Category Archives: General

August…phew its nearly over…

What a busy month it has been! I’ve hardly had time to eat and sleep let alone keep up to date with the blog. August has always been a busy month archaeology wise over my years in the profession, and this year has not been a disappoinment at all. Since the beginning of the month we’ve run several activities including the day out with the Little Acorns, the second edition of the Ironbridge Archaeology Seminar Series with Dr Ian West’s talk on technology in the country house, which had so many people attend we nearly ran out of chairs. Volunteer Wednesdays have started up again after a short break whilst I was away, so the ongoing task of recording tile moulds has now reached the total of 300, although there is still a VERY long way to go. Finally we finished off the moth with the second Ironbridge Archaeology Workshop on Archiving and Conservation, which was very kindly run by Peter Alexander, freelance heritage consultant and ex-collections manager from Denbighshire County Museum Service.

On top of all that I’ve now started my 10-week work placement with Peter Reavill from the Portable Antiquities Scheme, worked on a watching brief project down in Jackfield and prepared for our volunteer excavation in Madeley which starts next week. After all that I’m absolutely exhausted….but ready and excited to see what next month brings.

Inspiring the next generation

What feels like months, but was actually only a matter of weeks ago, I spent two days working with Year 4 pupils at Dothill primary school in Wellington. This was great fun and started me off down the road of working with the younger generation. Inspiring kids about archaeology is not always easy, a lot of time the work of an archaeologist can seem mundane and boring to a child, who essentially wants to dig a big hole and find lots of stuff. This is not always possible, I very rarely seem to dig a big hole anywhere and find lots of stuff. Furthermore, the safety aspect of allowing children onto archaeological sites can also limit their involvement. Sometimes its the safety of the archaeology which is in question, a colleague once told me how when showing a group of children a beautiful and delicate Roman bone pin, one child asked does it bend and then proceeded to break the pin into two pieces. However just because involving children with archaeology is not always plane sailing it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, after all these are the archaeologists of the future.

Sometimes you just need to think outside the box a little. As part of the Festival of Can You Dig It? - Reconstruct the pot Archaeology we organised an event called ‘Can You Dig It?’ which allowed children of all ages to come and have a go at archaeology in a safe environment. We built a 8m x 2m trench and filled it full of rubber chippings (all very green as they were made from recycled shredded tyres) and then buried a selection of objects including pottery sherds, pieces of slag, keys, bone and even a massive lump of unprocessed clay. Each child was given a toolbox talk and then presented with a hard hat, a high viz vest, a pair of gloves, a bucket, a shovel and a trowel (all kiddy sized) and off they went to excavate our trench. After that they then had the opportunity to see what archaeologists do when they finish digging in the ‘finds processing’ area. Here they could have a go at washing, recording, catagorizing and even reconstructing finds. Although I have to say that I think it was the parents and grandparents that were most interested in reconstructing the broken pot, they were there well after the kids had lost interest! This event was really sucessful with what must have been over 100 people through the doors over the two days.

You don’t have to be restricted to indoor archaeology either. On Tuesday I spent the morning with the Little Acorns showing off what they have found Severn Gorge Countryside Trust family nature group, the Little Acorns. Our aim for the morning was to try and find some archaeology in both Dale Coppice and Lincoln Hill, following the paths known as the Sabbath Walks. Each child had a sheet on which they could record any structures, artefacts or ecofacts that they found along the way. The enthusiasm from the group was brilliant and I think I must have heard the phrase ‘I’ve found something’ so many times I lost count. We found bits of brick, tile, pottery and slag, we found animal bones and glass bottles, and we even found a bovril jar with must have dated as far back a c.1960! It was a great day and such a simple activity to do.

Here at IGMT, we’re just about to launch our new branch of the Young Archaeologists Club. From September we’ll be holding monthly meetings where we’ll be learning all about different periods of YAC taster history from the ancient egyptians to the industrial revolution. We’ll be playing games, making things and generally having fun, all whilst trying to educate and inspire kids between the ages of 8 and 16 all about archaeology. We can’t wait to get started and if any of the activities I’ve been involved with inspire just one child to go on to a career in archaeology or heritage then I can say I’ve done my job well

A stroll in the sunshine

With the World War Walk planned for this Saturday I thought I’d make the most of the beautiful weather this afternoon and go out for a trial run, making sure that I knew the route, and assessing any places that might need to be altered for the safety of the group. I set off from Coalbrookdale, having just said goodbye to my volunteers who had been in working on the Craven Dunnill tile moulds again this morning, and headed down the dale, along the Wharfage and over the Iron Bridge. From there I followed the Severn Valley Way all the way to Coalport, crossed the bridge and then continued back along the Silkin Way until I reached Coalport China Museum. Finally I finished with a stroll along the canal, and across the footbridge to Jackfield.

The weather is absolutley gorgeous, with the sun shining and temperatures reaching around 22 degrees…so about half way around I found myself asking the all important question – why on earth am I wearing jeans?? (Note to self, if it’s hot on Saturday don’t make the same mistake twice!!). At least as I walked down the Severn Valley Way it was cooler in the shade. I even saw a buzzard which flew up in front of me about halfway between Jackfield and Coalport. With the sun shining on his back he looked almost magical. It’s at times like that when I consider myself pretty lucky to be living and working in such an amazing county. Just under 300 years ago this place was the birth place of industry, and over the centuries that followed the Ironbridge Gorge has been hugely influencial not just in the iron industry, but also in mining raw materials such as coal, limestone and clay, as well as being at the forefront of the ceramics industry with companies such as Caughley, Coalport, Craven Dunnill and Maws all once based here in the Gorge. There were also two key railway lines that followed the River Severn, with the London and North Western Railway on the northern bank, and the Severn Valley Railway (part of the Great Western Railway) on the south side of the river. Yet today much of this industry has gone, leaving behind a mixture of archaeology and nature that is accessible and available for all to see. It couldn’t be any more different from the noise, smells and sights that were associated with the many and varied industrial activities that were once going on here. Now its a very peaceful landscape with spectacular views, beauty spots galore and the peace and tranquility that can be found along the river bank in the sunshine. Yet if you look closely there are still many hints and reminders of the industrial past that are well worth a look if you can find them. It truely is a very special place to be.

An afternoon with Ron

On Saturday 22nd June, IGMT are hosting a 1940’s themed event at Blist’s Hill Victorian Town, and as part of those celebrations the archaeology department are going to be running a World Wars guided walk through the Severn Gorge which will visit a range of sites from war memorials to the wing shop at Coalbrookdale, and the sites of numerous near misses including the time they nearly blew up the Ironbridge. I’m actually going to be leading this walk, so in preparation I thought I ought to do a bit of research. Now of course in most cases this would involve a day in the library or even a detailed internet search, however, with a subject such as this the best facts are to be gathered from those that lived through the events and remember first hand what Ironbridge was like during the wars, and events that took place.

So yesterday afternoon I met with Ron Miles for precisely that reason. Ron is in his early 80s and is still a guide here at IMGT. He grew up here in the Gorge and has some absolutley fantastic memories from the time of World War II. He’s fascinating to listen to and has some wonderful stories that he’s more than happy to share. He also knows the geography of the area better than most, so took me off to visit some second world war related archaeology including an series of anti-convoy defences. As a result I’ve got some great material for my walk and have learnt so much.

If you’re interested in taking part in my walk, places are limited so make sure you book with me via the contact me box on this website. Big thanks to Ron for all his help on this.

Portable Antiquities and the Industrial Past

I headed off down into the depths of south Shropshire this morning for a meeting with Peter Reavill, who is the Finds Liason Officer for Shropshire and Herefordshire. Based at Ludlow Library and Museum Resource Centre, Peter has offered me the opportunity to work with him during a 10 week work-placement so that I can learn the recording techniques and principles used by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and then make use of those techniques here at Ironbridge. At present finds that post-date the mid 18th century are rarely recorded by PAS, however the possibility of missing significant industrial finds is high as a result. It will be really interesting to explore the possibilities of combining my experiences at IGMT and the skills learnt during this placement, and see if anything can be put together to help understand our industrial heritage further, and in particular the finds that are associated with it.

New Beginnings

I’ve recently started the CBA funded Community Archaeology Training Placement at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, and so far so good. Ironbridge is the birthplace of Industry, where in the early eighteenth century Abraham Darby I first worked out how to use coke to smelt iron allowing the mass production of cast iron to begin. As a result this area is jam-packed with industrial archaeology of all types from iron working, coal mining and even tile, brick and pottery manufacturing at sites such as Coalport and Jackfield. Its a really exciting place to work, and I hope that with the events and projects planning to go ahead over the coming year, it will be a great chance for people to become involved with archaeology in this area. There will be educational workshops, survey opportunities and hopefully a chance to do some excavation as well. In addition to that there are a number of projects planned which will involve the help and support of the Ironbridge Archaeology Volunteer Group as well. So stay tuned to see what we get up to and if you’re interested in becoming a volunteer please do not hesitate to get in touch.