Making Our Mark

On Thursday (July 19th) we convened  at the Museum and Resource centre in Friars Street, Hereford.  Our task was to draw up the archaeological plan of the Lower Brockhampton site survey.  Everyone involved with the site survey was still talking about the rain, which the sky had tipped out almost every day for ten days.

Before we set to work we were given a lightning tour of the museum stores.  The entire building is temperature-controlled to preserve the artefacts, but the store-room itself is engineering genius.  The containers were massive and stacked on runners which ran the length of the floor.  There was every conceivable artefact including bones, manuscripts, ceramics and tools.  I was drawn to a huge iron key which belonged to the old Hereford gaol, and some medieval dice that bear no resemblance to the little plastic cubes used in today’s board games.   

 I didn’t take Trudy down the corridoor that housed all the bone archives, just in case her snout got the better of her.  Having never ventured into the bowels of a museum archives store-room before, I was engrossed.    Not for the first time, many people in the group were stirred by the incredible sense of history around us.    

Once back in our study room it was time to do some work.  Chris, one of the archaeologists, displayed limitless patience throughout the day as he proceeded to teach everyone the techniques of drawing an archaeological map.  I sat back and enjoyed taking in the industrious atmosphere.  Collective concentration hovered over the room like a powerful orb.  Trudy lay beside me eyeing up the chocolate Digestives which had found their way onto the table.

The reason why we need to draw an archaeological map is partly for our own benefit.  When we start the excavation in August, this map will show the physical layout of the site and it will help to determine where to dig the trenches.  But it is also greatly important for posterity.  We have to produce a Master copy which will be the official document for this particular excavation, and will be permanently preserved in local records.

That sense of “making history” caused great excitement and a general feeling of pride.  Even those who had found drawing the practise maps a little daunting came to life when Chris displayed the Master copy and told us that everyone was going to make a contribution to this.  One of our long-standing project volunteers, Mark, was first to add to the Master copy map.  By this point everyone was in really good spirits and there was a great deal of support for each other.  

Having ruled myself out of all map-related matters I was very moved when the group encouraged me to make my own mark on the Master copy   I was terrified at the thought of making a mistake and ruining it!  I wonder if this is how novice monks felt when they were presented with their first manuscript to copy?  I’m pleased to say that under Chris’ direction my North arrow on the map (completed by fellow volunteer Margaret), did not ruin the document.  (No thanks to Trudy, who  chose that exact moment to get up and have a long, Labrador stretch.   Her lead was wrapped round my wrist!) 

Everyone in the group “made their mark” yesterday.  The Master copy of the archaeological map for the Lower Brockhampton site will be a true team effort when it is completed.  I know my self-esteem quadrupled and I could sense other people feeling very upbeat as they left for home at the end of the workshop.       

Our next public event is on Saturday July 28th at the Falcon Hotel in Bromyard (Please refer to the Dates and Events page for further details).  The theme is “What do we know so far?”   Please bring your friends and family along as it promises to be a really great day.  Anybody requiring transport or further information please contact Jenny McMillan by July 25th:




A Sunday Snippet

Volunteer Helen Dean gives her own account of what the Past in Mind project has to offer. 

Well, that was a busy 2 weeks. I have learned a lot, especially about surveying the land with the ‘total station‘ and prism (equipment to take the measurements to hopefully get our measurement right when mapping it down on paper). It’s all new and very interesting, and VERY WET.  It gave me a lot thinking and pondering about what we will think or find out about Studmarsh, and whose and which guesses and ideas will be right.

It has also stirred up some thoughts about my past, some thoughts I could do without and some good. After more churning my thoughts, I have generally found the past in mind project very good for me and also seen others gaining positive thinking, and smiles and jokes about it all, from us as a group. We all seem to have got the bug now, with an aim to find out what mysteries and secrets Studmarsh and the areas around might hold.


Every Cloud…..

I think that everyone will agree we have not had our fair share of sun this Summer in Britain.  The sky is just a grey skin sagging over the earth.  The sun is generally elusive.   Like many other people, I am someone who is greatly affected by the quality of light.  When the sky is dark grey, so is my mood.  When the sun is on fire, so am I.

In my world, energy and motivation do not arrive on cue each morning.  I am fortunate in that I have a bouncy Labrador who wakes me up every day fearful lest I forget her breakfast.  Perish the thought!  The food-obsessed Hereford Hoover will never go hungry.

At 6.30am I do not really appreciate a warm tongue, nudging snout and heavy paws forcing me to greet the morning.  But I know that Trudy gives me a daily routine that I would not otherwise have.  It would be so easy to hibernate, to sink deeper inside my duvet and to dwindle into oblivion.

At a very basic level Trudy provides me with a reason to go out every day.  Even when I have no incentive and no inclination to do so, I have to take her outside to the grass.  Having this tenuous framework has given many ominous days an uplift.  If you venture out for five minutes there is every chance that something will inspire you or shift your focus.   A shard of sun piercing through an otherwise black sky, a cheerful greeting from a neighbour, a huge Tom cat rubbing against your shins…  There have been many times when I have gone back inside with a fresh outlook.  It is like being given a second chance to start the day feeling positive.

Being involved with the Past in Mind project has lifted my life out of the everyday.   I feel an enthusiasm for this project which propels me along and gives me purpose.  The duvet is well and truly at bay.    

 I have been asked to translate some Medieval Latin as part of the historical research.  Many people might be grimacing when they read this, but I feel as though I have been given the key to a treasure chest.  If you picture a mad boffin chancing upon a rare species of butterfly  – that is me at the moment!  I seriously never thought that I would ever be translating again.  My Classics career came to such a sudden end when my eyesight plummeted in 1989 – it seemed unthinkable that I would ever be reunited with Latin or Greek. 

When Kate Lack the Project Historian asked me to steer the “Latin translation” group for the Past in Mind project, I was very apprehensive.   To say that my Latin is rusty is an understatement.  But I was keen to give it a go.   Our first piece of text was from the Bishop’s register in 1397.  It took me many hours to click my brain back into Latin thinking.  I had some valuable assistance from a fellow volunteer who looked up the vocabulary in the dictionary, and this sparked my enthusiasm into a real flame.  Although I am full of cobwebs and can no longer call myself a Classicist, Latin text still gives me an incredible thrill.   It is like solving a Sudoku puzzle or completing the Times crossword; when you think you have got it right there is immense satisfaction.   The struggle and sweat suddenly seem worthwhile.  Wanting to improve and do better next time makes me eager for more. 

Twenty years ago I thought I would have a career in Classics.  Even when the dream disappeared, the Classics geek inside me never completely died.  So to be given this chance is a small miracle. 

Everyone taking part in the project will have their own reasons for getting involved.  Many will be facing daily battles which might ordinarily prevent them from venturing out.  Even if someone just attends one day of the dig or one group meeting, it is an achievement for them.  Past in Mind is a valuable research project but it is also a personal journey, and I feel confident that everyone who joins us along the way will be enriched in some way.

The Studmarsh site survey has begun today and continues for ten days (please refer to Ian Bapty’s post).  Although I am not participating in this part of the project I have been there in spirit and cannot wait to learn the results of the survey!  This will determine the position of the first archaeological trenches when we start the dig in August.  Whatever the weather, inside and out, we will be there.