2013

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~5~ Bronze Age Biconical Urn from Clifton Quarry

Our Treasure today is a Bronze Age biconical urn from Clifton Quarry that has been chosen by Laura Templeton, Senior Illustrator. Here she tells us more about the find:

Trenching at Clifton Quarry unearthed a Bronze Age ‘shouldered’ or ‘biconical’ urn. About a third of the pot seemed to be present, but was so crushed and fragile that it was lifted from the ground in a block of soil, wrapped in elastic bandage and bubble wrap, and boxed just as it had rested in the ground. We were concerned that, because the pot was so fragile, it might deteriorate quite rapidly.

The vessel as it arrived

Finds staff considered that many of the sherds were so degraded that they might not survive further treatment – let alone handling or cleaning - so as much soil as possible was cleared from its outside surface, and it was photographed. After some discussion and consideration of the options, we decided to draw the pot before it was excavated from the soil block in order to record the sherds and the decorative details before there was any further deterioration.

The task before me was to draw the vessel to scale, with minimal handling. With a glass plate placed horizontally above the vessel, and using a home made ‘biroscope’ to sight vertically down through the glass onto the pot, I drew the basic shape and decoration onto the glass plate.

Drawing the details onto glass using a biroscope

I used a fine pen to draw the shape of the sherds and the decorative details on to the glass – some details are too delicate to draw on to the glass so I marked their positions and measurements and made notes of particular details I needed to include when completing the final drawing. Using a biro-scope is tiring on the eyes and regular breaks are needed - the work can’t be rushed at this stage.

Once all the major measurements were complete, I completed the drawing in pencil at 1:1, again checking measurements with dividers. 

The profile of the pot was well preserved and the soil held it in a very good position for recording, but again, I could not lift the pot or move the sherds. Electrical soldering wire gently pressed against the side of the vessel held the shape of the profile extremely well – certainly for the brief moment it took to trace the shape onto drawing film.

A close up of the rim

I hoped that once the sherds were excavated from their soil block, enough would survive to complete a profile and reconstruction of the pot and this was just about possible. Many decorated rim sherds completely crumbled, but a few thicker pieces  particularly near the lug on the shoulder - managed to survive. These gave the angle of the rim and the thickness of the body, and with these last required details; I could create an archaeological pottery reconstruction drawing, inked and looking as if the pot had been an everyday example.

A work in progress

In the report figure, I chose to present both pencil and ink drawings of the pot. Many sherds which had not survived were shown in the pencil version, whereas the ink drawing gives the dimensions and form of the vessel as a scale drawing. By presenting it in this way, we could convey the immediacy of the first record; how fragile the vessel had been at the time of its discovery - how fortunate we were to recover it and the story it is now telling us.

A pencil drawing of the Bronze Age pot

This type of biconical urn is not an unusual discovery in Britain, but this particular one has added to the evidence showing that the site at Clifton is of particular regional importance. The prehistoric phase of the site falls between the mid 10th and mid 4th century BC. It is one of very few known unenclosed Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age settlements in the English West Midlands and is the only known site of its type in Worcestershire.

The final drawing

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Celebrating St Thomas's Day

Traditionally, the 21st December marked the feast of St Thomas the Apostle and was a day that saw the poor go round asking for money and food, including going door to door round the more well off in the parish. This was known as going 'a Thomassing' or going 'a gooding'. People would seek money and food to help them through the next couple of weeks so they were able to celebrate Christmas, and in return would give the donor a sprig of holly or mistletoe. At the Great House in the parish special spiced ale would be ready to welcome the visitors.

 List of recipients of St Thomas's Day charity, dating from 1823

This tradition may relate to a legend of how St Thomas, when given money to build a palace for a king, used it instead to help the poor. Or else it may just be a convenient day before Christmas for people to go around asking for money to help them celebrate Christmas. 

In Worcestershire it is said that the tradition was to go round asking for apples, singing the following song:

A wissal, a wassal about the town:
Got any apples, throw them down.
Jug's white, ale's brown;
This is the best house in the town.
Holly and ivy and mistletoe bough,
Give me an apple and let me go.
Up the ladder and round the wall,
Up the stocking and down the shoe.
Got no apples, money'll do;
Got no money, Go bless you.

(see Roy Palmer's The Folklore of Hereford & Worcester (1992) in our Local Studies Library at The Hive)

In some places it was more formalised, and a specific charity would give a St Thomas Dole to people, usually consisting of bread and coal. Collections would be taken by the local church and given to the Churchwardens to distribute at this time. 
St Thomas's Day account book, dating from 1724

Within the Worcester City Archive we have the records of the various charities overseen by the Corporation of Worcester. This includes the Good Friday and St Thomas's Day Charity. It appears that this was general charity containing a number of small bequests and managed together. On Good Friday they would use money to buy and distribute bread, and on St Thomas's Day money was given to each parish to distribute money to the worthy poor. Everything had to be accounted for, so the names of all recipients, and in some cases their addresses, were written down. Unsurprisingly many were already living in the city's almshouses, and in some cases the intended recipient had died, so their name is crossed out and replaced by an alternative. In 1814 over £70 was given away (around £3,000 in today's money) between around 700 people, given 2 shillings on average. Aldermen also received small sums to give out to people in need they came across. In the late 19th century the charity was absorbed into a larger consolidated charitable fund.

In Deeping, Lincolnshire, they still have a St Thomas's Day charity, which gives out money to resident widows over 60, however, you can receive a loaf of bread and bucket of coal if you prefer!

To discover more check out the Worcester City Archive (BA9360) which was catalogued recently and can be accessed through ouronline catalogue.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~4~ Mesolithic Flints

Our Treasures today are Mesolithic Flints uncovered close to the village of Broadway. Rob Hedge, Community Archaeology Officer, chose this week's find and here he explains more about them:

There's a field in south-east Worcestershire, not far from the village of Broadway – a valley-floor settlement cast in honey-coloured Cotswold Limestone in the shadow of the hills, announcing the transition from lowland plains to rolling uplands. It's a perfectly ordinary-looking arable field, but below the surface there are signs of a once-bustling settlement. An aerial photograph first alerted our archaeologists to the presence of the site, in the form of a tantalising series of cropmarks. A fieldwalking survey was undertaken by members of our Worcestershire Young Archaeologists Club and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund paid for the analysis of the finds.

  WYAC members walk the field. The grid marked by the canes allows each find to be systematically plotted ©Worcestershire Young Archaeologists Club

The fieldwalking survey yielded over 1500 sherds of Roman pottery; the cropmarks were evidently all that remains of a substantial farmstead occupied in the 2nd & 3rd centuries A.D. But our intrepid YACs also picked up traces of a much, much earlier phase of activity: over 60 pieces of worked stone, mainly fashioned from flint cobbles. They were analysed by Alvaro Mora-Ottomano.

  The Mesolithic worked stone ©Worcestershire County Council
We believe the artefacts date to the later Mesolithic period, and were produced between 8,500 and 5,400 years ago. The Mesolithic covers the period between the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 years ago and the origins of agriculture. It encompasses the point shortly after 8,000 years ago at which Britain became separated from the continent by rising sea levels, and was characterized by the widespread growth of woodland, within and around which small human populations led a mobile, hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The Mesolithic period is notoriously ephemeral, often leaving little trace in the archaeological record. Mesolithic society appears to have been complex, varied and rich, but most of the organic material with which Mesolithic people built their world has not been preserved. What does survive is their toolkits: using intricately and delicately worked 'microblade' technology, they fashioned elegant stone tools from long, narrow bladelets that were trimmed with exquisite precision to form 'microliths'. These would then be mounted in composite tools, with multiple tiny microliths embedded into a wooden tip or shaft to form spears, arrows, sickles and harpoons.

Microblade 'Bullet' Core ©Worcestershire Young Archaeologists Club

Most of the pieces discovered by the YACs are not finished tools. 'Cores' comprise a high proportion (26.4%): these are carefully trimmed chunks of raw stone from which the regular bladelets are then systematically struck. The remainder of the pieces are mostly 'debitage' (waste flakes) and casually utilised flakes, along with a few domestic tools like notches and scrapers, used for working wood and hide. There's little sign of the coarse initial waste produced when a lump of stone is first reduced to a workable core, and few of the finished bladelets and microliths that tend to be associated with hunting. So, what can we deduce from this? The most likely interpretation was that this was a small occupation site, or 'base camp', although we'd need a bigger dataset to be sure. The initial stage of turning nodules into cores was probably done close to where the stone was sourced: why waste space and energy transporting unnecessarily large lumps? The microliths that formed such an important part of the Mesolithic toolkit would have been used, and lost, discarded or broken on hunting or fishing trips. At this site, a small group of people gathered, ate, slept and worked. All other traces of their passing are lost, but the flint remains almost as fresh, sharp and vital as the day it was struck.


Left to right: 'Bullet' core, notch & scraper ©Worcestershire County Council
The illustration below, produced by Worcestershire Archaeology's illustrator Steve Rigby, was commissioned as part of the project, and is a reconstruction of the site as it may have looked. Next time you find yourself at the top of Fish Hill, on the edge of the Cotswolds looking out over the fertile plains of the Vale of Evesham, take a moment to consider that all those millennia ago, a small group of people probably did the very same, liked what they saw, and stayed awhile.
Mesolithic Scene by Steve Rigby ©Worcestershire Young Archaeologists Club

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Upcoming change of opening hours at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service

Following the announcement of savings to be made by the County Council, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service is currently reviewing its opening hours. The new patterns of opening hours are currently under consultation with staff, but we expect to introduce them in January 2014. Further information will be made available as soon as we can, but if you are planning to visit us in the New Year please check our website or contact us at for further information.

Worcestershire Archive Service is amongst the first to receive Accreditation Standard

We are proud to announce that we are among the first six archive services in the UK to be awarded the prestigious Archive Service Accreditation, the new UK quality standard which recognises good performance in all areas of archive service delivery. This is great news and follows on from being approved as a Place of Deposit by the National Archives earlier this year.

 The Hive, where the Archive and Archaeology Service has been located since 2012.

Accreditation is the new UK quality standard which recognises good performance in all areas of archive service delivery. Accredited Archive Services ensure the long-term collection, preservation and accessibility of our archive heritage.

Achieving accredited status demonstrates that we have met clearly defined national standards relating to management and resourcing; the care of our unique collections and what the service offers to its entire range our users.

The Archive Service Accreditation Committee noted that “…the opportunities presented by The Hive have been grasped to bring benefits across the service…".

Councillor Lucy Hodgson, Cabinet Member for Localism and Communities at Worcestershire County Council, said: "We are delighted to be one of the first to receive Archive Service Accreditation. This achievement is testament to all the hard work that happens behind the scenes on a daily basis."

Users working in the Original Archive Area at The Hive

Lisa Snook, User Services Manager at Worcestershire County Council, said: "We are really thrilled to be one of the first accredited archive services. The application was a true team effort, with all areas of the service inputting information required from the Accreditation Panel. It is a great accolade, and a national recognition of the service that the team provide at The Hive, from managing and conserving the archive collections, making them available to our customers on site and taking them out to school and community groups." 

Congratulations to the other five archives who were also awarded Accreditation: Media Archive for Central England, Cumbria Archives, Exeter Cathedral Library and Archives, Network Rail Corporate Archive and Tyne and Wear Archives.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Wyre Forest Stream-walking survey: an update on progress

Back in June we posted on the Wyre Forest stream-walking survey of the Dowles, Baveney and Lem Brooks within the Wyre Forest Landscape Partnership project area. The aim of this survey was to record archaeological evidence for structures, fords, relict stream channels or prehistoric burnt mounds. Volunteers have been busy since then and you can now check the progress that has been made by visiting the Wyre Forest Stream-walking blog.

Fallen tree on Dowles Brook tributary: Image courtesy of Carole Gammond and Jacqui Bradley

Friday, 13 December 2013

Christmas and New Year with the Lytteltons and their Circle

Many of the Christmas activities and traditions we follow today were made popular during the nineteenth century.  For the Victorians in particular Christmas was centred round the family with attendance at church, sitting down to Christmas dinner, gift giving, parlour games and visits to neighbours, friends and relatives all shared by the whole family.  For many, Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol defined the family orientated Christmas and influenced people's notion of what Christmas time should be like.  The letters and diaries of the Lytteltons and their circle offer a unique window on their Christmas activities and traditions.

Wintry weather
The snowy weather was just as popular a topic of conversation during the Christmas season as now.  In December 1808 the 21 year old Sarah Spencer (later married to William Henry the 3rd Lord Lyttelton) was at Althorp writing one of her regular letters to her brother Bob (Robert Cavendish Spencer), who was away from home serving in the navy.  Sarah writes her letter over several days starting on the 18th and includes a description of the wintery conditions prevailing at the time:

'Tuesday 20th  We are enjoying now in all its glory the genuine long frost belonging to Christmas.  Poor Althorp is obliged to beat for a woodcock in Nobottle Wood; he is not able to hunt.  Poor I can't take my daily airing on the Northampton road, said road being one sheet of ice, and poor everybody is creeping about from fire to fire, wrapped up in shawls, and shivering and chattering away deplorably.  Four icicles, twice as long as my finger, have been hanging since Sunday, glittering in the powerless sun, from the sash of the library window; a little snow falls every night, and in short we are just the reverse of what you must be now.'

Part of Sarah Spencer's letter to her brother describing the weather Dec 1808
For Sarah awaiting the arrival of their Christmas house guests on the 21st and wondering if they are going to get there as vast quantities of snow had been falling all day, there was the added excitement of an unexpected caller at the house:

....... the soft sound of carriage wheels making their way through the snow drew me to the window, thinking the Duncannons were arriving, instead of whom, behold Hartington's head in the chaise.  I went down to be sure it was really him... It was that steady personage, however, on his way to Derbyshire to a ball.  He thought he might come and lunch with us in a flying way; with a friend of his Sr Wm Rumbold a great Priorist I fancy.  In they came, took plenty of cold beef & chicken, resisted all our entreaties to stay longer & flew off again in their post chaise in an hour.''

Sarah's description of the Marquess of Hartington's visit

Hartington was Sarah's cousin.  Her aunt (father's sister) and Hartington's mother was Georgiana Spencer who married the Duke of Devonshire. 
Nearly sixty years on Sarah's granddaughter, Lavinia Lyttelton, records her memories of various family Christmases in her diaries
Putting up decorations
Putting up the decorations is an essential part of Christmas traditions.  For the Lytteltons that included decorating the church.  Lavinia Lyttelton records in her diary working all day on Christmas Eve on the church decorations.
 'the decorations put up which took the whole day.  I think they are more successful & complete this Xmas than ever before  Two zinc texts, one over the vestry door & the other over the cedilla with the words "Unto us a child is born Unto us a Son is given"'

Lavinia's account of decorating the church, Christmas Eve 1863.
Trips out
Just as we might go out to a show of some sort at Christmas, Lavinia can hardly contain her excitement at the news that she is going to a performance of the Messiah at Birmingham Town Hall with her siblings, a treat from her aunt and she records in full her thoughts and opinions about the event.

She begins ' I can quite say I was not in the least disappointed, it was grander than I even dreamt of.'  She mentions individual artistes – Sims Reeves, Miss J Elton, Mr Winn and Madame Rudersdorff and what she thought of their singing.  John Sims Reeves (1821-1900) was considered by many to be the foremost English operatic tenor of the mid Victorian era.  She also highlights particular sections she especially enjoyed  You can feel her enjoyment of the evening leaping off the page as she finishes her diary entry:
  'I shall never forget the chorus of Unto us a child is born".  I think it struck me the most.  It quite took my breath away.  One might go on raving about it for ever.'
Lavinia's account of going to see the Messiah performed  26 Dec 1863

Interestingly her sister Lucy records the same event in her diary.

 'The girls, Albert Nevy, and Spencer and I had the treat of going to Birmingham to hear the "Messiah", which was performed admirably, the solo singers being Sims Reeves, Winn, Mme Rudersdorf and Julia Elton.  It was the 1st time the girls had heard an oratorio, and great was their enjoyment'. 
 From The Diary of Lucy Cavendish  Vol 1 edited by John Bailey, London 1927. 

Making your own entertainment
Family entertainment was just as important then as now.  Everyone joined in.  This might involve reciting a poem, musical renditions or singing.  Party games were also popular.  The nineteen year old Lavinia's diary entries for December 1868 are full of  references to 'singing in plenty' and 'laughing much' and the family all being together, but there is also some reflection on growing up.  On the 25th December she records 'Grand dinner of 18 & capital games & music in the evn.  But perhaps we are just beginning to out grow games as games.  The choir sang well in the hall.  What a contrast this Xmas to last when we were scattered more than we ever were before'.  Her entry for  28th  December is also about them putting on their own entertainment. ' Practice at the barn for tonight when came off an entertainment, a very successful one I think.  I sang in a trio with Miss I G & Spencer, Charles was in the Choir, the glees were pretty & the readings above average.  Nevy read from Happy Thoughts...'
Lavinia's diary entries for 25th – 29th Dec 1868

 Boxing Day and charity
Charity was an important part of the well-to-do family's life and the Lytteltons were no exception.  The first day after Christmas was traditionally devoted to charity, with money given in boxes to servants, tradesmen and the local poor, hence 'Boxing Day.'  The popular Christmas rhyme 'Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat, please put a penny in the old man's hat' makes the point that in the midst of all the Christmas preparations and celebrations it was important to remember those less fortunate than yourself even if you could only give your blessing.  Certainly Lavinia records in her diary that she 'rode to Stakenbridge with the Christmas money and gave it to divers poor people.'
 New Year
For both Sarah and Lavinia New Year seemed to be a time of reflection. 

Sarah, looking back on 1808, felt it was a year when she got to know her brother much better through their exchanges of letters.  She says '...  in short I have made acquaintance with you; for before you went to sea I certainly did not know you; I now do quite thoroughly; & what an addition to my happiness this is!.'  Recalled from her reverie by the sounds of the first day of hunting since the snow she continues 'I have now got quite on board the Tigre, I could almost fancy myself there with you, but the sound of the horses' feet, huntsmen's horns & halloos, & a single look at the half thawed snow brings me back to cold winter, inland amusements & all the merry bustle of Christmas in this comfortable homely place.'

Part of a letter from Sarah Lyttelton to her brother started 28 Dec 1808

For Lavinia too the last day of the old year was a time for looking back over the events of the last year.  Earlier diaries record family events such as her brother Charles's coming of age and the birth of her sister Meriel's baby in 1863.  Later diary entries while still containing family information, start to look at the wider world. 

 Lavinia's diary 31 Dec 1863 reflecting on family events

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~3~ A floor tile excavated in Lowesmooor, Worcester

Our Treasure today is a floor tile that has been chosen by Laura Griffin, Senior Finds Archaeologist. Here she tells us more about the find:

This small floor tile was found during the excavations ahead of the St Martin's Quarter development in Worcester. It is just one of the 209 floor tiles which were found associated with a medieval tile kiln on the site. The kiln can been dated to the late 14th century because the designs identified on many of the tiles are the same as those seen in the Worcester Cathedral Singing School pavement, which is documented as having been laid in 1370.

Whereas the majority of these tiles were decorated with heraldic designs, the tile in the photograph is of particular interest because it is decorated with the Arabic number ‘3’. Use of Arabic numerals was rare in the 13th-14th centuries and therefore this tile stands out from the rest of the group.
Don't forget to check back next week to find out what Treasure number 4 is!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A Medieval Medical Text Book from Worcester Cathedral Library

Today we bring you an item held at Worcester Cathedral Library, which has been carefully digitised by the Digitisation team at Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service.

This is a medieval medical text book compiled in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The first part contains three Latin translations of Arabic medical texts. They were translated by Gerard of Cremona. There then follows another Latin medical text: Nicholas’ Antidotes. The manuscript was written by scribes using French protogothic bookhands and has some beautiful initials. The binding is partly original, but was also partly restored in 1931. 

Photograph by the WAAS Digitisation Service. Reproduced by permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

This is just one of the many items reproduced by our Digitisation team - find out more about their work here or see our website for more details.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Treasures from Worcestershire's Past: ~2~ The Ale-Tasters Oath

Today we bring you the second instalment of the Treasures from Worcestershire's Past, which is an Ale-Tasters Oath from the Worcester City archive collection.

"The Ale-Tasters Oath

You shall be good and true to our Sovereign Lord King George and to his Heires and Successors Kings and Queens of Great Britain and to the Mayor of the said City of Worcester for the time being; You shall resort to every Brewers house within this City on their Tunningday [the day the 'tuns' (casks) were filled with ale] and there to Taste their Ale whether it be good or wholesome for mans body and whether they do make their Ale from time to time according to such Prices and rates as have been rated and Established by the Inquests at the Lawdayes. And according to such good Orders Rules and Constitutions of this City, and upon the defaults hereof immediately to make Relation thereof to Mr Mayor for further reformation and redress therein to be taken accordingly.

 So help you God."

The original Ale-Tasters Oath, which is transcribed above

As the name suggests, an Ale Taster visited all the local inns, houses and stalls selling beer to ensure the quality, quantity and prices were of a good and proper standard. They were an early version of Trading Standards officers.  The Ale Taster would have been appointed annually by the Court Leet and, as with other officers of the Corporation (Council) of Worcester, would have held the post for one year. It was not necessarily as pleasant a job as it first appears. Ale did not keep well and would have had to be brewed regularly on-site, which means some of the ale tasted would have gone off. Ale Tasters were also fairly unpopular in the community, particularly with brewers and victuallers. Those who sold bad ale would be summoned to attend the Assize of Ale at the next Court Leet.

The image and transcription is taken from the Book of Oaths dated 1723. It contains the oaths for all Worcester Corporation Officers, including familiar ones such as Mayor and Town Clerk, and the more obscure like the Ale Taster and Searcher & Sealer of Leather. An earlier Book of Oaths is dated 1679, but is not nearly as attractive as this one with its decorative lettering and use of different coloured ink. It was not cost-effective to produce a new book every time there was a new monarch or an officers' duties were altered slightly, so some pages have been annotated or amended.
A table showing the Oaths included in the Book of Oaths from 1723.

 The Book of Oaths is part of the Worcester City Archive and can be viewed in the Original Archive area at The Hive, reference number 496.5 BA9360/C2/Box 1/ 4.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Guest Post: Appeal for images to aid the restoration of Hagley Hall Park

Today we bring you a guest blog post from Joe Hawkins, Head of Landscape at Hagley, in which he appeals for help from our readers in aiding their restoration programme through the sharing of their images of the Park:

George Lyttelton’s eighteenth century park at Hagley was in its day, considered amongst the greatest of all English landscape gardens, its celebrated beauty drawing praise from some of the century’s most enlightened minds. Today, after almost a century and a half of neglect, a major restoration, part funded by English Heritage, Natural England and The Hagley Hall Estate, is now well underway. Reinstating the park’s former glories and halting its decline, will prevent the park joining the long list of our historic estates whose former prestige, grandeur and cultural importance are now forever lost.

Joe Hawkins, Head of Landscape at Hagley

To achieve an authentic restoration at Hagley, contemporary accounts are collated, and cross-referenced along with archive imagery. Many hours are spent earnestly poring over maps, paintings, prints and photographs to inform and ensure an historic accuracy underpins the restoration.  Occasionally a new image or description surfaces which affirms, or sometimes challenges, our perceptions of the park, but generally one way or another, steers us towards a greater authenticity. This is where I would like to appeal to you, the reader, for help with our restoration.  If you could kindly search through your photograph albums, those of your parents, or grandparents, or relatives for images taken in Hagley Park, I’d be very excited to see them, for alongside your records of family memories are glimpses beyond that can present us with vital clues to the Hagley landscapes former complexion. No matter how inconsequential you think they are, if they’re in Hagley Park I’m interested. And as a reward for any image which reveals new information to us, I’ll offer a personal guided tour with myself around the landscape.
If you have any images that could help Hagley in their restoration work, please contact Joe directly on