Backfilling The Blog

 

 

Book Launch 2014 8

On May 10th 2014 around 100 people gathered to celebrate the Past In Mind project and the launch of Kate Lack’s fascinating book: Past In Mind: A Heritage Project and Mental Health Recovery.

Whitbourne Village Hall was buzzing with excitement and anticipation as faces old and new filled up the room.

Book Launch 2014 2

 

 

Dash at book launchDash, my new guide dog, greeted people with his usual enthusiasm and helped everyone to feel at ease.

Book Launch 2014

It was very heartwarming to meet up with people we hadn’t seen since last year, and to hear their news.  Past In Mind became a very close-knit group and we all believed in the project so much that it has left a definite imprint on each of us.

Book Launch 2014 7

 

Book Launch 2014 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After some luxurious refreshments there were a few short presentations from a cross-section of people involved with the project.  True to the ethos of Past In Mind this included some thoughts from volunteers such as Chris, Mark, Malcolm and myself.

The book signings came next, and for many of us this meant exchanging autographs – a bit like at the end of your schooldays when you’re about to set off on new, personal adventures.

Book Launch 2014 9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Launch 2014 5

It seems almost trivial to sum up the events of the afternoon, because what I really want to convey in this post is the electric atmosphere that purveyed the room.  There was an excitement tinged with sadness as this era of Past In Mind was about to draw to a close.  But rather than a full stop at the end of the line, there was and still is a bold question mark.  What?  Why?  Where?  Who?  When?  This particular project may have come to an end, but its spirit will never die.

 

Blog from the Bog started out as an experiment to capture snapshots of Past In Mind.  It morphed into a launchpad for ideas and a voice for volunteers and professionals.  It served as a notice board and reference.  It uncovered layers of Past In Mind and delved beneath the surface.  It yielded unexpected finds.  Now the time has come for the backfilling of the Blog.  This is not to say that Blog from the Bog will never re-emerge, but its current purpose has been fulfilled.  Just as we filled in the layers of soil after the excavation at Studmarsh, I need to fill in the layers of the Blog in order to leave it ready for another day.

Needless to say, writing this is making me very emotional.

 

Book Launch 2014 6I cannot finish this post without saying a heartfelt thank you to all my fellow volunteers, and to Kate, Ian, Chris and Dai for teaching me so much about myself and the world around me.  But most of all I want to thank Jenny who has surfed the waves of Past In Mind and risked drowning once or twice, but always managed to stay afloat in order to glimpse the next sunrise.

 

Finally, no backfilling would be complete without mentioning Fran, who loved the project and the Studmarsh field in 2012.  RIP Fran.

Book Launch 2014 4

Kate’s book (author name, Katherine Lack) is priced at £5.95 and is available from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Past-Mind-Heritage-Project-Recovery/dp/0954621247/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1402360817&sr=1-1&keywords=past+in+mind+heritage+project

 

 

 

 

Why The Rain Didn’t Drown My Summer

It’s almost a month since we finished the Studmarsh dig. I can honestly say that it was one of the best Summers of my life.  Coming back down to earth has been incredibly hard, hence a bad dose of Blogger’s Block.

We are meeting tomorrow at Whitbourne, near Bromyard, to discuss the findings of the dig and the next phase of the Past in Mind project.  This has really made me realise that I can’t put off writing any longer. I want to capture the Studmarsh Summer before it becomes obscured by Autumn mist. 

Weather-wise we faced many endurance tests throughout August.  Twice we had to abandon the site altogether because of thunderstorms and torrential rain.  It was the kind of penetrating rain that seems to make your insides wet.  But at least it showed me that “Blog from the Bog” is an apt name.  The Studmarsh site is literally a bog – and its watery underside is one reason why it was favoured by our ancestors.  We did have some days where the sun shone for us so that we could dry out before the next downpour.  These days were golden nuggets.

As time went on the daily trek to reach the site became more enjoyable.  I can’t say that for the trek back at the end of the day.  The track was uphill on the way back, and we all felt it.  But I think everyone became very attached to the field which saw most trowel activity.  It was flanked by a herd of benign cows and a seriously macho bull.  They watched us go past twice a day and even escorted us to the gate on one occasion.  (Being seen off the premises by a herd of cows is where I draw the line regarding new challenges).

In the Studmarsh field there is a huge oak tree which became our lunchtime focal point and often served as an impromptu shelter.  The oak tree (informally known as Doug) must have seen so much.  When we had a site visit from the Herefordshire Parklands project manager, Lewis Goldwater, it became clear just how ancient the oak tree is.  It has never been recorded until now, and is thought to be around 450 years old.   http://www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk/recording/tree?tree=WRbknGHzCkKsr7L%2bjicHpw 

One of the aspects of the dig which I enjoyed most was the time spent with archaeologists and fellow volunteers.  I loved the mix of banter and informative conversation.  Right from the start there was so much to learn.  Sieving and trowelling were just the start… The site archaeologists, Chris and Dai, are both talented teachers although they might not realise it.  I never thought that I’d be asked to taste and smell mud and soil to identify them – yet by using taste and smell you really can identify some of their properties.  Sometimes I found it difficult to tell the difference between silted rock and earthenware, and at first I was having many pseudo “Eureka” moments.  But I was taught how to feel the difference between them and this helped me to home in on a couple of finds.

This hands-on approach quadrupled my self-esteem.  I thought my lack of sight would be an impediment in archaeology, but we found a way round everything except how to code the colour of soil on the Munsell chart.  Even this obstacle could be overcome with the help of technology – a University Lecturer who visited the site, is on the case!

The trench that most of the volunteers worked in revealed part of a Medieval building which probably belonged to a local official.  The size of the stone, as well as the dimensions of the “rooms”, indicate considerable wealth.

At the time of the dig the theory was that the Studmarsh site had been abandoned in the 14th century.  The Black Death, political unrest and local famine would all have played their part.  As we slowly uncovered the huge stones until we reached bed rock, I felt a real sense of sadness for the people who had first placed those stones and lived in the Studmarsh field.  No matter how many centuries have gone by, when you’re removing layers of someone’s home it still feels intrusive.  That’s why I was so pleased to take part in the backfilling work at the end of the dig.  It felt like a mark of respect to place the stones back in the earth where we had found them.

Entwined in the long grass of Studmarsh there is undoubtedly personal tragedy.  This had a very profound effect on me at the time and it has not left me completely.  Having said that, this huge boggy field with the Pedunculate oak tree is one of the most peaceful places I have visited.

Many volunteers who participated in the dig are recovering from mental health troubles.  It was so refreshing to take part in a challenging physical activity with no hint of Day Care about it.  Although every part of me ached,  I felt proud of my exhaustion at the end of each day because I had earned it.  Being outdoors with a very eclectic group was so beneficial, and I relished the fact that community spirit brought everyone together no matter what their background.    It was invigorating having such a specific focus – i.e. discovering the secrets of Studmarsh.  At the point of slicing your trowel into the earth and loosening a piece of pottery there is little room for mental distress.  That has got to be worth savouring.

The Studmarsh dig has given me an archaeological bug which is not likely to diminish.  Now I know how much clout depends on the size of an archaeologist’s trowel I hope I’ll get the chance to volunteer at least once a year. 

Thank you to archaeologists Ian Bapty, Dai Williams and Chris Atkinson for giving us volunteers a Summer which the rain didn’t drown.

.

Thoughts from Mel

Greetings, me fellow cow-pat huggers!
Mel B signing in for first time.
This Project has been something I’ve dreamed of for years: I’ve often thought Archaeology might be something I would like to study formally with Geology – and so far it is living well up to expectations!  Doing the site Survey, plotting out the markers in the fields, trying to learn how to recognize – visually and ‘by foot’ – changes and indicators in the ground and landscape, learning about the selection of a ‘base line’ for orientation of the survey map, learning to understand the meaning and practical application of the long-incomprehensible “degrees/ hours, minutes and seconds”, using a protractor for the first time since 1978(fun!), trying to help complete the resulting Survey Map (!!…my contribution of wobbly lines and an arrow pointing the wrong way, is there for eternity, oh dear!), and now…………… the actual “Dig”: actually, everything has far exceeded those expectations: seeing the factors involved that helped influence where the archaeologists dug their first “test trenches”, measuring the turfs and removing them, my first find of a bit of old green glass, so early on (yee-hah!!), sifting soil – both the productive and the devoid of finds, celebrating watching other people’s joy and growth in confidence as they’ve made finds and realized their own (the team member’s) ‘value’, watching a seemingly-random heap of stones become…a random heap of stones!…Or, could it be a house wall, farm shed or barn, kiln…!, the exciting suggestion of a doorway…It’s BRILLIANT!
However, it has been far from an easy ride: I have been diagnosed with Chronic, Complex PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), which is defined as being the result of having suffered long-term multiple Trauma including all types of Abuse, and said Trauma symptoms either surfacing at a date at some distance in the future from the cause/s, or said Traumatic symptoms going formally unrecognized/ untreated for a long period. The Dig, therefore has been such a double-edged sword; since it began, I have suffering flashbacks and nightmares from the most mundane of activities (the sheer terror of sitting in the passenger seat of a car with the driver, being in any sort of vehicle near a driver (other than an anonymous public bus and train), being in country lanes and tracks, being in fields and smelling those smells (even though as an adult, I do adore the countryside), having to commit things to paper in any form (i.e. the Survey Map), ‘studying’ anything (i.e. records), in case I ‘get it wrong’, seeing the tools and the black waste buckets-like-mini-dustbins, deciding whether I have a right to take a break, having to use the bushes for the toilet (not for reasons of ‘vanity’), fearing that if I don’t work every second I will have to endure the traumatic events and the rejection once again……………….and so it goes!
I also suffer from a tendon disease and disability called Fibromyalgia, with Chronic Fatigue, the symptoms of these are chiefly triggered (in my case) by stress, and I have also been taught that I have to learn to ‘pace’ myself and my stresses and activities through every day…but it is SO HARD learning to recognize one’s own physical and emotional limits – and I was SO VERY Grateful that our leader imposed regular breaks in the day:  I never want to take a break because I’m loving it so much anyway – and I don’t want to miss a second of this privileged position! – but it also eliminates that deep-seated ‘question’ about whether you are ‘doing well enough, pulling your weight in the Group’, it’s ‘ok’ and ‘you have the right’ to rest.. I go swimming twice a week (except during Dig fortnight), which helps prevent my weight escalating, and maintain my ‘flexibility.’…
I feel sick and shaky just writing this down – but the Dig and History experiences are one’s that I’ve dreamed of for so many years, and I wouldn’t miss them for the world. I have also only now been able to begin to formulate in my own mind, an understanding of what I have been experiencing. Today just felt like ‘the right’ day for me to start writing it all down. And I also realize that, in carrying on with this Project and Dig, I am not letting the nightmare people in my past, hold me back: they are not going to win!
While committing this to the Blog, I have also worried if this is the appropriate place to write this down…but after consideration, I think that perhaps this is the correct place, because the idea of the Project was to investigate the parallels within Mental Illness and History, throughout history: I am learning so much continually throughout the Project, and
I have so treasured this experience (Dig and History.), not just as subjects that fascinate me in their own rights – but because it’s been so wonderful meeting and working with such a broad range of people, with such fascinating and diverse knowledge and experience of life, working towards a common goal, and I feel I am learning all the time.
I miss being with you all among the cowpats but look forward to being with you at our next meeting on 29th September.
All my Loveywoosams to u all! XXX

Our Next Event

Dear All,
 
I am writing to invite you to the next event on our Past in Mind calendar following the excavation.
We had a very successful and enjoyable time during the dig despite the weather. I hope you managed to catch the press coverage in the Herefordshire times, Journal and on BBC Hereford and Worcester.
 
We had a great response to the Visitor days that the National Trust kindly organised for us – we had over 150 people visiting over the course of the two days and Ian Bapty rose to the occasion and gave a very informative talk to all those present on the two days. The feedback from the public has been very good with a lot of interest shown in the project overall which is encouraging.
 
So we are moving on now to look at the initial results and to planning our winter programme. I do hope you can come and share in the discussion and get involved in the next stages. 
 
Here are the details:
 

PAST IN MIND RESULTS WORKSHOP EVENT: Saturday 29th September 10am – 2pm

Venue: Whitbourne Village Hall. WR6 5RR

Programme 10am – 2pm.

  • Coffee/tea
  • An overview and celebration of the success of the project to date
  • Initial results from the archaeological excavation
  • Plans for writing up the results and recording the wider aspects of the project
  • Museum opportunity – work on the finds and displays
  • Historical update from Dr Kate Lack
  • Planning for the winter programme
  • 1pm Lunch will be provided
  • 2pm close 

Mind volunteers transport arrangements: –

Minibus will leave Heffernan at 9.15am sharp.

Leominster volunteers – Jenny will pick you up at 9.15am at Co-op carpark.

Please let me know if you are attending and if you are staying for lunch so I can make the necessary catering arrangements. There is good parking outside the hall and for those who do not know Whitbourne, the hall is at the heart of the village but I have provided the postcode for those of you using satnavs etc.

I am really looking forward to seeing you and to hopefully capturing a little of our Studmarsh spirit again so I do hope you can come.

Regards,

Jenny

Jenny McMillan

Project Manager

Past in Mind

jenny.mcmillan@herefordshire-mind.org.uk

https://pastinmindproject.wordpress.com/

Mob: 07812370553

 

The Notice Board: General Information

Past in Mind Archaeological Excavation Project (Monday August 13th to Sunday August 26th, Public visit days August 27th/28th, Backfilling August 29th– 30th)

 

General Briefing Information

Introducing the Past in Mind Project

Past in Mind is a Heritage Lottery ‘Your Heritage’ funded project run by the mental health charity Herefordshire Mind, and is an innovative heritage, community learning and mental health support project. It is running from June 2012 to June 2013, and is undertaking an exciting new historical and archaeological investigation of the lost settlement at the Studmarsh/Grove (located on the National Trust’s Brockhampton Estate, Herefordshire).

The project is being undertaken by volunteers including people recovering from mental health problems. With professional support and training, volunteer opportunities will include historical research, archaeological survey and ‘digging’, finds and results analysis and the development of displays and other information resources.

The Grove archaeological investigation

The Studmarsh/Grove site today consists of enigmatic patterns of ‘humps and bumps’ spread across a grazed field. Although the site – first recognised on aerial photographs in the 1970s – would generally be described as a ‘DesertedMedievalVillage’ (or ‘DMV’ for short) the truth is we don’t know what is really represented by these remains.  Questions such as what the settlement looked like, when and how it began, how big it is, what life was like there, how it changed through the centuries, why it declined, and how it relates to the origins of local life today, all remain to be answered.

These questions are particularly interesting because the Studmarsh/Grove is just one of hundreds of similar sites across Herefordshire and the West Midlands. This vast lost story of rural life stretching back over hundreds of years has been little investigated, and the Studmarsh/Grove investigation will also shed important new light on the archaeological potential and importance of many similar sites.

The archaeological excavation (August 13th to August 26th)

The aim of the excavation is dig into some of the platforms, ditches, banks and other features which make up the site (which we previously mapped during the survey work in July), and to try and find out what lies beneath these features. Although archaeology often produces the unexpected, we are fairly confident we will find building remains, and finds such as old pottery. We hope this information will link with the ongoing historical research to reveal something both of the lost story of Studmarsh/The Grove through time, and allow a direct glimpse of the lives of the people who once lived there.  However, excavation does not produce instant answers, and the real objective of the two week digging project is to produce a detailed record of everything we find supported by plans, drawings and photographs. At the next ‘post excavation’ stage all this information will then be subject to further analysis to being to understand what we have really found.

What is involved

We will be begin by digging a series of small square test pits across the site to establish the nature of the archaeological remains in different places, and the potential for further excavation. We will then expand two of those text pit excavations into larger trenches to more fully explore the remains in those areas. These larger excavations will involve careful investigation of the buried layers and features such as stone walls, pits, postholes etc which we may find.

Although there will be a degree of physical work in all of this – removing turf, using tools such as mattocks, spades, wheelbarrows and trowels to gradually uncover buried features – there is much more to excavation than that. Producing section drawings and plans at each stage of the process, keeping written records, cleaning and recording finds, and taking photographs are all essential parts of the process, so there will be plenty to get involved with, and you don’t need to be an Olympic endurance athlete to take part!

Dai Williams and Chris Atkinson from Herefordshire Archaeology will be on hand to give all the necessary support and training, and no prior experience is required.

Public Visit Days Monday August 27th and Tuesday August 28th

Working with the National Trust, we are very keen that the results of the work are made publicly available. The excavation will therefore be open for public visits over the August Bank Holiday Monday (August 27th)  and Tuesday August 26th. The visit process is being coordinated with the help of the National Trust, and will include the option for visitors to join morning and afternoon guided tours or to drop into the site as and when during those days.

We very much hope that at least some of the volunteer team who have been involved in the excavation project will be available on those days to help explain the discoveries we have made to the visitors, and this is another opportunity to get involved in the project.

Backfilling and ground restoration August 29th and August 30th

The final stage of the excavation is to restore the holes we have dug. This is important because we have only been given permission to dig via the National Trust and the farmer on strict condition that we properly reinstate the excavated areas. Moreover,  it is crucial for the long term future of the remaining archaeological deposits that the ground is maintained in good condition.

Essentially backfilling will involve replacing the soil we have removed back into the excavation trenches, ensuring that the ground profile of the ‘humps and bumps’ we have dug into is restored during this process, and then that the turf is carefully replaced so that the grass will rapidly re-grow and recover. The aim is to make sure the site will soon look as if we had never been there.

Obviously, the ground restoration will involve physical work and might not sound terribly glamorous. However, it is an important part of the project, and we would very much welcome volunteer help with this final stage of the excavation.

(Prepared by Ian Bapty)

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: Jenny.McMillan@herefordshire-mind.org.uk

 

 

 

Lift Off! The Official Launch

As always when planning outside events, the British weather was doing its utmost to cause disruption right up until the morning of the launch.  Thankfully we were spared the wet stuff, which kept spirits very much alive throughout the day. 

The venue was Lower Brockhampton Estate just outside Bromyard, which is owned by the National Trust.  Brockhampton literally means “the farm of the dwellers by the brook”, and the 1680 acres of parkland, woodland and fields create a tremendous feeling of continuity.  This beautiful place has remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years.  The first owners of the estate, the Brockhampton family (who took their name from the place) built the Norman chapel which now stands as a ruin in the grounds.  The manor, Lower Brockhampton House, was built in the 14th century by John Domulton, and although by modern standards it does not seem extravagant or luxurious, at the time of construction it was an ostentatious display of wealth and status.  Similarly the moat which once surrounded the manor was intended more as a status symbol than a defence. 

The Studmarsh site which we will be excavating is not far from the Brockhampton Estate and visiting it really helped me to connect with the location.  I was struck by its remoteness.  Even the National Trust ticket kiosk was a considerable distance from the manor.  As we trundled down the lengthy drive, I thought of the people who had made the same journey in previous centuries before the luxuries of cars and concrete paths.  Their world must have been a local world.  This time next year we may know more. 

For the project launch a huge tent had been erected to house the displays and information stands of the various Organisations supporting Past in Mind.  I thought it was impressive – but then I didn’t have the logistical headache of negotiating tent pegs, poles and limited time.  Once again I was pleasantly surprised by the high turn-out, and there were some new people in the group which was encouraging.  We began with a short talk by the Project Manager Jenny McMillan, who outlined the ethos of the project and the idea behind Past in Mind.  I still have to pinch myself every now and then to remind myself that only a few months ago we were waiting to see if Heritage Lottery would provide funding.

Ian Bapty the senior archaeologist gave a guided tour around the Brockhampton Estate.  It was a very useful exercise as it enabled us to get the feel of the area and to put the Studmarsh site into local context. I enjoyed simply standing still and absorbing the peaceful surroundings.  My Guide dog enjoyed sniffing the green grass and watching the ducks (mallards not eider ducks) out of the corner of her eye.

Obviously the main focus of this project is to carry out historical research and the excavation in August.  However alongside that we are aiming to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness.  I believe that an effective way to reduce and ultimately remove stigma is to talk about seemingly taboo subjects.  So often stigma arises out of fear and common misconceptions, so open discussion is a positive step forward.  Quite apart from anything else, sitting down and talking puts most people at ease.   One of the highlights of the launch event for me was a lively post-lunch discussion about mental health recovery in relation to the Past in Mind project. 

All the volunteers took part in the discussion regardless of their background.  It was fascinating to listen to the breadth of knowledge and experience expressed by so many different people.  Topics ranged from mental health recovery, perceptions of reality, Nature versus Nurture, history (including mental health in historical context), and archaeology.   There was an Olympic-style academic debate between the history and archaeology experts about their different approaches.  Game on!     

I felt really positive after this discussion and easily could have stayed for another hour. One of the things I like about the Past in Mind group is that everyone is very accepting of each other regardless of differing opinions (academic or otherwise).  It is a diverse group, but a united one.

A positive result for the launch was that many more volunteers signed up for the project and I can now declare Lift Off for Past in Mind.

 

The next important part of the project is the Studmarsh site survey which will take place from June 25th – June 30th.  Ian Bapty has provided details about how to get involved with this aspect of the project – please refer to his post, “Site Survey”.  As usual, anyone is welcome to join but please register as soon as possible as numbers are limited.