Sunday, 7 February 2010


Seventy years ago the Phoney War was about to turn into what is probably the most momentous period in modern British history and Digging Dad's Army will be marking the anniversary with a programme of research work and events themed to commemorate the events of 1940, the people who lived through them and the archaeology it has left.   We hope to include more surveys and excavations in the Shooters Hill area as well as some exciting new sites in Woolwich and elsewhere.

In a new departure we also hope to be starting some work in the archives looking at the often forgotten but absolutely vital issue of Civil Defence during the Blitz.  In the Dad's Army TV Series Warden Hodges is an officious nuisance who often gets humiliated by Captain Mainwaring and the Platoon, but we must never forget that the real ARP Service, not to mention all the other uniformed support services not only risked their own lives just as much as members of the military, they also saved thousands of lives.  We will report on that in the near future.

In addition and as always, there will be opportunities to get involved in DDA's work on the excavations and surveys, as well as at open days and other events aimed to bring the archaeology to as wide an audience as possible.

As we say, "A People's Archaeology for a People's War."

More details on all of this soon so watch out on the blog and our Facebook Group...

Community Action Saves a Nationally Important Group of Pill Boxes

It is wonderful to be able to begin this year of research and commemoration by being able to say congratulations to Andy Wade and a group of local community based historians, archaeologists and living history reenactors in Steeton, near Keighley in West Yorkshire.

Just before Christmas they succeeded in getting three WW2 Pill Boxes, which had been threatened by a housing development, listed Grade 2 by English Heritage.  The Pill boxes form a group and were designed to defend Royal Ordnance Factory No 22 Steeton in West Yorkshire.


ROF STEETON Type 24 Variant Copyright Andy Wade

Steeton was a satellite site to the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich and incidentally, was used as a location in John Schlesinger's 1979 film "Yanks."

During WW2 the factory made 20mm and .5 calibre brass cartridge cases and projectiles which would then be filled in specialised filling factories.  The output from Steeton mostly went to the Oerlikon Light Anti Aircraft Gun used by the Royal Navy and its close relative the Hispano Suiza Canon used by aircraft in the RAF including later Marks of both the Spitfire and Hurricane.

The factory also carried out research and development work, in particular metallurgical analysis and you can read a comprehensive and fascinating account of the life of a scientific worker at Steeton, including an account of the Factory Home Guard who manned the Pill Boxes, in Alec Lovell's reminiscences on the BBC People's War Website

I found out about the Steeton campaign thanks to our DDA colleague Tim Lynch and it is great to be able to report on what is a classic example of local people recognising the potential worth of some visible WW2 Heritage to themselves and their community and then campaigning constructively to ensure it is preserved in its proper context. 

Now the community in and around the site will have the chance to view a visible link with the past of WW2 and use the Pill Boxes as a resource for education and a focus for community events.

If you want to find out more the Pillboxes have been discussed in this thread on the Keighley and District Local History Society Forum:
There are pictures of them here, on Photobucket:
There are also three videos on YouTube which Andy took during the campaign:

You can read the English Heritage Inspectors Advice report here...

Now the Pill Boxes have been saved, why not go and see them if you are in the area?


Archaeology 2010 Conference- 26-28 February
Winter and Spring is the Season for Archaeological Conferences and one of the most wide ranging and inclusive is Archaeology 2010 promoted by CurrentPublishing, publishers of Current Archaeology and Current World Archaeology and held this year at the British Museum

What makes Archaeology 2010 so compelling is that it is comprehensively multi period and draws its audience equally from Archaeological Professionals and the thousands of people who have a vocational interest in the subject.

This ability to talk to the widest of audiences means the conference can attract some of the most senior academic and field archaeologists working today and address some of the most interesting and contentious topics.

Sessions this year include, Clive Gamble and Chris Stringer on Human Origins, Mike Parker Pearson and his colleagues from the Stonehenge Riverside Project and Mary Beard and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill on Pompeii and Herculanium

The conference does not shy away from controversy with sessions on Archaeology and Climate Change including Brian Fagan and doyen of tree rings Michael Baillie and, one I am particularly looking forward to, Commercial Salvage versus Marine Archaeology with the rare chance to hear Greg Stemm the CEO of Odyssey Marine Exploration, the Florida based company which the British Government has commissioned to salvage the probable wreck of HMS Sussex.  A project currently on hold because of legal objections from the Spanish Government.

Significant anniversaries also supply the theme of two of the sessions.  The meaning of AD410 will be explored by, among others, our own Neil Faulkner and Andrew Birley of the Vindolanda Trust.  Does AD410 represent the end of Roman Britain, the Fall of the Roman Empire and therefore the end of civilisation and a new dark age?  As part of the session one Terry Jones will suggest that, nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more; there might be an alternative "Barbarian" view of the period. 

Truely a case of  "Romani ite domum!"...or perhaps not?

The other significant anniversary marked by a session is AD1940  The Battle of Britain, the Blitz and Operation Sealion, the invasion that never was, made the Summer of 1940 the most momentous period in recent British history and had things turned out differently the world we live in today would be unrecognisable to us.  I will be kicking off the session with an overview of the archaeology of 1940 and why we think it is so important to study and where possible preserve it.  Completing the picture Gabriel Moshenska of UCL will be describing the Archaeology of the Blitz and George Nash of Bristol University will describe an aspect of keeping the war effort going, at Royal Ordnance Factory Featherstone in Staffordshire.

You can see the session plan and book tickets here...

...but be quick as a number of the sessions are already sold out, or overflow room only.

Later on in March there is a chance to debate one of the most important and contentious issues in modern archaeological practice.

The Council for British Archaeology and Newcastle University are promoting a conference on the future of Metal Detecting in archaeology and the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

'Portable Antiquities: Archaeology,
Collecting, Metal Detecting' conference on 13th and 14th March 2010.

This event is co-organised by the CBA and Newcastle University's
International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies, and takes place
at Newcastle University and the Great North Museum: Hancock.

The papers at this conference offer perspectives from a range of
different interest groups, look at recent research, present case studies
from around the UK and beyond, and ultimately offer views about what the
future may hold for portable antiquities management. Much debate is
anticipated at this timely event.

All details, including the conference outline and booking information
are available via the

For further information please contact Suzie Thomas at the CBA
( or Catherine Todd at Newcastle University

Where ever you stand on the spectrum of views about Portable Antiquities and Metal Detecting, if you have a view do go along and make that view heard, because, as the conference notice says, this event is timely and necessary.  The cooperation of ethical metal detectorists on archaeological projects, particularly on Battlefield and Conflict sites, is increasingly important.  While the issue of Nighthawking, illegal detecting, often on scheduled sites, was highlighted by the recent controversial report compiled on behalf of English Heritage by Oxford Archaeology. 

Views among both archaeologists and detectorists are, to say the least, varied and contrasting so it is really important we try to talk to each other and understand the various positions before we come to any decisions about the future direction of our relationship...

You can download the Oxford Archaeology Report and a summary here...

You can see the Code of Conduct and Constitution of the National Council for Metal Detectorists as well as more of their views and guidence notes here...

The views of the Federation of Independent Detectorists are here...

Once again, make up your mind then make your voice heard.

...And if you read this Blog and are visiting any of the above events do come and say hello and tell us what you think about Digging Dad's Army.

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