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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

 

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A Book Is Being Published!

The exciting news is that, although Past In Mind has finished its research into Studmarsh, the project lives on.  Past In Mind was never a project that was destined to be filed away in a County archive.  Too much has been gained for that.  With this is mind, Dr. Kate Lack who was the project historian, has written a book about what has been learned from Past In Mind.  The book, due to be published on May 10th 2014, offers a glimpse into the lives and experiences of some of the inhabitants of Studmarsh and the surrounding area.  Studmarsh saw the Roman occupation, the Norman Conquest, the Black Death, famine, civil war, the Industrial Revolution and much more before the present day.  Drawing from the shared experience of volunteers and paid professionals working on the Past In Mind project, the book is a human story full of fascinating historical facts.

More details will be posted as they arise.

Past in Mind has also been entered for the Heritage Lottery Awards and if we are shortlisted I will, of course, announce it on this Blog.

I genuinely believe that Past In Mind has paved the way for future Community projects seeking to learn more about local history/archaeology whilst breaking down barriers in mental health.  The common denominator in this project was enthusiasm for research and archaeology, but everyone involved brought a unique perspective.  For those volunteers who have no experience of mental health problems, I hope that fear of ‘mad’ people has been eradicated or at least diminished.  For those volunteers who do experience mental health problems, I hope that fear of trying new things and meeting new people is now one that can be faced more regularly.  Because the emphasis of the project was on the excavation and historical research rather than mental health, it was easier to get on with the task in hand.  But one of the things that made this easier was that everyone who volunteered was accepted for who they are.  Each individual was valued.  And this ethos continues in Past In Mind.

Details of where to purchase Kate’s book will be posted when they are available.

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A Day in the Life….. Here at Last!

Following on from the Past in Mind project there have been some exciting developments.  Firstly some volunteers have rocketed from the project launchpad into a new world of voluntary work, academic study and personal achievements.  On top of this, the project manager Jenny McMillan has written an article about the project which has been published in an International Journal.  (The link to this will be posted shortly).  And in addition there is going to be a book based on the project, which is due to be published in 2014.  We always knew that the Past in Mind project was breaking new ground, but who would have thought it would continue to reach new heights once the main work had finished?

The publication of the Day in the Life monologues which were performed at the Conquest Theatre in Bromyard in April 2013, is long overdue.  So to rekindle the flame of this fantastic project, here they are at last.  All the pieces were written by volunteers and staff involved with Past in Mind.

A Day in the Life of Pottery

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My origins lie beneath the Malvern Hills.

While Walter Potter held me in his hands in crude clay form, I fancied I might end up in a lady’s chamber. How proudly I would sit there, I thought, holding her trinkets. But then I mused upon the fact that I might find myself discarded, for I have it on hearsay that some young ladies are prone to fickleness.

Many a fine piece of Malvernware has been seen in the back of a cart, because Dorset clay has become more fashionable. So I got thinking as I was in Walter’s hands perhaps I would prefer to be pride of place in a gentleman’s chamber instead. But presently that vexed me also.  For I heard the other day that one of my cousins – a fine young bowl – was gambled away in an ale house and is now unaccounted for. Hhm!!

So if ladies apparently change their minds and men gamble, where does that leave me? Someone warned me against idle gossip, but it does make my position quite precarious. I hope I break into bits right here in Malvern and go back to my beloved soil.  My future is so uncertain! I’m destined to leave my home and I have no idea what Walter Potter plans to do with me.

These were my thoughts before I was made one of the finest cooking vessels in Mercia.
My cart journey to Studmarsh was painful and cumbersome. And I had to suffer the humiliation of being poked by a jug and jostled by square dishes that used the coarsest Medieval language. One of them told me I was not a fine vessel and that I’d know about it when my underside was roasting in the fire. I tried to ignore the foul-mouthed dish, but I must confess my rim quivered.

When we arrived in Studmarsh I tried to make my sides glow so that the lads sent to unload us would not handle me roughly.  One of those loathsome square dishes said we were all utilitarian and that the cook here was descended from a hairy Viking. I didn’t understand what any of this meant but it sounded painful.

We were all sent to the kitchen in batches and assigned our proper places. I was disgusted to find myself within earshot of the square dishes, ruffians through and through despite their squareness.

Although it was an uncomfortable start we had pleasant times in the stone house. I produced many steaming stews and even helped out at weddings. The Viking cook turned out to be a friendly wench from London who valued me dearly and called me her prize. Then the Black Death came.

As the deadly plague ate through Studmarsh, laughter became rare and my services were seldom called upon. One by one the people of Studmarsh died or drifted away, and inevitably I too became broken. I rested in the soil for the next six centuries.

In 2013 I am a mere fragment of my former self. Yet last year a piece of me was found near an inner wall of the great stone house, and since then I have been properly cleaned and cared for. Humans in strange attire seem fascinated by me. If Walter Potter could see me now, even as a fragment, he would be immensely proud.

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A Day in the Life of William Colley

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William Colley is my name.  Born in this fair Herefordshire land in 1638 and passed before my sixtieth year was seen.

I am a man of truth and faith.  My bible is my guide – God’s law I do uphold.

I have been blessed – the Lord gave me a good and loving wife and 7 children too; Timothy is my eldest boy and Ann my youngest girl.

Many changes and hardships I have borne in this my earthly world.  I remain a puritan, a loyalist, Orangeman  – so God be my judge.

I leave this will in 1695 –

In the name of God Amen I William Colley of Norton in the parish of Bromyard in the county of Hereford gent being well in Body and of sound and perfect mind, memory and understanding (thanks be given to God Almighty for the same)

And calling to mind the uncertainty of this life and that all flesh must yield unto death when it shall please God to call doe make this my last will and testament ………………………………

I  Bequeath my Soul into the hands of God Almighty my maker trusting in and through the merits of my Lord  and Saviour Jesus Christ to have full and free pardon and Remission for all my sins and to inherit everlasting life ………………………………………………….

I give and bequeath unto my eldest son Timothy Colley the Bedd and Beddstead together with all the furniture and appurtenances whatsoever thereunto belonging being in the Bedd chamber of my said son Timothy.

I give and bequeath unto my son William Colley the sum of twenty shillings to be paid by my Executrix hereafter named. I give and bequeath unto my loving wife Elizabeth Colley the Bedd and Beddstead with all the furniture thereunto belonging in the Chamber over the Hall being a lodging Chamber and wherein we usually lie

I William Colley have put my hand and seal this 17th July in the 7th year of the reign

of our Sovereign Lord William 3rd by the grace of God of England, Scotland,

France and Ireland……………..year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and

ninety five. 

A Day in the Life of Doug (the Ancient oak)

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I am the Pedunculate oak tree, guardian of the Studmarsh field. Five
centuries of life have passed beneath my branches. There have been
occasions when my leaves have wilted under the weight of local gossip. Yet a well-bred Pedunculate, such as I, must always be discreet!

This probably makes me the best diplomat in Herefordshire. But really, when the Bloody Assizes are leaving a trail of broken necks across the country, does it matter who kissed the farm boy on the Common?

I’ve had five centuries to put things in perspective. A secret, lies, confessions, promises – I have witnessed them all.  I’ve comforted the sick and lonely, and given young lovers my blessing.  I have also showered acorns on the heads of drunkards who use my trunk as a chamber pot! Even a diplomat such as I, has limits.

It is the Summer of 2012 and a motley group has arrived in Studmarsh field.
With the utmost dignity I’m embracing my new role as the resident coat, hat
and bag stand.  They appear to like me, these transient diggers.  As for me,
I’m far too old to have opinions. I am trying to remain undisturbed, but
someone is measuring my girth with a tape measure.  No one has measured the Pedunculate of Studmarsh before!

It seems that for the first time in nearly five centuries I am to be given a reference number. I almost decayed on the spot when I overheard this (for no one tells me anything directly).

My formal identity is Pedunculate of Studmarsh, Sir Douglas Quercus – or
Doug for short. I rather like it. How many Pedunculates do you know who are
listed as a veteran on the Internet?

http://www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk/recording/tree?tree=WRbknGHzCkKsr7L%2bjicHpw

A Day in the Life of a Visitor to Studmarsh  By Christopher Skinner

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My name and what people call me is Adam Vinetree, and this is the tale of my travels Northwest from Dorset (My place of birth) to find work and seek employment. I will undertake any task and put my hands to whatever job will pay enough to shelter me, buy me food and find a wench so that I can finally settle down.

I had tried to settle in many different places, but alas, could not stay long for the Plague ever seemed to be round the corner taking the friends I had in my youth and the few that I had made on my journey. In my experience of work I have cared for livestock, can use horse and plough and I learn very quickly. I have sheared sheep and picked up the art of the blacksmith, the locals in villages I have passed and stayed in are attracted to the blacksmith for he is the local place for talk and news.

I entered a small village signposted with the name of Studmarsh; this seems to be a name describing the large number of cut tree-bases and wet-ground beneath me. I entered the village and headed for the plume of smoke and hubbub surrounding a hut with a large chimney, there were a few locals and my eyes were attracted to a pretty young girl who stood out as the most attractive girl I had ever seen! Tearing my eyes away, I pushed through the crowd to talk directly with the big man holding great metal pincers and throwing logs on the fire.

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“Scuse me sir, is there anywhere local I can work? I can fetch timbers for the fire, push the bellows and make and repair horse-shoes.” – I also said to him, “I am new in town and need a hot dinner and a place to sleep.” The blacksmith stopped what he was doing and scratched his chin. -” I can spread the word about, stick around the area and I’ll see what I can do.”

I thanked him and turned to leave, and there was the beautiful girl I saw earlier – approaching me!

She stopped in front of me and said; “Hello, my name is Alice and I overheard your conversation. My Father is looking for an extra man to till our land for grain. I think I could persuade him to let you sleep in the cleaner part of the goat shed, there is plenty of bedding and Daisy is pretty good, even with strangers. ”

I cannot believe my ears! I know that Alice had not asked her Father yet, but I was quietly confident that I had found a place to work, sleep and the chance of finding a wife within thirty minutes of entering the village!

Alice gave me such a coy look; I could not help but smile. She took my hand and led me through the village to where she pointed to the raised flat area at the top of the valley. There was a large settlement to the right of the track, at the top of the valley, Alice told me that this was her home – I could see that this family were not stuck for a coin or two, so we headed for the large gates to the property and as we were to push them open, something caught my eye.

Festooned upon several of the village doors was the dreaded sign of a red cross painted in crude, hurried strokes.

I stood there and took it all in, sure as sure the village was slowly becoming doomed, Alice started to cry in the background, saying “You will stay here with us – won’t you? “ My heart almost gave way at that point this girl was at the end of her tether, her risk of infection was almost a certainty.  The plague itself was seething through the large towns and settlements and people were dying in no particular order, if I stayed here I would almost certainly succumb to Black Death, if I leave I would never see this pretty a face and the wealth this family had, ever again.

Maybe I stay and barricade Alice and I both in together – maybe I run and die a slow, horrible Death…The End

A Day in the Life of – The Black Death

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I am the Black Death. I hover near a labourer’s sick bed and embrace the physician who tends the dying man. I breathe over the Vicar as he hurries in with oil and prayer book.  I tiptoe round the maidens who are weeping outside, and two of them I kiss. And finally I whisper into grandfather’s ear that I shall see him tomorrow.  My work is done at this small cottage in Studmarsh.

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Sweeping my black cloak along the grass I stride onwards towards the mighty house of stone. I am the Black Death.  I do not discriminate. Rich or poor, strong or infirm, rosy wench or fair-haired lad – I see no difference between them.  Thus half the population of Studmarsh I carry off to the graveyard. And half I leave behind in mourning.

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Ah – They were the days! For indeed fifty years have passed since I first visited Studmarsh. I am but a spectre now, leaning on a broken gate. The windows of the building have been smashed in. Half the roof is missing and rain tumbles into the empty chamber. I am the Black Death. Decay and disorder are my legacy.  I rip up social fabric and toss the rags to the four winds.

As I turn away I spy a drunken cleric slumped on the grass – flagon in his left hand, ripped prayer book in his right. Some of the torn pages are flitting across the meadow like wingless butterflies.

But who really cares?

Who has enough stamina to protest?  Has anyone even noticed?

Who in Studmarsh is still intact?

I am the Black Death. It’s 1397 and decaying Studmarsh is still mine.

A day in the Life of Abigail

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My name is Abigail. I flutter through time, passing through Studmarsh from
age to age. One moment I am picking flowers in the meadow. Next I am
watching through an upstairs window; watching you. You are trying to capture me – but I am the elusive Abigail.

Elusive Abigail, I run through Studmarsh tossing my hair and laughing as it
glistens in the golden light.  Then I am wailing, for my father has just died
in his bed.

This is grieving Abigail.

This is a finely dressed Abigail drowned in a black cape of loss.  The Abigail who makes you shudder on a windswept night at the thought of ghosts. Yes, I am that ghost you thought you saw by the oak tree. Yet before you catch me I am galloping away on a black-maned mare, breaking through time into new pastures. It is my wedding day now.  Listen to the peeling bells!

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This is time for more laughter on Studmarsh.

Perhaps on a summer evening you might hear me making merry just as I did on that joyful day.

I am the woman who holds all the memories. They are my secrets. If you
listen carefully you may hear whispers in the water. Bond’s Dingle or the
watery marsh – who knows? Elusive Abigail likes to tease. She jumps out
and surprises you. She lies in dusty books then runs away when you open the
page. Abigail flies through time, neither young nor old. You think you know
her, but you merely know her name. Abigail: “joy of my father”.

I am elusive Abigail, the unknown woman of Studmarsh. You will never catch
me, for you will never know me. Strange, as I am standing right behind you,
giggling because you’re reluctant to turn round.

A Day in the life of A student on Past in Mind

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I am a student

I come in many forms –

I am the archaeology undergraduate on fieldwork practice

I am the sixth former not yet decided

I am her friend from an African conflict where education stopped

I am Benjamin, in my the third year of a nursing degree

I am all of these and more ………and…….  I am now a volunteer in Studmarsh excavating the past!

What did I expect? I didn’t know.

Should I be here?  I have no experience of surveying or excavating!

Should I be here with people from Mind? I didn’t know.

Who is a volunteer and who is not? Who is an archaeologist and who is not?

Who has mental health problems and who has not?

When you look at me, the student what do you see? Do I wear a hoodie and do drugs? You’re not sure?

Do you know I’m shy and want to find my way in the world?

Will I be accepted on this dig? Will I feel different? Will I stand out? How will I know what to do? What will I learn?         PAUSE

This is what I learned –

We were all nervous and unsure and excited and a little lost …and… eager to gain knowledge and skills…….and we all had fun and shared jokes with Chris and Dai and with each other. We found pottery and uncovered walls and ……….felt just a little in touch with the young and the old……the women and the men from all those years ago and …. with each other as volunteers………………….. all of whom became students of discovery at this place called Studmarsh.

A Day in the life of a real-life child of Studmarsh (Mandy Palmer)

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My memories of Studmarsh go back to the hot summer of 1976, when the spring in Bond’s Dingle was the ideal place for cooling off in the hot summer sun. It set me wondering if the Biddle children of Studmarsh and the Colley Children of Studcroft, used it during the hot summers of the 1670s.

Three hundred years had passed, had this place really changed that much in that time?

Just a few years after the Battle of Worcester, Elizabeth Biddle was born in 1662 and sister Abigail in 1663, the youngest of a large family, and may well have played in that same spring at Bond’s Dingle as teenagers. Their parents Richard and Mary, just like my own, didn’t have to worry that they would come to any harm but would return home as soon as they were tired and hungry.

Fifty years before them, Plague had caused twenty-five deaths in the Bromyard area.

During the harsh Winter of 1977/78 we sledged down Studmarsh bank on empty fertilisers bags, I wonder what the children of Studcroft, Alice, Roger, Ann and Eleanor Colley, would have used as sledges four hundred years previously when in 1577 there is alliance between England and the  Netherlands and Francis Drake sails around the world.

I’d like to think that their father William would have made them a makeshift sledge!

Did they let the much younger Biddle children from Studmarsh, James and John, with the toddlers Roger and Margaret, join in their fun?

Annoyingly for myself and my siblings, school got in the way of these activities; however this was not the case for the children of Studmarsh and Studcroft all those years ago. The girls would have been raised to marry well and the boys educated at home in book-keeping and farm business.

I suppose we will never know for sure whether we played the same on Studmarsh but I’m sure that we would all agree on one thing, be it four or five hundred years ago or just yesterday, Studmarsh was the ideal place to grow up.

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A Day in the Life of a Blind Storyteller

That winter of 1435 I saw the trees standing tall and stark, but I never saw

them glisten in the Spring.  For many months I lay in a fever, caught between
heaven and earth in a world of ice and fire. Many people would arrive with
baskets of herbs and leave with the smell of death lingering on their
clothes.

It is said that Robert the cleric begged The Lord Jesus to carry me away in his arms, for he could not bear to hear my cries of anguish. But The Lord Jesus shook his head and sent an Angel to sit beside me. When the fever finally left me, I woke to find my eyes in darkness.

Such a darkness it was, that it left a cold imprint on my soul. It is true
that I cursed my fate, and some believed I was born of the devil. But what
The Lord takes away with one hand, He gives with another.
I was given the freedom to wander into many different worlds, and a tongue
to describe my adventures. You are trapped in a world where trees have green leaves and brown trunks. But I see trees in thousands of different colours.

You have to travel on foot or by horse. But I have wings that let me fly. I
can go anywhere without moving from this room.
Travellers come from afar to hear my tales. They bring baskets of bread, or
kindle for the fire. Even when melancholia steals my wings, I find herbs and
fruit outside my door. When I feel my wings pinned once more against my
back ready for another journey, the colours I see are even brighter and the
lands I visit are more enchanting.

Many people ask me what it is like to be blind. But I reply that I am not
blind, for I see far more than they do.

A Day in The Life of a Volunteer in ‘The Volley’

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I have just entered The Volunteer Inn, Harold Street, Hereford.  Brimming with people, bursting with chatter its strong current sweeps me inside – I almost feel as if I am drowning.  The wooden floorboards seem to be harbouring a multitude of toads.  I listen to them creaking and croaking as I make my way to the back room.

Sitting in the back room of the aptly named Volunteer Inn, are a sizeable group of volunteers.  There is tangible excitement and expectancy. We are beginning our research today. No one knows where this might take us. I am already captivated by the idea of exploring unchartered territory. The sense of adventure helps me to overcome the claustrophobia which is starting to smother me in this crowded room.

Good research techniques are vital, and I eagerly digest the information being given to us. I can feel the dust that has gathered since my University days. It forms a furry film across my grey matter, and I have an overwhelming urge to shake my head in order to disperse it.
But the old thrill of those bookworm days comes leaping back as I realise that this Project is seriously Academic. We are visiting the Records Office in a minute, and I am carried away by a wave of childish excitement at the thought. Then my stomach drops as anxiety gnaws away inside me. I might not be up for this. My brain could have eroded from twenty years of rust for all I know. At least I am not short of enthusiasm, and this eases my apprehension.

Once in the Records Office the enormity of the Past in Mind Project hits me. This Victorian building is stuffed with ancient maps and manuscripts dating back centuries. Everyone in here right now is a mere pin point on the landscape of time. I wonder if anyone will come across my name in a few centuries from now, when I am but an archive. It makes me realise just how mortal we all are.

I feel privileged to be a volunteer. This is giving me the chance to make a genuine contribution – to the National Archive, to the local community, to our group.

I am spurred on by this thought, and I know that the other volunteers are driven in a similar way. I cannot help feeling exhilarated and optimistic. This feels really, really good.

A day in the Life of One in Four

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One in four people will experience mental ill-health at some point during their lifetime. The following account is experienced by an ordinary person leading an ordinary life- Someone who happens to be ‘one in four’.

Today I have an interview for a place at University.
When I try to go out, the front door is no longer a door.  It is a griffin preventing me from leaving the house.  If I fight it there will be more of them waiting for me outside, but I want to  be an archaeologist, and all the griffins in England won’t stop me getting there.   have to fight it now.  I make it outside. There is a cold wind and people walk past me shivering or blowing into their hands. I hold my head down, for I cannot tell if they are friendly or hostile. Someone is talking on their mobile.  Does this mean there will be people waiting for me round the corner? Ready to hurt me like they did before – I must change my route. They’ll be expecting me to go past the park. I decide to cut through town but this means I have to walk faster, always making sure I keep my head down so no one can catch my eye.

Then it dawns on me that I have forgotten my gloves. I am exposed. I stand out. I am a target. I thrust my hands deep inside my pockets, hoping that no one has seen. Suddenly I hear my name. I spin round, expecting an attack. I am totally defenceless; I shut my eyes and prepare to take a hit. But no one is there, only a river of faceless people. One of these faceless people has been watching me since I left the house.  Any minute I might feel a hand on my shoulder or a knife in my back.  My heart tries to clamber through my chest.    I freeze with fear, and my whole body crawls with cold sweat. “Who called my name?” I call out in panic but no one answers.  A few people stare and then edge away from me. I know those surreptitious glances.

They think I am mad. I am a threat to them. I might harm their children. I want to yell out that I am the one who is afraid.  I forgot my gloves this morning – I am the one in danger!

I’ve got to get home. I feel outnumbered in this unfriendly town. But my legs are now blocks of wood holding me to the ground.

I scream inside, unable to move forward. I ask a passer-by to call me a taxi but she hurries on, pretending she never heard me.  Like other people, she sees my agitation but fails to see the human being inside.  No one wants to help me.  People are really staring now. I feel so alone in this crowd.  I hold my head, unsure what to do. I start willing my body to move from this place. Very, very slowly, I am able to inch forward but I cannot go back the way I came, for it is too dangerous.

Two hours later I am quivering outside my front door. The familiar front door is no longer a griffin but an ally.  He pulls me inside and then shields me from the outside world.

I am listening to a message on my answer phone informing me that as I failed to make my Interview they cannot offer me a University place. The caller wishes me well and adds that I may apply again in a year’s time.

A Day in the Life of ‘Making our Mark’

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Waddling……walking…….sensing…seeing…

Reading the landscape

Orientation…….

Plotting out the markers in the field

Maps…. Patterns……perspectives

Changes

Indicators

Base lines

Angles of photos taken…from the North, the South, the sky above………

Degrees……… minutes……… seconds…

The protractor moves by my hand……. yes my hand!  (Suddenly, and for the first time I know how to navigate the World!)

Clayey…..silty…….. grainy…. brown -… no, brown with reddish tints

Colours, hues… (I’d never noticed or…. known how to notice until now…)

Taste it…….. feel it…… sense it………

…001, 002, and 003…Context…… bedding planes…….. bedrock…..’getting your eye in’ as Dai would say…..

Make a mark……….make a judgement………… watch the trowel……. gently does it…………..

Sparkling Quartz – like shiny, tiny sharks’ teeth or little baby milk teeth – looking up at us from the soil…”

Walls emerge, doorways too?

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Now walking, not waddling respectively through people s’ front rooms…… seeing their crockery……sensing their lives….

What did they eat?

High/low/middle fortune in life?…did they ‘keep up with the Jones’?

Did they grow up with their husbands-to-be…?

Did the fields feel as long and treacherous, come winter or summer………..How far was ‘far’ to them

Did they have the same dreams…see the next parish, town……… country – or were they too bogged-down by life & making ends meet

…did the plague come knocking?

Boggy, uneven, hard to till land… ……….. that today sees cattle graze…….. so warm & peacefully

They left us their Horse shoes, cooking pots – blackened in production & from making wholesome, hard-toiled-for, food for their Precious Families…….. Nails…. glass……..shards……. such ‘treasures’ that saw so much life & passed down through the years and generations…

Did they experience the same emotional ‘rush’ when they found something washed exposed by rain and brook – nestling the pieces of their ancestors’ lives, treasuring, dreaming…

Reworking them, knowing how precious they were to their makers – & knowing that such things should never be discarded so lightly…

They will never be forgotten, they have made their mark in a settlement that will now never pass out of history because of what they have shared so preciously with us.”

They have made their mark and we the volunteers of Past in Mind have made a mark and it has made a mark on us!

A Day in the Life of an archaeologist’s trowel

My old trowel.

It’s a rainy day in August and I’m sliding into the Earth. Clumps of mud cling to my back. I go under, diving beneath a long stretch of rock.

It feels good to rustle the soil again and give the worms a rude awakening. My handler is experienced which helps me glide smoothly.

Down, down I go; flipping over as I hit a large stone. I surprise a centipede whilst I right myself, but I plunge past him without an apology. (A trowel’s prerogative!)

The world beneath is still and silent. I am disturbing the sacred calm with
my weaving metal nose. In front of me is a tiny blue sherd which I gently
tease from its bed. As I do so, the soil rolls down my back in slimy lumps.

As I become accustomed to the darkness I begin to hear the slow heartbeat of the Earth.  It sounds like a pendulum patiently marking time. Then her
heaving lungs cough out the dust of former centuries. Suddenly I tap against
a pewter ornament which fuels excitement from the world above. Staring up I
glimpse the mottled sky.  Those grey clouds look ready to burst. Several
faces peer down at my trophy and I take a few deep breaths as it leaves its
resting place for good. There are gasps of approval. “She’s a beauty!” I
hear someone say.  I flutter my handle self-consciously.

Then I slice down to the hole where the pewter ornament once lay, and inhale its lingering residue. Beatles scurry forward across my nose which makes me want to sneeze. This is turning out to be a good day.

A Day in the life of the prayer of Edward III, King of England 1375 

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(To be read leisurely)

This land is cursed!

Dear God, what mortal sin have I committed to deserve such wrath?

My farms and orchards lie in fallow or in ruin, for want of hands to tend them.

My servants and my lackeys all dead or fled to the wildest reaches of my kingdom and the villages barricade themselves against my tax-collectors, for fear they will bring the murderous pestilence with them.  And so my coffers run dry.  Is there no respite from this Breath of Beelzebub?

This horror – inflicted on us they say by the heathen Turk from the East – respects not rank, nor blood, nor cloth. It slaughters the high-born and the peasant with equal relish and turns both to stinking putrescence. They say there are not enough living to tend the sick nor bury the dead and so the corpses pile high at village edge, groaning for Christian burial.

They say the North country has blocked its roads to travellers. They say the Midlands are ravaged beyond repair. They say the Cornishmen flee to their ancient forebears in Bretagne, where they may or may not be granted entrance.  The world is on the move and only we, trapped in our castle-keep are forbidden flight; for if we flee, the kingdom will fall into ancient, pagan chaos and the rule of law will be forgot.

The Death returns again and again and our villages lie now like dead cabbages that drowned in flood or were o’rwhelmed by disease. The cows scream for milking. The young suckling pigs die for lack of milk from feed-starved sows. The people cower in dark corners of fear and ignorance.  But they WILL rise again, like the Saviour himself and they will spring to newer, richer life, like green shoots after wildfire.

How then will the country recover its strength and its wealth?  There will be few hands to tend the fields and build the towns. Those who survive will demand a high price for their craft and we may well see the dawn of a new age, when the tradesman holds sway over the duke. Our age of chivalry and aristocratic privilege may well die by the hand of plague and the demands of the working man.  The lord will go cap in hand before the workman and bargain for his services until, bloated with his new-found wealth, the harvester becomes the squire.

Can the Lord God Almighty have envisioned the overturn of the rightful order of society when he launched this creeping death upon the land?  Can he have intended it?  Does he mean for the children of the peasants who succumbed to this plague to become the rulers of the land?  Maybe THAT is the real plague. The humbling of the aristocracy and finally ……. the KING!

Come what may, the land WILL live again, but it will be a different land.  Not the land of The Lion-heart or the all-conquering Longshanks. Not the land of The Holy Grail and the sacred relic. Not the England of old. It will be the land of the wool-merchant. The domain of the hops-grower – the country of the carpenter, the banker and the playwright.

We are the last of the old order.  This pestilence is not sent from the Turk, but directly from the Lord himself.  Like the plagues of old Egypt, he has sent the Death to cleanse the land and change it. To free a people that were imprisoned – to start anew.

All I know is this land is cursed.

Our Final Celebration

On Saturday April 6th we are staging our final celebration of the Past in Mind project at the Conquest Theatre, Bromyard.

No one can doubt that this project has been a success. When we started out a year ago we had no idea what to expect.

Everyone involved has faced challenges along the way, but the project has continued to thrive. I have learned so much academically and personally. Like many other volunteers I have discovered that I can do tasks (such as sieving the topsoil of an archaeological trench). In most cases there is a way round things. This has greatly increased my confidence and self belief.

The final celebration on Saturday aims to showcase what we have learned about Studmarsh and its inhabitants. Archaeologist Ian Bapty and historian Dr. Kate Lack will be presenting our discoveries to the public.

We wanted to do something different from the average symposium, so we are bringing to life certain people, objects and elements of nature through a series of short monologues. All of these will have a connection with Studmarsh. Some of the historical characters will be dressed in period costume, provided by the Conquest Theatre.

All the monologues have been written by volunteers and staff who have worked on the Past in Mind project throughout the year.

I am reciting a monologue myself, and as always with public speaking, I am struggling to contain my nerves. Thankfully we set a two-minute time limit for each monologue so it will be the shortest “speech” I’ve ever made in public! I will be speaking as a blind story-teller living in the 15th century. Those attending the event can expect to hear and see wenches, Labourers, a Studmarsh ghost and even the Grim Reaper himself….

We have been working towards our final celebration for several weeks now, and the air has often become taut with tension. It feels so important to convey the essence of the project to the audience, as well as our findings. As a group we have grown together, which is one of the reasons Past in Mind has worked so well.

The event is open to the public so if you are interested please come along. Most of the people who have been involved with Past in Mind will be there on Saturday.

We look forward to seeing you!

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Studmarsh to Venice

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy pictures

Just over two weeks ago I was sitting in a restaurant in the heart of Venice.  This is no delusion; I really did go to Venice for three days.  After last year’s bleak December it seemed an ideal antidote. 

I thought I would share my Venetian tale on the blog, as I know those involved with the Past in Mind project would feel the same appreciation and wonder as I did, walking round this ancient city. 

The first thing I would say about Venice is that getting lost is a prerequisite.  If you accept that getting lost is part of the Venetian experience, then the myriad alley ways and squares will be jewels rather than millstones.  Even when the maize is never-ending and there really seems no way out, the quirky narrow streets and tall buildings expel a wave of magic that draws you in ever deeper.  All the while I was in Venice I felt enchanted by its spell. 

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Understanding the transport system was taxing to say the least.  We’d been warned not to fork out the price of water taxis, so our first challenge was to find the right vaporetto (water bus) to get us to the island of Lido, where the hotel was.  This was our first taste of being lost in Venice.  Travel weary and overwhelmed by our surroundings we became entangled in the spider legs of the city.  It was now dark and the small bakeries and antique shops were dangerously alluring.  Intoxicating though it was, we were hungry and desperate to shed our rucksacks.  When we were on the point of expiring my friend was brave enough to ask for directions in Italian, which got us on that first vaporetto to Lido.  Crossing the water on the Venetian equivalent of the London Underground was where the adventure really began.

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To say we were relieved when we reached the hotel is an understatement.  I felt as if I’d crossed a whole dimension in time and space.   But we’d barely set foot in the sumptuous foyer when the smartly dressed Italian behind the desk told us that unfortunately the hotel was closed because of a broken down boiler.  It was back to mainland Venice for us.  Back on the vaporetto across the dark lagoon and into the city’s maize.  This is where you need some healthy reserves of stamina and a good sense of humour.  If you can’t laugh in Venice, it’s a tough call.

Our replacement hotel was more basic but adjacent to the Grand Canal which made it an ideal location for future exploring.  The room was right on the top floor so it meant climbing flights and flights of narrow stairs.  I’ve never been so glad to sit on a bed and kick off my boots! 

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Weariness aside, I was totally overawed.  Just treading the ground of Venice made the place come alive for me.  I could picture artists and musicians thriving with inspiration century after century.  There was music in the air, and it was blissfully peaceful.  The fact that there are no cars in Venice allowed my ears to tune into the atmosphere.  I could stand still and absorb the vibrations which rumbled through time and back.

Apart from a visit to Murano, we did not have an agenda for our holiday and that was a wise decision.  It allowed us to wander through the backstreets peeling off the layers of the city until we had reached its deepest core.  Each narrow street (or “Calle”) was lit with quirky shops selling items ranging from vintage curios to cakes to Designer clothes.   The deeper we penetrated, the more obscure it all became.  It was Venice with bed hair and no make-up.  We walked for hours, often ending up at the same point of obscurity with no one in sight.  Climbing back to the surface of the city was no easy task, for we kept being sucked back into its underbelly.  At times it was like being in a whirlpool, going round and round in an endless spiral.  Despite a couple of despairing moments when we feared we’d never find our way back to a familiar landmark, to me this was the essence of Venice and I loved it.   I’d thoroughly recommend setting a whole day aside for wanderlust.

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Visiting Venice in winter has untold advantages.  There are relatively few tourists, prices are lower and there is no need to cover your mouth with a handkerchief.  But more importantly, it allows you to breathe in the beauty of the city almost unheeded. 

A tourist in winter gets a glimpse of Venice mending itself before the onset of the busy season.  We walked along the waterway of the Piazzetta (adjoining St. Mark’s Square) and were treated to a feast of Venetian industry with its backdrop of lapping water, gulls and rushing wind.  The sound of hammering, chopping, banging and lively chatter had a hypnotic rhythm.  The lagoon was alive.  Personally I would never choose to visit in summer.  The thought of fighting through throngs of tourists on every street makes me shudder.  I enjoyed having Venice to myself, or so it seemed. 

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 On our final night we went for our last walk across the Rialto Bridge and into St. Mark’s Square.  St. Mark’s Square was almost deserted.  The Basilica was laid bare in all its glory, and I felt utterly insignificant yet filled with tremendous strength.  Touching the stones and pillars was like drawing energy from an invisible source of power. 

All of a sudden, the Campanile San Marco began pounding out eleven peels to mark eleven o’clock.  I was momentarily disorientated, for each toll seemed to be sounding from all corners of the Piazza.  With every mighty peel the intensity of the sound increased.   I felt totally engulfed and found myself holding my breath.  The relentless booming seemed to be tearing through the heart of Venice yet at the same time pumping life into its veins.  It was urgent and deeply melancholy.  After the eleventh toll there was a crushing silence, which made me gasp.  The reverberations held me still.  And then came the melody of the five bells, rocking backwards and forwards between raw sorrow and joy.  As each bell called out to another I stood there with red hot tears in my eyes.  I was caught in time, curled up right inside those magnificent bells and roaring to the world that I was alive.

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I could write so much more about my introduction to Venice.  Its mystery, its haunting passageways which kindle the imagination , its shadows and shards of light, its famous inhabitants inspired to peaks of creativity, its rippling canals and magnificent buildings, its hundreds and hundreds of bridges.   Venice has left a lasting impression on me which I can still feel.   Three days was not enough, and I am determined to go back for more.

Digging Through History (by Dr. Kate Lack)

A dozen people spent a large part of 18th October exploring how documentary evidence can help tell the story of the occupants of Studmarsh. We began in a café, ended in a pub, and spent a bit of time in the Record Office in between!

In many ways, historical research is like archaeology. We start by peeling off the upper layers, which seem to reveal nothing, but as we work away we begin to uncover evidence which may begin to fit together to tell a story that makes sense. The difference is that when doing historical research there are lots of different tools we have to use to get access to the buried evidence.

There are two periods of history in which we have a chance of finding specific information about Studmarsh:– just before the Reformation (the late middle ages to Tudor times), and the post-Reformation period, from about 1550 to 1750.

We began by looking at two poems by John Skelton, who lived through the transition between these two periods. Both were in English, and gave an idea of what life might have been like in late medieval Studmarsh. Mannerly Margery was wonderful when read by Jenny with her Irish accent! Eleanor Rumming was a bit harder to understand, but we still got a good idea of the power a woman could have in a small community if she brewed good ale, including plenty of detail of the household items people were willing to give her in exchange for a drink.

Tools

1.Names

Margery (or Margaret) and Eleanor were both very common names in medieval England. Name-choices can reveal a great deal about  people and societies, and we noticed that, just like in our own time, children in the post-Reformation period were being given very different names from, say, their grandparents. Partly this would have been because of changes in beliefs (fewer saints’ names, more virtues like Patience), partly because of increased literacy (many biblical names appear just after the Reformation). We also talked about how names can help us to identify people in the past.

2. Wills

By late medieval times, more people were writing wills, and they become more common later. In the Hereford Record Office, wills are indexed in three ways, and we spent some time finding out how these work. We soon discovered that it is always important to write down the information you find as you go along.

The earliest ones (from 1400 to about 1540) are listed in a book called Faraday’s Probate Index. We looked at this, and found the index by surname at the back, the list by reference number near the front, and learnt what some of the abbreviations mean.

From 1540 to 1700, wills are in a hand-written index called Woodards, which is kept in two brown boxes, subdivided alphabetically by surname. Unlike Faraday, this does NOT cross-reference by surname variant, so for Biddle, for example, you also have to look under Beedle, Byddle and so on.

The most recent wills are indexed on films which are kept in blue boxes in the last of the wills film drawers. First you have to find the right time period. Then the film gives a photograph of a big ledger-type book, with lists of wills by surname. These are in initial letter order, but if a page was filled up, the person compiling the list would have to go on to the next empty page. So often you find that after three pages of ‘B’ surnames you go onto ‘C’ and ‘D’ before coming back to ‘B’. This may happen several times in one ledger. If the person you are looking for left a will, there will be an entry like: Biddle Richard    62.  This means that in the next section of the film you will be looking for folio 62. We discover at this point that a folio has two sides, unlike our modern page numbers where each side has its own number! Folio 62 will have a short entry about Richard Biddle, including a date, his parish, key people named, and usually the total value of his wealth.

Once you have found an entry for a will which you think may be relevant, and have made a note of all the information included in the indices, you are ready to find it.

All the wills have been photographed so should be available to view on film reels. These are arranged in time order, and then in surname order, but neither system is exact, so it can take a long time to find one will. Once you have found it, the staff will help you to make a copy of it. Write its details on the back of every sheet.

3. Parish Registers

These begin in Tudor times – some as early as 1539 and all parishes were supposed to have them by the 1580s. They are extremely valuable because everyone’s name should be in them at least twice – for their baptism and burial; everyone who married had a third entry, for that.

Registers are available on film in the Record Office, in alphabetical order by parish name.

Together wills and registers help us reconstruct how wide a person’s social network was, many details of their family life, times of disease, what personal possessions they had and so on.

Using these tools, we were able to ‘dig out’ several new pieces of information while we were at the Record Office.

One group got part way through looking for a will from the 1750s which may be relevant, and they plan to go back and finish finding it soon.

For Richard Biddle whose will we began with in the spring, we found his burial record which showed that he died in summer 1674. He was described as living on Bringsty [Common] and was buried in Bromyard; in his will he described himself as ‘of Linton’. We should be able to use this information to narrow down which house he lived in.

We found the will of William Colley of Norton, a contemporary of Richard Biddle, and now we must find out what it says.

We are still trying to discover if another William Colley, who held a lot of land in Whitbourne in 1577, is recorded in the parish registers. We also want to know if this is the same William Colley who lived at Studmarsh, or another person with the same name.

We did find the will of James Biddle, and now we need to find out what this says, too.

So, we are beginning to build up a more detailed picture, and fill in some gaps.

Now we can work out what the wills we have found so far mean, and see if they fit together. We are planning another day in November when we can get together again, and in the meantime we can have a go at looking at them in small groups. I’ll post them up on the Blog in a day or two.

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.

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