Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) hosted its seventh Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) of the 2015 season last week in Hadleigh, Essex. A total of 9 test pits were excavated on 13th – 14th May by Year 9 pupils from Southend High School for Boys, Shoeburyness High School, Cecil Jones Academy and Westcliff High School for Boys.
Two test pits were also dug by members of the Archaeology Geophysics Enthusiastic Searchers Archaeological and Historical Association (AGES AHA).
The test pits were organised by Terry Barclay and Lynda Manning of AGES AHA and our beacon school coordinator was Mr Gareth March from SHSB. The base for the two digging days was the Hadleigh United Reform Church. The 11 x 1m2 test pits were located on St John’s Road, Falbro Crescent, Elm Road, Beech Road, Castle Lane, Oak Road South, Church Road, Rectory Road and London Road.
Hadleigh, a Saxon word meaning ‘a clearing in the heath,’ is a small town in Essex, 5 miles west of the seaside resort of Southend-on-Sea and 35 miles east of London. It is well-known for the ruins of Hadleigh Castle, a 13th-century Grade I listed building and scheduled monument maintained by English Heritage. This is the first year ACA have hosted a HEFA in Hadleigh. In previous years, the South Essex HEFA was held in nearby Daws Heath, the reports from which can be accessed here.
The students worked in mixed-school teams of 3 or 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 excavate and record the test pits, the students went out on site and excavated for 2 days.
The weather, a major player in any English archaeological excavation, was well-behaved for the first day of digging, but Thursday, 14th May brought heavy, all-day downpours. Our teams, however, endured the deluge and persevered with digging and sieving, returning to base only slightly muddy!
We were pleased that the Essex Echo not only promoted the event in advance (here), but also sent out a photographer to cover the event. Once that article has been published online it will be available here.
Cat Ranson, ACA archaeological supervisor, and Paul Blinkhorn, post-Roman pottery expert, toured the test pits providing guidance on excavating and recording techniques as well as identifying finds and pottery sherds. This expertise proves to be invaluable to the participants and is always reflected as such in their feedback. Students commented, “I enjoyed knowing what period of time my finds came from and what part of history they came from” (DA) and “I liked discovering finds, especially when the specialists would date and discuss them.” (CF)
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.
Some Roman pottery sherds were found in two of the test pits and would initially indicate some sort of Roman occupation on the high ground looking over the River Thames. If the town of Hadleigh has Saxon origins it is not represented in the pottery findings from this year’s HEFA. Only a limited number of sherds of high medieval pottery are represented and as such the ways in which the town of Hadleigh developed throughout the Middle Ages remain to be discovered. It is hoped that future test pits will shed some light on this issue. The complete pottery report can be accessed here.
But, the Hadleigh test pits did provide some treasures. TP 8 on Oak Road South produced a sweet Victorian toy tin whistle and TP 10, dug by AGES AHA members, in front of the United Reform Church came down onto three farthings dating from the earlier half of the 20th century. It is possible that these were lost in a single occurrence; one can easily imagine a ‘hole-in-the-pocket’ incident.
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 helps highlight how HEFA participants contribute to university research, an aspect of the programme that always ranks highly in student and teacher feedback.
The students then split into groups for lunch and a tour at one of Trinity, Trinity Hall, Downing and St John’s Colleges. These tours were given by either the admissions officer or schools liaison office (SLO) from each of the colleges. Lizzie Dobson, SLO for Emmanuel College, then gave a presentation to the entire group about the University of Cambridge, post-16 options, A-Level choices and choosing degree subjects.
One of the aims of ACA’s HEFA programme is to raise students’ aspirations of going on to higher education after school. Learning more about university in general and visiting the University of Cambridge specifically contribute to raising these aspirations and always receive good feedback from both students and staff: “I had great fun and it really opened up my eyes to other education options” (JW) and “I enjoyed learning how to get into university and also knowing that Cambridge offers my choice.” (JT)
Day 3 concluded with Dr Trish Biers, visiting scholar at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, giving a presentation on how to structure and present a written account of the excavation. Students who submit a report receive detailed feedback and a certificate from the University of Cambridge. This feedback can then be used in future university applications, CVs etc. and their reports form part of the permanent archive.
In feedback after the event, 95% of participants rated the field academy as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. Students commented, “I thought that it was really good fun and a very constructive experience,” (JF) “I enjoyed collaborating with other schools and integrating with other students” (AN) and “It was a lot of fun and I would do it again!” (CC).
Staff also commented, “The students enjoyed being part of a much larger research project and they have gained independent research skills, teamwork and archaeological knowledge.” (SN) and “The students have certainly gained a taste of university life, with a couple even expressing an interest in studying archaeology.” (DB)
ACA would like to thank the students and staff of the four schools involved for making the Hadleigh HEFA a successful event despite the horrible weather. Special thanks to Terry and Lynda of AGES AHA, Gareth March of SHSB and Hadleigh URC.