Hilgay Independent Learning Archaeology Field School 2018

Beautiful Cambridge

Another new village for us this week- we certainly are expanding our survey of the Currently Occupied Rural Settlements (CORS) across East Anglia. The village of Hilgay is located on the southern banks of the River Wissey in southwest Norfolk, just over 5km as the crow flies south of Downham Market and 12.7km north of Littleport. The modern village sits on a raised island within the fens, and the drainage of the fens has elevated this island even further in more recent times. The name Hilgay derives from the Old English to mean ‘island or dry ground in marsh, of the family or followers of a man called Hythla or Hydla’ during the Anglo Saxon period and was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 when the main landowner was recorded as the monks of Ramsey Abbey who built a priory here as a Benedictine Cell, known as Modney Priory.  The church of All Saints is situated very much on its own in the southeast of the village and dates from the 13th century.

James Smith from Springwood High school was once again our dedicated Schools Coordinator and pupils from King Edward VII School joined us as well. It is wonderful to have these ongoing relationships with schools, as pupils encourage each other to join in the trip and can pass down their own experiences to younger pupils. In this case we had 8 dedicated 6th form students who had been on the dig before themselves coming to help the younger students and guide them on their work. It’s a good opportunity for them to get some leadership experience and show just how responsible they are. Day 1 dawned bright and sunny and the excited students arrived to start the field school and we used the Village Hall in Hilgay as our base. After a talk from Catherine Collins, Archaeological Supervisor, they were sent out with their 6th form supervisor to get digging! A little confused to start but they soon got the hang of it and over the two days we were really impressed at the progress they showed.

Test pits were located in a field next to Hilgay church, the allotments nearby, Scott’s terrace, Church Road and Hubbard’s Drove, giving us a nice spread across the village. The pits were found by local resident and amateur archaeologist Bill Howard, who was also on hand through the duration of the dig with additional help and support. The students were soon finding things, mostly Victorian pottery to start and the test pits certainly found a lot of it. Always exciting to find something you recognise. Test pit 9 also found a lost dog who had escaped from its home and helped return him to his proper owner. Always nice to have a friendly and fuzzy extra test pit member but back to the archaeology! Very excitingly test pit 7 found some Iron age pottery at the end of Day 1. It’s rare to find and as the field where it was found is near the church suggests that this has been the centre of the village for a long time, where as now it has shifted slightly north. Test pit 2 on Hubbard’s drove even had a possible sherd of Roman pottery and others produced medieval so a great range of finds! It was great to have pottery expert Andrew Rodgerson on site with us to identify their finds. You can read more about the findings here once the pottery report ha been completed.

Day 2 and the forecast was very different. Those excavating in the fields had to battle the wind as well as the rain but luckily for them they hit natural, meaning there was no more archaeology to find, by 11am and spent the rest of their time helping other groups. All the groups battled bravely through the rain, although some certainly lost the battle to the mud!


Warm and dry in Cambridge on Day 3, the students got up to a lot of fun! First was a lecture, not the normal style of teaching for these students but a taste of uni life. The talk also taught them much about how we interpret archaeological finds, how they fit together and how you can present the information clearly. The students will now go away and write a report on their finds and we look forward to reading them! After patiently paying attention it was time for lunch and many thanks to Corpus Christi and Christ’s colleges for giving the students some lunch and giving them a tour around the college. After lunch the students got to explore some more archaeology with a session in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology where they explored objects, and what they can tell us.

While the younger students were at their session in the museum, Mark King, Admission Officer at Christ’s college took the year 12 students for a session designed for them. Together they looked at personal statements, working through examples and pointing out areas which are of interest to universities. Personal Statements are a key part of the admissions process but for many it is the first time they have had to ‘sell themselves’ and their skills. Pointers on what to highlight are therefore useful, not only for UCAS applications but also in job applications.


Then it was the turn of the year 9 students who were surprised at the choices and opportunities they could have and where they could take them. Mark put into perspective for them the journey from where they are now, to where they might like to be and how their GCSE choices, and showing their  potential would be important to their futures. Students certainly felt the trip has shown them now opportunities. “I feel like my eye have been opened to a lot more new things and possibilities. It made me more motivated to do more” JA King Edward VI Academy. “Opening another career path I am going to consider” ER Springwood High School. “I want to go to Cambridge.” VT King Edward VI Academy.


We hope the student felt they have gained from this trip and that they can continue to build on what this experience. We are always here to answer any other questions they have over the coming years.

“I enjoyed contributing in a team and meeting my team that I otherwise would not be with. I enjoyed experiencing and learning about university that I couldn’t from school.” NA King Edward VI Academy

TP 9e
Well done everyone!


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