Friday, 28 June 2013

A gem of a photograph!

Last week, we received a fantastic group of photographs of historic Bromsgrove from the Brotherton collection. Many thanks to Bob Richardson for loaning them to us! They've now been digitised by our Digitisation and Microfilming Service, and we're working through them to see if any relate to the buildings on our site.

The picture below immediately caught our eye. The accompanying notes state that it was taken in 1951, during the demolition of the houses along St John Street. Much head-scratching ensued, and we spent a long time scrutinising the historic maps and working out angles and fields of view, to try to figure out the location of the buildings being demolished.

Eventually, we cracked it, and the answer is quite exciting: they fall within our #DigBromsgrove site area! We hope to position our trench to pick up the rear wall of the building, incorporating the yard area and the boundary with the building that adjoined it to the west.

The photograph's existence is a real stroke of luck for us, as it gives us tantalising glimpses into the way this area was built and rebuilt over the years. Our buildings archaeologist, Shona Robson-Glyde, pointed out that whilst the brickwork and windows of the rear wall of the house look to date from the early 18th century, the chimney and roof structure exposed by the demolition look like they may belong to an earlier phase of building. One of the key goals for the excavation is to establish the extent to which St John Street was subject to alterations and rebuilding over the centuries, so this photograph is an encouraging indication that there may be an interesting sequence of archaeological phases on the site.

One further question remains: we'd love to know more about the cars on the left hand-side of the picture! Are you a fountain of knowledge on classic cars of the late 1940s/early 1950s? Can you help us to identify them? If so, get in touch, or leave a comment below.

Rob Hedge

St John Street during demolition, 1951. Copyright: Brotherton Collection

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

DigBromsgrove: Digging in the Records…

Background research for #DigBromsgrove is well underway! One question we've been asked about the project is 'Why Bromsgrove?', and, more specifically, 'Why the Market site?' Hopefully, this post should answer those questions!

One of the reasons we're so keen to have an excavation in Bromsgrove is that in comparison to other Worcestershire towns, Bromsgrove hasn't been the subject of much in the way of below-ground archaeological investigation. We do, however, have quite a lot of information obtained from other sources like maps, historic documents and standing buildings, in addition to clues from the street layout and landscape.

Over the winter, the Worcestershire Archaeology team completed an in depth survey of the 'historic environment' of Bromsgrove Town Centre, as part of the THI scheme. The survey looked at historic buildings in the town, as well as the historic character and land use of different areas. It brought together the knowledge gleaned from previous work like the Central Marches Historic Towns Survey (available from Worcestershire's Online Archaeology Library) and the results of other archaeological work in the town, including an extensive survey of the existing historic buildings in the town by Shona Robson-Glyde, our buildings archaeologist.

The survey identified the area around St John Street and Hanover Street as probably the earliest area of historic settlement outside of the church precinct, due to its location between Spadesbourne Brook and St John the Baptist Church, thought to have been the location of a Saxon Minster. It also backs onto the course of the Worcester to Birmingham road, a routeway of Roman origin which has remained an important transport link throughout the centuries.

The construction of the Market Hall in the 1990s revealed glimpses of the once-bustling tenement plots that occupied the site until the area was levelled in the 1950s. 16th century deposits were encountered, along with a layer of burnt material dating to the late 17th or early 18th century. Unusually for narrow tenement plots such as these, some of the foundations were partly constructed from large sandstone blocks, raising the intriguing possibility that they were re-using stone from a much earlier building on the site.

In 1994, about 40m to the southwest of our site, the excavation of a manhole led to the discovery of a sandstone wall. Fragments of a 13-14th century cooking pot were found within deposits associated with the wall. This is likely to be a remnant of the foundations of the medieval buildings that once stood on the site. The wall was located about half a metre below the modern ground level, which raises the exciting possibility that we may have medieval remains surviving in the area.

At the moment, we're working on a 'map regression', which involves analysing historic maps showing the site, 'rectifying' digital scans to ensure they are all at the same scale and orientation and then overlaying them onto one another to observe the changes to an area over time. This is all done using Geographic Information System (GIS) software which allows us to build up a picture of an area using 'layers'. In this case, each layer contains maps of a different date, which can be switched on or off to allow us to compare them quickly and accurately. Below is a nice example as a teaser - the 1884 1:10,560 Ordnance Survey 1st edition map, overlaid onto the modern OS Mapping. To see the fruits of our efforts, pop along to the public exhibition next month and have a look!

Rob Hedge

Monday, 17 June 2013

DigBromsgrove: Call for Volunteers!

Between the 9th and the 19th of July, Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service will be leading a Community Archaeology project in Bromsgrove. An archaeological excavation will be taking place at the Market Place, at the south end of the High Street, with an accompanying public exhibition.

The excavation will be carried out by volunteers, with full equipment, training and supervision provided by our Archaeologists.

We are looking for volunteers who can commit to at least 2 or 3 days over the course of the project, to take part in the excavation. All ages and abilities are welcome! (though being able to get in and out of a shallow trench is handy). If you'd like to get involved but don't feel that digging is for you, we're also looking for volunteers to help us to clean and process the finds and to run the public exhibition.

So, whatever your level of archaeological experience, whether seasoned digger or avid armchair archaeologist, if you're keen to get involved with an exciting project to look at a little-explored area of historic Bromsgrove, get in touch with David Thomas with details of when you'd like to take part and what you'd like to do:

            David Thomas, THI Officer
            Tel: 01527 881343

Over the course of the project, you'll be able to follow the progress of the excavation and the background research via this blog.

We'll also be featuring finds, interviews with participants and behind-the-scenes updates on a variety of different social media platforms. Follow the hashtag #digbromsgrove to keep up-to-date with the project.