Southminster Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) 2015

ACA’s fifth Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) took place last week, 29th – 30th April , in Southminster, Essex. The 42 Year 9 pupils from Ormiston Rivers Academy, William de Ferrers School and The Plume School excavated 11 test-pits throughout the small town. An additional test-pit held in the grounds of Southminster Church of England Primary School was excavated by several of its pupils. The test-pits were organised by David Stamp of William de Ferrers School with Ron Pratt, mayor of nearby Burnham-on-Crouch, and Kay Maudesley, parish councillor. The base for the two digging days was the community hall on the King George V Playing Fields.

St Leonard's Church, Southminster
St Leonard’s Church, Southminster

The 11 x 1m2 test pits were located in the back gardens of private properties on Hall Road, North Street, High Street, King’s Road and Burnham Road. There were also two test-pits located at the Southminster Residential Home on Station Road and two on the King George V Playing Fields.

TP 3 at the Southminster Residential Home on Station Road
TP 3 at the Southminster Residential Home on Station Road

Southminster is a small town located between the River Blackwater and the River Crouch on the Dengie peninsula in Essex. This is the first year a HEFA has been located in Southminster. Previously, the Central Essex HEFA was held in Writtle and those reports can be found here

Mayor Ron Pratt visits TP 6
Mayor Ron Pratt visits TP 6

The students worked in mixed-school teams of 3 or 4 and were supervised by teachers and local volunteers. After receiving a briefing on Day 1 from Dr Carenza Lewis, Director of ACA, about how to excavate and record the test pits, the students went out on site and excavated for 2 days. Even through the wind and rain on the Wednesday the teams persevered, with some pits making it all the way down to ‘natural’.

Carenza's Day 1 Briefing
Carenza’s Day 1 Briefing

We were pleased that two local publications, The Maldon and Burnham Standard and the Burnham Review, sent out photographers to cover the event. Once those articles have appeared online they will be linked here. We were also fortunate enough to have Maria Medlycott, Historic Environment Officer for Essex County Council, come out on Thursday for a tour of the test pits.

Mike and Pat of the Maldon Archaeological and History Group supervise Test Pit 12 at Southminster Primary School
Mike and Pat of the Maldon Archaeological and History Group supervise Test Pit 12 at Southminster Primary School

Cat Ranson, ACA archaeological supervisor, and John Newman, pottery expert, toured the test pits providing guidance on excavating and recording techniques as well as identifying finds and pottery sherds. Having experts on site is always popular with the participants who commented, “I enjoyed talking with the experts on pottery etc. to try and put together the story of the site.” (AC) and “I enjoyed learning about the history of the area and talking to historians and people who could give me more information about the history of Britain.” (CS)

Mr Stamp offers his advice to TP 7
Mr Stamp offers his advice to TP 7

The students recorded all of their findings context-by-context in their individual Test Pit Excavation Record Booklet. This is not only an invaluable asset in helping to produce their written assignment, but also informs academic research and becomes part of the permanent record about each test pit kept on file at the University of Cambridge.

TP 1 at Southminster Hall
TP 1 at Southminster Hall

As this is the first year a HEFA has been held in Southminster, the initial findings suggest a cluster of medieval pottery around St Leonard’s church which is still central to the modern town. One piece of possible prehistoric pottery (Iron Age) was found on this HEFA in TP 6 on King’s Road, located on higher ground overlooking the marshes to the east. Other prehistoric settlements are known in Southminster, so this could possibly relate to that. Some possible Roman pottery was found in the grounds of the residential home on Station Road, but the final pottery report will confirm these initial conclusions. Once the finalised pottery report has been received it will be linked here.

Iron Age pottery sherd from TP 6
Iron Age pottery sherd from TP 6

Another find of note is the Victorian ash pit that the team on TP 4 on North Street came upon which produced masses of ceramic and butchered bone.

A selection of butchered cow bones from the Victorian ash pit at TP 4
A selection of butchered cow bones from the Victorian ash pit at TP 4

The students spent the third day of the HEFA in Cambridge where they learned not only about university but also about how their individual test-pits fit into the wider picture. Carenza’s lecture on medieval settlement studies and the Currently Occupied Rural Settlement (CORS) project is always popular, especially as it’s the first time most of the students have experienced a university lecture. Some of the comments were, “I enjoyed the lectures and the help given on the report writing” (AM) and “I enjoyed the lectures as I feel they gave you a small insight of life at university” (PP).

The students then split into groups for lunch and a tour at one of Trinity, Downing, Emmanuel and Pembroke Colleges. These tours were given by the schools liaison officers (SLO) from each of these colleges. Emma Paulus, SLO for Pembroke, then gave a presentation to the pupils about the University of Cambridge and life as a university student.

Post-lunch smiles at Pembroke College
Post-lunch smiles at Pembroke College

The day concluded with Dr Jenni French, Research Fellow in Archaeology and Anthropology, giving a presentation on how to structure and present a written account of the excavation. These reports go on to form part of the archive at The University of Cambridge.

In feedback after the HEFA 98% of participants rated the field academy as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. The students enjoyed meeting and working with new people and working in a team as well as visiting the University of Cambridge and learning more about university and archaeology. Students commented, “I have gained both confidence and the realisation of how important archaeology is” (MP), “I have enjoyed interacting with people with similar interests and I have gained confidence with new people” (MB) and “I feel I have gained a sense of independence (as we worked with other students) and also I have gained the knowledge on writing a good written report (which is needed). I have also gained more knowledge on the history of the area” (CS). School staff commented, “Our students have gained personal skills, teamwork, confidence and archaeological and historical knowledge” (DS) and “They have gained an insight into archaeology, an idea of what higher level academic work is like and an opening of doors to university applications” (PM).

The HEFA team: (L-R) John Newman, Cat Ranson, Dr Carenza Lewis, Laure Bonner
The HEFA team: (L-R) John Newman, Cat Ranson, Dr Carenza Lewis, Laure Bonner

ACA would like to thank the students and staff of the three schools involved for making the Southminster HEFA another successful event (even in the rain!). Special thanks to David Stamp for being both beacon school coordinator and local coordinator, to Ron Pratt and Kay Maudesley for organising the pits and to Mike Rees and Pat Sheehy of the Maldon Archaeological and Historical Group for supervising our young learners at Southminster Primary School.

20th century token from TP 10 on the King George V Playing Fields
20th century token from TP 10 on the King George V Playing Fields

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