Saturday, 27 December 2014

Introducing... Our Skills for the Future graduate trainee

My name is Sarah Ganderton. I love museums, charity shops, crafts, movies, chocolate and warm woolly socks.

I joined the Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service as a Skills for the Future Trainee in July.  This is through a Heritage Lottery Funded project called Growing Worcestershire's Treasures.  On our training scheme seven of us have the opportunity to work in different museums and archives around Worcester, and together we are studying on a Post Graduate course at the University of Worcester, in Leadership and Management (Heritage). 

Before starting at The Hive as the trainee I had volunteered here and at several other heritage sites and projects around Worcestershire.  I helped locate and record bound copies of the Worcester Evening News, and worked in Conservation to clean Quarter Session records.  I also worked on a project to research royal visits to Worcester.  I even worked here as a student ambassador, helping when the Queen opened the building and in a photo-shoot to advertise the Hive, so I was already a familiar face around the place.

 Sarah, at home helping the public on the Explore the Past desk (Level 2, The Hive)

Since starting on the traineeship I have had the opportunity to work with many different colleagues, learning new skills and trying out things I have never done before. 

There is no such thing as a typical week for me, but as an example, here are the many things I got up to in one week in November:

Sunday 9th November – completed a blog post for the traineeship website, talking about my visit to Dudley which I organised myself, and what I learned there.  

Monday 10th November – PG Cert with the other trainees.  Learning about leadership and management, through discussion, action learning sets and information from the tutor.

Tuesday 11th November – working on the Explore the Past desk.  This is an opportunity to work with customers who wish to use the archives.  I love answering queries – when I am able to – and love finding the boxes from the strong rooms to help people access the historic records.

Wednesday 12th November – meetings and Conservation.  Talked with Lisa my supervisor about the Microfilm Reader Printer Guide I am creating, and met with the Learning and Outreach team about the impending Archaeology Day School.  In the afternoon I helped Rhonda in Conservation, sticking things back into scrapbooks.

Sarah helping out in the Conservation lab

Thursday 13th November – delivering a school workshop in Birmingham.  This was an early start to get to Birmingham on time to help Rob the Archaeologist.  Thankfully he did most of the talking as my archaeology knowledge is limited, but I loved helping the children make iron age-style clay pots, and they seemed to enjoy it too.

Friday 14th November (a day off in lieu of Saturday…)

Saturday 15th November – the Archaeology Day School.  I arrived early to put up signs around the University of Worcester St Johns campus, then helped by ushering people and answering queries through the day before clearing up at the end.  I had also helped with preparations for the day, administering bookings and proof reading the leaflet.

I am loving the chance to work here, learning from the many skilled individuals, and helping customers with their research.  The traineeship gives me the opportunity of post graduate study and working with the other trainees provides all of us with a lovely support network, while we work in our different venues.

Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service is currently seeking funding opportunities to allow us to host further graduate training opportunities; in the meantime, we are able to offer a limited number of 100-hour voluntary university placement opportunities. If you would like more information on potential placement opportunities please contact us at or

Thursday, 25 December 2014

A Christmas truce in the trenches

Christmas is upon and in the season of good will we bring you evidence of how the same sentiments we value at this time of year still rang true even amongst those fighting in the trenches during the First World War.

An extract from the 1st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment War Diary  for Christmas Day 1914 gives evidence of a truce that was agreed between the two sides...

'The 2nd Northamptonshire Regt had arranged an unofficial armistice with the Germans till 12 midnight, which we kept. There was a certain amount of shouting remarks between the Germans and ourselves, and the Germans sang English and German songs most of the night, which were applauded by our men.'

This is a delightful extract to read and is a small comfort to think of the troops away from home to have a small piece of mind if only for one night. The following sentence shows, however, that they didn't drop their guards completely...

'In spite of the armistice our sentries were kept as much on the alert as usual'.

With thanks to the Trustees of the Mercian Regiment Museum (Worcestershire) for allowing us to use the above extract. 

We would like to wish all of our readers a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year, from Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service. 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Case of the Stolen Christmas Goose

Our Learning and Outreach Manager, Paul Hudson, has found a festive treat of a story amongst our Quarter Sessions papers: 

"Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat..." goes the rhyme, and until recently many families had a goose at the centre of their Christmas meal. So it was a bad time for you to have a goose stolen, which is exactly what happened to Edward Lane of Tenbury in 1704. According the Quarter Session record, held in the archives, on Christmas Eve he had a goose 'feloniously taken'. Taking the initiative, in the era before the police force, he gathered some neighbours and followed the shoe prints to the house of John Price. When they searched the property they found a baked pie in the pig's shelter, which contained goose giblets. Mrs Price then threatened the investigators with violence. When they found John Price they carried out early forensics and measured the hobnails on the heels of his shoes and found they matched the prints found by the goose pen.

Edward Lane's statement

On Boxing Day the Justice of the Peace interviewed Mr & Mrs Price. John said he was working late Christmas Eve and had no idea where the goose giblets came from. Elizabeth Price admitted baking a pie with goose giblets and storing it in the pig shelter, but refused to say where they came from.

A few days later John Price was tried at the Worcestershire Quarter Sessions. So what was the result? Unfortunately we don't know. Although we have the statements for all involved, and list of the men on the jury, there is no entry for the case in the order book where the outcomes are recorded. It predates local newspapers which is another place we could have looked to see the outcome. Mr & Mrs Price both denied the theft, but refused to say where the goose giblets came from, which was a bit suspicious, as is the fact they stored the pie in the pig cote, which isn't an obvious place to store a freshly baked pie. Plus the shoe print appears to be compelling evidence. Whether it was enough for the jury to find them guilty of the Christmas goose theft we don't know.

Paul with the documents

Quarter Session records are available to view in our Original Archive Area at The Hive, and this particular record can be found at reference BA1 (201:38-39)

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Algars Manor: Oats and more underneath the floor

The owner of Algars Manor at Iron Acton in Gloucestershire recently lifted some floor boards on the first floor of his house during building renovations, and was surprised to find a bed of material that looked like wheat, chaff or straw beneath. He was interested to find out what this material was, and if it dated to the early use of the house. The house is Grade II listed and beams in the house have been dated to 1552 by dendrochronology (or tree-ring dating).

He sent the material to Liz Pearson, Environmental Archaeologist at Worcestershire Archaeology. Once viewed with a low-power microscope the nature of the sample became clearer. It is mostly made up of cultivated oat with some wild oat, fragments of ears from two different types of wheat, apple pips and pieces of what appear to be dried and leathery apple fruit or flesh (one pip is embedded within this material). There are also small shattered peas, sedge chaff and fibres which are likely to be flax or hemp. Seeds such as black medick, black bindweed and buttercup were probably weeds growing with an oat crop.

Of the two types of wheat, one is particularly characteristic of the early era of this house. Ears of a type of wheat most likely to be rivet wheat were found in this sample. It is no longer grown in this country today, but in medieval times (and into the 17th and 18th centuries) it was one of the crops adding essential variety to the staple bread wheat grown at the time. Fragments of ears from the more common bread wheat would have come from a long-straw wheat standing shoulder height to someone of average height - quite different to the short wheat grown today which barely grows beyond 2 feet high.

Oddly the oat chaff, or florets, despite being tightly closed are entirely devoid of any grains, and it can only be assumed that for some reason the grains have perished, leaving just the hardier chaff behind. One reason for this may have been infestation by insects. For example, the female granary weevil lays a single egg in the grain, then plugs up the hole. The egg hatches and the larva feeds on the grain, hatching as an adult weevil. No granary weevil remains were found, but a few spider beetles were found (identification courtesy of David Smith, University of Birmingham). This is a common inhabitant of dry materials, dust bunnies and old food in 'mature housing', and it is quite common in roofing thatch as well.

So why would this material be found underneath the floorboards on the first floor? Possible suggestions are:

  •     That the material was used as insulation. Examples of straw or similar dried plant material have been found packed under floorboards of old houses, presumably used as insulation. This material is particularly like that found within a false floor in a medieval Cistercian monastery (Eberbach Abbey, Eltville, Germany) where the remains of several types of cereal, fruit, nut and seed remains were found.
  •     That an oat crop (with other contaminants) stored on the first floor found its way through the cracks in the floor boards and in to the cavity below (valuable crops were commonly stored upstairs in medieval houses, out of the way of rodents, but perhaps not out of the way of all pests)
  •     Could some of the material have been extracted from thatch by animals?

A combination of the above could have been responsible. Does this date to the early years of the house? The rivet wheat would rule out modern debris, but more conclusive is a tiny fragment of green glazed pot which is most likely to be from a Tudor Green ware vessel in use during the 15th and 16th centuries, says Laura Griffin of Worcestershire Archive & Archaeology Service.

However one interprets how this material came to be found underneath the floorboards, it provides a colourful snapshot of life in a Tudor house.