After a brief break for half term, we are back on the ILAFS track! For the third time we are in Hadleigh in Essex. Although a large conurbation now, with Hadleigh running into Southend-on-sea, Hadleigh was once a small village. 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.
Encouraging the pupils to ignore the more recent developments, the 32 students from Southend High School for Boys listened to an introductory lecture from Alison Dickens, Director of ACA and Project Manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. This aimed not only to give practical instructions but also to introduce the students to wider archaeological questions. How has the physical landscape influenced the human settlement? How have humans changed the physical landscape? How have trade routes, access and specific events influenced the development of the town? In amongst the more modern buildings, signs of Hadleigh’s ancient past shine through, such as the medieval church and the well-know Hadleigh Castle.
These are all large questions to answer, but the students set out keen to answer them on day 1 of the dig. Laying out their test pits and starting to dig the first contexts we were impressed at the attention to detail they showed, as well as their ability to organise themselves as divide up tasks without much input from the their supervisors. Supervising the pupils were teachers from the school but also Jack Roche, member of the AGES- AHA group as well as some of the homeowners themselves who were keen to get involved the process. We excavated in Castle lane, Elm road, Beech road, Homestead way, Galleydene, Florence gardens and New road. Tow test pits were also dug by the local archaeology group AGES -AHA. One nearby to a previous test pit which has uncovered a floor layer, possibly roman, and another at a nearby house.
It was great to have to local society there, as it provided a live example of archaeology for local visitors to see. We had a number of local people interested to see what we found. Hadleigh Junior School also visited and were able to see how archaeology happens, the tools we use, and the things we found. They were great at answering questions and showed some wonderful creative thinking about the past. Understanding that depth of time is a difficult concept to grasp but they were able to actually see how we discover the past, and not only read about it!
By Day 2, we were finding some exciting things, and John Newman, pottery expert had been helping with the identification of the objects. Many of the material came from the victorian period but excitingly, Test pit 6 found some complete glass bottles, a bone gaming piece, as well as shoes, and even a porcelain figure of a soldier. There was plenty of 17th-19th century pottery tool, but many test pits also produced medieval pottery and some roman as well. Further analysis will confirm this and the full pottery report will be available on our website here.
The boys from Southend High School showed an amazing level of commitment and detail throughout the dig and continued to do so on Day 3 of the trip to Cambridge. Emily Ryley, Administrator at ACA and graduate of the archaeology department at Cambridge gave the morning’s lecture giving details on how to write a report in an academic fashion, synthesising archaeological and historical information to come to clear conclusions. Writing the report will prepare students for those bigs steps they will have to take in the level of work they need to do in later years. By becoming comfortable as with the work now, they are at a great advantage.
It’s not all work though as they then visited Corpus and St John’s college for lunch and a tour of the college. It’s great for students to be able to see this side of the university and get a fuller sense of what being a students is like. It was then on to other types of learning as the students enjoyed an hour in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology examining the collections and seeing what they could work out about past settlements from them. To answer any questions that occurred to the pupils over the day, Emma Smith, Schools Liaison Officer at Homerton College gave a talk about university in general.
Packing all that into the last three days really made an impact on the students saying “I have learnt a new subject and it has made me realise I want to go to Cambridge and make me want to work really hard to get in.” OC. “I really enjoyed the opportunity to go out and learn something new with new people and having a challenge; not too easy but not impossibly hard.” JB. Other students commented on how much they found out about university, working with others, and just how much they appreciated this unique opportunity! Thanks boys!