Walberswick Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) 2015

Walberswick, Suffolk was the setting for ACA’s sixth Higher Education Field Academy of the 2015 season. A total of 12 test-pits were excavated on 6th – 7th May by 48 Year 8 & 9 students from Alde Valley Academy, Bungay High School, Ormiston Denes Academy and Sir John Leman High School. The test-pits were organised by Philip Kett of the Walberswick Local History Group and our beacon school coordinator was Mrs Philippa Godwin from Alde Valley Academy. The base for the two digging days was The Stables & Barn, The Street in Walberswick. 11 x 1m2 test pits were located in the back gardens of private properties on Lodge Road, The Street, Church Lane, Acre Lane, Palmers Lane, The Green and Bell Green and one was located in the grounds of The Anchor Hotel.

St Andrew's Church looms in the background
St Andrew’s Church looms in the background

Walberswick is a village on the Suffolk coast, across the River Blyth from Southwold. This is the third consecutive year a HEFA has been held here and previous reports can be found here.

Phil Kett and Dr Carenza Lewis
Phil Kett and Dr Carenza Lewis

The students worked in mixed-school teams of 4 and were supervised by teachers from the 4 participating schools. After receiving a briefing on Day 1 from Dr Carenza Lewis, Director of ACA, about how to excavated and record the test pits, the students went out on site and excavated for 2 days. The weather on Wednesday, 6th May, was particularly windy, rainy and miserable, but this did not dissuade our hardened diggers as by the end of Thursday most test-pits had reached the ‘natural’.

TP3's improvised rain shelter
TP3’s improvised rain shelter

We were pleased that the East Anglian Daily Times sent out a photographer to cover the event and that article can be found here. We were also pleased that Lara Band and Oliver Hutchinson from CITiZAN (Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network) in association with MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) came out to see us and talk to the students and teachers about ways they can get involved further with community-based archaeology around the coast. More about the CITiZAN project can be found here.

John Newman provides TP5 with dates for their pottery
John Newman provides TP5 with dates for their pottery

Cat Ranson, ACA archaeological supervisor, Jessica Rippengal, zooarchaeologist, and John Newman, pottery expert, toured the test pits providing guidance on excavating and recording techniques as well as identifying finds, bones and pottery sherds. Once again, having experts on site to identify finds in real time proved to be one of the things most enjoyed by the participants. Students commented, “I enjoyed meeting experts of different parts of archaeology,” (CC) “I liked finding out about the pottery” (JA) and “I really enjoyed it when the experts came round and told us what we had found.” (SM) Even staff said, “Our students enjoyed talking to people who were experts in their field.” (CK)

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.

TP10 - a hive of activity on The Green
TP10 – a hive of activity on The Green

The evidence from the previous 18 test pits which were dug in 2013 and 2014 suggests that Waberswick did not decline in the late medieval period suggesting it was not as severely impacted by the Black Death as other East Anglian villages, many of which have a 50% drop in pottery usage after the 14th century compared to before. In 2015, new areas of the village were investigated including the western side of The Street, the central area of Palmer’s Lane and Lodge Road.

Bellarmine sherd from TP4
Bellarmine sherd from TP4

Findings from the test pits this year continue to support the lack of decline in the late medieval period. Medieval pottery was found in many of the test pits dispersed throughout the village, with TP10 on The Green producing the most sherds. Earlier evidence is minimal with only two potential sherds of Roman and/or Late Saxon being produced from one pit. Post-medieval and Georgian/Victorian pottery was also well-represented throughout the village. TP4 on The Street produced a sherd from a Bellarmine Jug, TP11 on The Green came down on a Victorian rubbish pit and TP2 on The Street had a lovely find in the shape of a Victorian bisque dolly. The finalised pottery report is available here.

“Hello Dolly”

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 loved listening to the lectures and finding objects that were new to me,” (TT) “I enjoyed learning about what we were doing for the university” (TS) and “I will enjoy writing up the report to a high standard including all our finds, how professionals do.” (LE)

Touring around Corpus Christi
Touring around Corpus Christi

The students then split into groups for lunch and a tour at one of Trinity, Trinity Hall, St John’s and Corpus Christi Colleges. These tours were given by either the admissions officer or schools liaison officer (SLO) from each of the colleges. Megan Goldman-Roberts, SLO for St John’s, then gave a presentation to the entire group about the University of Cambridge, post-16 options, A-Level choices and choosing degree subjects. Many students commented how they really enjoyed touring around the university and learning more about what university life is like, but one student in particular nicely summed up one of the specific aims of the HEFA programme in her feedback: “Before I came to the university, I was adamant that I was never going to go to university, but it isn’t quite what I expected it to be like and I might change my mind in the future.” (AMN)

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 event, 94% of participants rated the field academy as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. The students enjoyed all of the aspects of the HEFA: working with new people, digging and finding things, contributing to academic research and learning more about their local history and the University of Cambridge. Students commented, “I’ve met new people, I’ve learnt new skills from doing the dig and I know what university is like” (CB) and “I enjoyed getting to work independently. Our group was in control of how we worked – more freedom than at school. I really enjoyed working with and meeting people from other schools.” (HS) School staff commented “Our students have found the experience rewarding, especially in terms of learning new skills that result in practical benefit for research purposes” (CK) and “The students have gained an ability to work together as a team and learned how to remain focused until the task is finished.” (DA)

TP12 had an extra, rather fluffy, supervisor
TP12 had an extra, rather fluffy, supervisor

ACA would like to thank the students and staff of the four schools involved for making this year’s Walberswick HEFA such a successful event, despite Wednesday’s downpour. Special thanks to Philip Kett, local coordinator, and Philippa Godwin, our beacon school coordinator. Also thank you to The Anchor Hotel, the local community and the owners of The Stables for hosting us.

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