Hadleigh Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) 11th – 13th May 2016

Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) hosted its fifth Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) of the 2016 season this week in Hadleigh, Essex. Three test pits were excavated on 11th – 13th May by Year 9 pupils from Southend High School for Boys.

1 Test Pit 1

Three test pits were also dug by members of the Archaeology Geophysics Enthusiastic Searchers Archaeological and Historical Association (AGES AHA).

2Members of AGES AHA carry out their excavations

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 6 x 1m2 test pits were located on Chapel Lane, London Road, Elm Road, Castle Road and Church 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. We are yet to find any evidence of Saxon Activity in the area.

3Hadleigh Castle

This is the second year ACA have hosted a HEFA in Hadleigh. For last year’s results please see here.

4Sieving in the sun at Test Pit 2

The students worked small teams of three and were supervised by members of staff from their school. After receiving a briefing on Day 1 from Alison Dickens, 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 was beautiful and sunny on both days of the dig which was very nice indeed!


5Test Pit 3

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 feel that I have learned many new skills, gaining a unique experience which I have never participated in before.” (DD) and “A new Experience and more knowledge of the past.” (MI)

6 (2)There was a coffee meeting in the United Reform Church Base at 10-12pm on Day two and Alison Dickens and Terry Barclay spoke with over 100 Primary School Students about what we had found.

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 on Church Road and would initially indicate some sort of Roman occupation on the ground north-east of the Church.  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 appears that this town was very much a Victorian settlement. The complete pottery report can be accessed here.

The find of the HEFA was a ‘Cartwheel Penny’ Georgian coin.  Test Pit 1 were very excited. Other evidence included some Prehistoric activity in Test Pit 3 on Castle Rd.

7‘Cartwheel Penny’ Georgian Coin found in Test Pit 1


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. Dr Debby Banham’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.

8The students at the University of Cambridge

The students then went for lunch and a tour at St John’s College. This tour was given by Megan Goldman-Roberts who then gave a presentation to the group about the University of Cambridge, post-16 options, A-Level choices and choosing degree subjects.

9St Johns College

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 particularly enjoyed the visit to the University of Cambridge, finding out more about it and what you are expected of in it” (SE) and “I enjoyed the tour of the College and getting to know how things work at the university level.” (DD)

Day 3 concluded with Dr Jenni French giving a presentation on how to structure and present a written account of the excavation. Students submit a report and 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, 100% of participants rated the field academy as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. Students commented, “I Think that this has been very helpful for my plans for the future and alos very influential. Thank you!” (SE) “It was a great thing to do and I appreciate understanding so much in year 9 , at an early stage” (DD) and “Very enjoyable and a great experience!” (FC).

10Test Pit 3 What lovely weather!

Staff also commented, “The students enjoyed the tour around Cambridge and the talk on university life.” (CB) and “A very thorough introduction to thoughts about their future.” (BM)

ACA would like to thank the students and staff of the Southend High School for Boys for making the Hadleigh HEFA a successful event. Special thanks to Terry and Lynda of AGES AHA and all of the helpful volunteers for that group,  and Gareth March of SHSB. Also Hadleigh URC.

11Test Pit 6 The Crew!

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