Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Post dig 2 - Up Wrap? Up Sum? Uphill Struggle? Something like that...

This is my last entry on the blog for the time being so I suppose it is time to do the up sum as they say on Time Team.

I will start with the archaeology which has been, in its way, spectacular. This is true of even the smallest items, such as the delightful and thought provoking piece of Trench Art which Roger reported on last night.

I won't pre-empt the interim and full report [which would offer too many hostages to fortune and be a bit of a breach of archaeological etiquette], but I can say that we have some fascinating material to report on and we have been able to hit the nail as far as a number of the research questions go.

In particular we have located a well preserved, probably multi phase WW1 AA Gun Position which is situated in a publicly accessible location and which could be presented to the public if Greenwich Council chooses to do it. If they do it would be a first.

We also have an assemblage of material [OK 1940's rubbish] from the latter half of WW2 which sheds light on the life of the Barrage Balloon site.

We have also built up a much more detailed picture of the nature of the occupation and exploitation of the landscape on the Eaglesfield site than hitherto existed. This will all go the the London Borough of Greenwich to assist them in promoting and preserving the Park for people to enjoy in the future.

Finally, we have show that by using Geophysics in conjunction with a little military know how and some technically skilled archaeology, it is possible to recover ephemeral military features such as trenches, which slipped through the Defence of Britain Project net and offers huge promise as we research 20th Century Military and Civilian sites in future.

Away from the Field Archaeology, I think we have also shown the efficacy and importance of involving the local community in such research. Just one example among many...Even after we finished work back filling and were unwinding in The Bull on Sunday evening, we were introduced to one of the local people who, not only was the son of a Captain in the local Home Guard, but was a relative of the former editor of The Daily Worker, William Rust, who wrote the first major book about the experiences of the British Battalion of the 15th International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. A subject which forms another strand of the Digging Dad's Army Project.

That thought just re-enforces what the Digging Dad's Army Project is all about. It is a Peoples Project about the People's War and whatever we do is on trust for the community who care about it, lived it, remember it or heard about it from those no longer with us. A particularly poignant thought as this weekend the Normandy Veterans Association held its last march past in Whitehall.

Credit where it is due...

I like to show the complexity of a modern archaeological project by crediting the people who have been facilitating the project, advising on finds and doing the sheer hard work on site. At Eaglesfield 2009 they were, in no particular order and with my grateful thanks and abject apologies to anyone I have left out...[let me know and we will add your name to the list]...

Neil Faulkner, David Thorpe, Odette Nelson, Roger Ward, Lisa Corti and family, Alison Baldry, Guy Taylor, Fiz Altinaluk, Catherine Edwards, Anna Gow, Richard Buchanan, Martin and Anne Roseveare and the team from ArchaeoPhysica [particularly Thomas], Rod Scott, Bev Bailey and Martin Brown of No Mans Land, Richard Finch, Richard Emmett, Theresa Emmett, David Gill (for coming on the last day only and helping with backfilling!), Keith Martin, Stewart Dickson, Tim Lynch, Brian M Powell, Neil [Rock] Webb, Tim Lynch, Graham Dixon, Chris Clarke, Dave Holden, Dr Richard Burt, Steve Maguire and the 10th Essex Living History Group, Chris Gosling, Kirstie Shedden and the A/S Level Archaeology Group from the Negus Sixth Form Center Plumstead Manor School [including James who came back for the rest of the week], James from Barnes, the staff and children of Plumcroft Primary School, Jeremy Shearmur, Locksley Douglas and Jonathan Bangs at the London Borough of Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces Department, Kathy Bagnall at Shrewsbury House, Martin Baker, Pip Pulfer and members of the Bexley Archaeology Group and Nick Saunders of Bristol University and Robert Whytehead and the team at the English Heritage Greater London Archaeological Advisory Service, including Mark Stevenson, the Archaeological Advisor for Greenwich.

What's Next?

As to the future, next on the DDA agenda is a Standing Buildings Course which will be held over a weekend, most likely in the Autumn, when we will be conducting a survey of surviving Air Raid Shelters in the Shooters Hill area [two previously un-recorded examples turned up while we were at Eaglesfield] and we will also be reporting on the excavations. Watch out on the Blog and The Digging Dad's Army Website, which should go live in the next month or so, with more background material and information about the excavations and the DDA Project in general. We also hope to publish versions of thse excavation reports on line.

We will also continue to Recce other sites with a view to recording them, either with the existing team, or, where appropriate as part of a Course.

From November 2nd to November 6th we will be back at Eaglesfield with ArchaeoPhysica, to carry out another Geophysics Course on behalf of Birkbeck College, looking at the other half of the Park. If you want to take part details are available from the Archaeology Desk at Birkbeck. If the results are half as good as last year it will be fascinating.

Here is the link to the Course Details


Nearer home this Saturday, 27 June 2009, ArchaePhysica are working with me on another Community Project at Shrewsbury Park, Shooters Hill, just down the road from Eaglesfield. I will be leading tours and you will see the site of another of 901 Squadron's Barrage Balloon beds and a surviving Gas Decontamination Building, as well as having the chance to try your hand at Archaeological Geophysics. It is all in the aid of The School In the Park Party, which aims to locate and celebrate the site of London's first permanent Open Air School which opened 101 years ago this July. This was a landmark in progressive, child centred education for children with special health needs and still informs education and paediatric care today.

Digging Dad's Army was a twinkle in our eye in the Museum Tavern just before Christmas, it was born in that seminar at Shrewsbury House at the beginning of March and now in June it has become a robust toddler charging off in all directions. It is certainly growing up and going places.

Thanks again to everyone who has helped along the way.

See you soon.

Andy B

Click on images for larger versions. All pictures today C Andy Brockman.

Archaeology without recording is vandalism - Richard Emmett recording the Gun Emplacement

Dr Faulkner sections the cake but will he over cut it

The Revolutionary Cardre of Back Fillers

Dr Faulkner applies the traditional Solstice Libation

The Gun Emplacement in its final excavated state

You would never know we had been there!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Post dig 1 - Very interesting find confirmed!

A few days ago this interesting piece came up from just below the turf surface within one of our test trenches. After a quick hand clean it looked like it might be a worked coin, and on further investigation it became clear that the edges of the metal appeared to have been filed cleanly.

It is in fact a French coin - the remains of the words égalité, fraternité can be seen along the bottom edge. It also looks like it has been deliberately cut in the shape of a silhouette.

On that thought, I sent a picture of the object to Dr Nick Saunders of Bristol University Department of Archaeology & Anthropology to ask if he had seen anything like it before. Nick is an expert in the field of 'Trench Art', which is 3-D memory objects that embodied the different experiences of war for makers and consumers between 1914 and 1939 (i.e. soldiers and POWs, and refugees and internees).

I am delighted to say that I received an email today from Nick confirming he had seen something similar before in France or Belgium, and that our find was indeed 'trench art', likely dating from WW1.

So now we have a story to unfold! One theory is that it was a lucky charm, made and carried by someone who had served in France and then later became a member of the Home Guard. Perhaps it was during this duty whilst serving at Eaglesfield Park in Shooters Hill in the defence of London that the piece was lost, only to be turned up by metal detector last week.

In any case it is a fascinating find, and if anyone knows of any other similar items please do get in touch and let us know.

There will be more finds reports over the next few days and weeks, so please keep checking back.

Roger Ward

Click on the image for a larger version
Who is the silhouette of?

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Day 9 - The Final Day!

A day spent in the blazing sun with both the core team and the students (and two volunteers, one of whom was celebrating his birthday) furiously finishing off. The drawn record of all of our trenches was completed during the morning prior to the unenviable but inevitable backfilling of them all and replacing the turf.

The phasing was completed and double checked in the ack-ack trench, in spite of the fact that one very senior archaeologist had a minor headache. In the other trenches experienced team members completed the final recording and with it this week's training of our very keen. enthusiastic and able students.

Our photographer Ali rounded off many hundreds of technical photographs taken this week with some establishing site shots and final images of the trenches from an elevated position, before recording the small finds with close-ups. These photographs, together with the drawn record, plans, maps, measurements and notes will together form the archive of the work carried out by us during our time at Eaglesfield Park.

In the afternoon the team managed to overcome a week's tiredness and we set about returning everything to the condition it weas in before we started. This meant putting all the earth back in the, by now, somewhat large and deep holes, and relaying the turf. A brilliant effort by young and slightly less young alike, together with a seemingly unending variety of jokes and quips meant this was achieved by about 5.00pm, which was a fantastic effort. Top marks to our excellent finds keeper Odette for bringing in a huge chocolate cake, pictured below, which was devoured by the hungry shovellers.

A huge thankyou to everyone who made this dig such a success from pre-planners, directors, volunteers and students to the wonderful local folk who have attended and chatted with us throughout.

From my bloggers perspective - this was the first UK based dig that I have been involved with from the initial ideas stage through to planning and actually undertaking and completing the work. At times it wasn't clear exactly how, or indeed whether at all, this would all come together and be successful. Chatting to team members and students during the week of digging itself it has become clear to me that the overall success of ventures like this depends on the bunch of people that end up in the mix, and how they interact and work together. I have to say in this respect the experience has been fantastic, and a big thankyou to everyone who made the time fly and the work such great fun.

What's next? Well, the blog won't end tonight. Over the next few days, weeks and months I will be blogging more about some of the spin-offs from the week, with articles on the finds themselves, excellent reports from Gabe (is that the right spelling? - sorry Gabe!), our oral historian of the stories he has been told, more images and other information about the development of the project as we grow. Keep checking back, or why not Follow or Subscribe to the blog for automatic updates. Please see the links at the top and bottom of the page.

Until next time.

Roger Ward

Some more images from yesterday

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Day 8 - Open Day

Today's Open Day included displays by the Friends of Eaglesfield Park, two World War 1 British Tommy's, and an RAF sergeant, (World War two of course), with a collection of vintage armaments.

We were pleased to see large numbers of local residents come along during the day to find out about what we have been doing during our time here. Guided tours of the trenches and excavations were held throughout the day. The level of interest was fantastic and very welcome, with a real sense of community interest and involvement in the project. Indeed, several people indicated they would come along and help if ever we were to be back again, which is great.

Meantime work continued within the trenches themselves. Debate continued to rage regarding the sequence of events surrounding the site of the anti aircraft guns. The pit full of World War 2 rubbish continued to become deeper and wider and we found more interesting items. The zig zag trench back filled with sandbags also proved very deep and, despite much mattocking and hard work, no bottom was found. We also found that the presumed Home Guard firing position sited at the lower end of the park turned out to have been back filled with sand from sandbags at some stage.

Among the most exciting finds today was a large portion of a military vehicle tyre. This was excavated in the rubbish pit, but the fragility of the remains meant that it had to be recorded in situ. Fortunately however after excellent painstaking work by Anna in that trench she did manage to lift a fairly large section intact.

Beside the World War 1 gun platform we excavated an extent of armoured copper wire believed to be of World War 2 date. The possible line and direction of this was identified by metal detecting and about 45 metres down the hill was found to change direction. The new line was found to directly correspond with cable that had been previously found and photographed by the previous Time Team dig.

A great day and many thanks to all the organisations and their representatives who gave up their time to make it such. And a big thank you to the people of the locality who turned up in number to share the experience of Digging Dad's Army with us.

Tomorrow it's final bits of digging and patient recording of everything we have exposed before the daunting prospect of putting all the dug material back and returfing the site. All part of the archaeological experience!

Neil F/ RW

Not much to say tonight as I have been in PR mode all afternoon. The Open Day saw a great response from local people which just re-enforced the rationale behind DDA- it really is a people's project.

Our friends from 10th Essex WW1 Living History Group and Chris Gosling added period atmosphere and we joined our colleagues Sarah and Rebecca from Groundworks and Froglife in explaining the plans for the old Lily Pond/Quarry Pit at the south end of the Park to be turned into an environmental area and amphibian habitat. Archaeology and Ecology in tandem- after all we are all in the same game of understanding and improving the environment.

Clive Efford our local MP and Denise Hyland our Counsillor also visited us and stayed for the tour. It is really good to see this kind of work recognised in such a supportive but low key, no fuss way.

More on the archaeology tomorrow.

Andy B

Some images from today - more to follow

Friday, 19 June 2009

Day 7 - Pressed for time

Crashing towards the end of digging time now. More unearthed every minute, and time running out. Also welcome visitors from the local press have been busily interviewing us and taking pictures for the newspapers all afternoon.

Arguments rage! But obviously in a purely consultative archaeological fashion.
Why? No-one, including the directors of the project, the supervisors, the students and volunteers, has been able to agree on what on earth the Royal Navy and British Army engineers were doing when they put the 1915-1916 ack-ack battery in place. We now have so many unanswered questions about what seemed to be a relatively simple archaeological area.
  1. When was the big lump of concrete put there?
  2. When was the very large area of smooth concrete put there?
  3. What is the phasing of the different elements of the gun emplacement?
  4. (As one local asked - Why are we digging up an old children's roundabout?!)
The pit, if indeed it is one, has now produced almost perfect dating evidence ... coins from 1942 and 1943. It doesn't get better than that.
And, may we suggest, the man that edits this blog found potentially one of the great finds of the site ... more tomorrow ...
David and Lisa
19 June 2009

Today has been about consolidation and PR in about equal measure. We have not opened any more trenches but the ones we have open are beginning to resolve themselves.

The Rubbish pit has now been dated by a contextualised coin to 1943 or later which ties in very nicely with the material we are getting out of it, which today included a very well preserved woman's shoe, possibly ATS of WRAF issue, various bits of ironmongery including what is probably a screw down contact from a Field telephone and a spectacular chromed hub cap- yet to be properly identified.
It is clearly very large and we have not been able to either find an edge or bottom it out so the question remains is it a feature of another kind which was then used as a dump before being back filled?

Rock and Lisa's trench is looking more- well- trenchy. Now we know what to look for and that the Sand Bags are the give away it is clear it is a narrow trench running sometimes straight, sometimes in shallow traverses [Zig Zags] up the hill. It may link up with the T Shaped trench Rod's team have been digging.

The T shaped trench is also looking very interesting. It is a known Home Guard/Infantry Section Trench Shape and covers a strategically important approach along Eaglesfield Road had any attacking force attempted to Flank the known position at "The Bull," on the summit of Shooters Hill.

It also covers a pronounced break of slope between Eaglesfield Road and what is known as Eaglesfield Meadow. The road is terraced in and a concrete revetment means there is a drop of around 2m + to the meadow which would make a perfect tank trap. The Royal Engineer and Royal Artillery Officers who planned this part of Stop Line Central knew exactly what they were doing.

It has however been commented that to have the Home Guard Battalion HQ in Lowood, the Shooters Hill Golf Club, Club House, which is on the forward slope of the Hill facing the likely axis of attack, made less military sense. The consensus among the Soldiers and ex Soldiers on the DDA team was that as a military position it probably had a very good cocktail cabinet.

The WW1 Gun emplacement just continues to amaze and provoke, passionate, discussion. The team have done a great job cleaning it back and we know have most of the key elements but the phasing of it is proving controversial- some argue that the screeded floor and mounting ring in situ is Phase One from 1915, while others take the view that it is the roughly cast second mount which came first. I know what I think but I will keep that for tomorrows blog. What is clear is that this is a unique structure and, as far as first World War Archaeology goes an important one.

We had a steady stream of visitors today and we ran a couple of tours of the site as a dress rehearsal for tomorrows Open Day. Pat Greenwood and Brian her photographer, also visited to cover the Dig for Greenwich Time a local newspaper and I got accused of a Gordon Brown moment when I asked for some additional token women to take part in a group shot. Problem was, with the exception of Filiz the team on the trench, was all male and I had just gone out of my way to explain to Pat that Conflict Archaeology is not an exercise in Boys Toys, but involves many women today who reflect the many women who took on active roles in the two World Wars, not to mention on the Home Front.

We also had a visit from Steve, Robbie and Tony from the 10th Essex Living History Group and Historic Military Vehicles Trust. The Lads from 10th Essex are putting in an appearance at the Open Day tomorrow and if you haven't seen them before, or are interested in top quality Living History do come and meet them. We will also have another excellent living history presentation from Chris Gosling representing the RAF personnel who crewed the Barrage Balloon site. Living History and Preservation groups like the HMVT, are just as much a part of the DDA Team as Academics and Field Archaeologists

We are there all day and the Open Day Proper is from 12.30-4.00. Come if you can as it is the last chance, for a while at least, to see a fantastic piece of publicly accessable Great War Archaeology.

One last note- Martin and Anne Roseveare dropped in tonight and I was happy to stand them, as ArchaeoPhysica, a drink. First because Thomas a member of their team, was back again with a Total Station, taking locations and levels on all the trenches, but also because their Geophysics at Eaglesfield, and interpretation of it, was right on the money. Thanks everyone.
Andy B
19 June 2009

And just to re-confirm. Tomorrow is our community open day. From 12.30 members of the team will be available to walk the site and explain what we have been doing and what we have discovered. Please come along and have a look and a chat.

Some images from today

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Day 6 - Visitors abundant

Today has been one of contrasting and equally enjoyable visits, made the more enjoyable by the fact that our other, less welcome visitors, had not returned and there was no repeat of the petty vandalism of Tuesday night. The Shooters Hill Neighbourhood Police Team and Alan Pett who is in charge of Parks Security have both offered advice and as much practical help as possible in terms of a visible presence in the evening when the site is most vulnerable. That is much appreciated as is the support of the local Neighbourhood Watch.

On site we first we welcomed our colleagues from the English Heritage, Greater London Archaeological Advisory Service [GLAAS] and were able to give them a tour of the site and discuss our approach to the archaeology and how we might take things forward.

Robert Whytehead and his team have been really supportive of DDA and it was great to be able to show them the results on the ground of something that, only a few months ago, was an idea being discussed around a table in the Great Court of the British Museum.

Our other principle visitors were more of the children from Plumcroft Primary School, including Miss Wilson and Mrs Mamut's Year One classes who enjoyed telling stories about who might have left all these things in the park a long time ago. The team thoroughly enjoyed having them on site and the children's obvious enjoyment of the visits just re-enforced our view that, when it comes to education, there is a way into archaeology for everyone, whatever their age or experience. In fact, at the other end of the educational scale, one of the students from the Negus Sixth Form Centre who came yesterday was back again today to work as a volunteer.

In terms of the archaeology the WW1 Gun Emplacement becomes more fascinating by the day. What we had thought was an attempt by London County Council to demolish the site post war now looks like a wartime phase where the site was possibly up-gunned.
Also the team have had difficulty trying to make the geometry of the base work.

All in all, it is clear that once again, in order to understand them, we just have to dig these things. Even analogous sites like One Tree Hill or Monkhams Hall just do not exhibit the same form as we have at Eaglesfield. They are all different and that is only being revealed by the archaeology.

In the other trenches, what we had thought might be a WW1 latrine, later back filled as a rubbish pit and turfed over, now appears to have at least a WW2 phase if not being an entirely WW2 feature.
Meanwhile, Gabe, Lisa and Rock have been struggling with a Clear Crop mark and Geophysical Plot which had been refusing to reveal itself as the trench we suspected it to be. However, even that is beginning to resolve itself with sand bags or fragments of sand bags in situ, probably dumped in as fill when it was abandoned.

Down at the eastern edge of the site by Eaglesfield Road Rod and his team may have a T shaped section trench relating either to Stop Line Central or the defence of the Barrage Balloon site. Hopefully that too will resolve itself tomorrow.

We know from the 901 Squadron Operational Records Book that the Balloon sites were issued with Rifles in the Summer of 1940 as a defence against Parachutists.

Now the commercial...

Tomorrow Friday, we have a Press Call at 2pm and guided tours at 11am and 3pm. Do come along if you can. This is a rare opportunity to see this kind of site.

On Saturday from 12.30 to 4pm we have an Open Day with Living History, more tours of the site and a chance to look at the ecology of the Park as well as a chnce for you to Dig Dad's Army in our Peoples War Peoples Trench. We are sharing this event with our colleagues from the Friends of Shrewsbury Park and the LB Greenwich Parks and Open Spaces Department, as we ar promoting the use of the Park as an ammenity for leisure and education.

We also still have a few places on our standing buildings course on Saturday and Sunday, recording an unusual group of Air Raid Shelters in Oxleas Wood. The course costs £60 [£40 concessions] and you can join by ringing Andy on 07958 543518, or e-mailing andy.archaeology@virgin.net

Lastly I must correct a grievous error in a previous Blog entry- The Bull serves a halfway decent pint of Abbot, not Adnams, [and Harvey's and Sharps...]. (Andy Brockman)

Some images from the work of the past few days...

One of the most rewarding things about archaeology is witnessing the enthusiasm of the young.

Today we were shown this beyond measure. Over 100 five to seven year olds visited the site, laughed, were intrigued, handled bits of 90 year old poo, laughed again, asked questions only Stephen Hawking could answer, and rejoiced in our collective heritage.

At about 10.30 am, a young man came panting and sweating up the side of Shooter's Hill wearing an AK-47 t-shirt. One of the A/S archaeology students from yesterday. Classes finished for the day; could he help? Only 1/2 an hour to spare. Six hours later he was still there, recording the gun emplacement and learning the difficulty of maths on an archaeological site. Thank you J.
(Anna, David and Lisa 18 June 2009)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Day 5 - Gun ring and visitors

The middle day of any dig is known as ‘the flag’, because everyone is flagging. It is also the day that if anything can go wrong it will and that’s how the day started. Arriving on site we found that two of our trenches had been vandalised, nothing serious but an annoyance anyway. And then we dispelled the flag day theory…

The trench with the gun emplacement turned into one of the great WWI archaeological finds in Britain; the refuse/latrine pit extended and threw up more surprises; the other two trenches produced conundrums that will only be solved with further digging.

Today the excavation of the refuse/latrine pit feature continued. More glass, more battery cells and more rubber, but also bricks and metal rods as well. We are not yet at the bottom and we have not yet found the edges. The investigation continues!

So, the Great War Ack-ack battery is there in its entirety (minus of course the gun). It is now beginning to tell it’s own story. A huge polygon plinth has emerged with, at it’s very centre, the footings for the gun pedestal itself. Have any more of this type ever been excavated in the UK before? (No! At least, we don't think so. Anyone know any better?)

Yet more pupils invaded our trenches today. Another Primary School class arrived in the morning for a site tour and a dig in our ‘student trench’. And in the afternoon six A/S level Archaeology students dug with us. Is this the next generation of field archaeologists?
(Anna, David and Lisa 17 June 2009)

Going back to the original premise - some did indeed flag today. But only as a result of extensive and brilliant hard work! Well done to all of the team who have been battling with turf, soil pits, concrete and earth so successfully.