Friday 3 August

Weather sunny with occasional clouds

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Chris Appleyard, Frankie Saxton, Tony Driscoll, Mick James, Philip Dean, Alan Goodwin, Evelyn Goodwin, Phil Thomas, Ros Knight, Deborah Giles

Washing finds on site

Washing finds on site

We began by setting up finds processing, as this is something we’re getting behind on. Mick gave a short talk about how best to do the bulk finds washing and an outline of what happens subsequently. Deborah will be washing all day and I will rotate people from site to give everyone a taste of it. Ros started. They are processing finds from the test pits dug at 90 Norton Road and 15 Church Lane on 24 June 2007.

Tony is levelling his plan with the assistance of Phil Thomas. When they have finished, they can attack context (1), which I suspect to be post-demolition hillwash.

Everyone else is working context (5), as I would like to have it completely removed by the end of today, if not sooner. I’m coming to the conclusion that the material beneath (5) is actually the demolition deposit and that it is composed partly of material such as mortar deriving from the structure. It is probably also context (4), visible along the top of the slope, while (3) is perhaps a more exposed part of it.

Philip Dean brought in an oil painting from 1972, showing the house adjacent to the site with what appears to be a timber-clad barn between it and the road. Assuming that it is not artistic license and that this is a barn demolished during the road widening scheme, its date can be no earlier than 1972. I wish my memory of it were clearer!

We need to get the context sheets filled out for (1) and (5) this morning. I’ve asked the two groups of diggers to cooperate on writing their descriptions – having them done as a collaboration is likely to yield more information and variety, which is better than having just the one view, which could be quite wrong or inaccurate.

Progress is rather better than Wednesday or yesterday, as we’re not held up with waiting for plans. Now that finds processing has been started, too, we can occupy people where there is not enough room on site to accommodate everyone. Two things remain problematic: the number of roots across the north-eastern part of the site, which have to be cut away with dispiriting regularity, and the blazing sun (which is ironic given the weather throughout July!). Before we started, I was more concerned with rain than with sunshine!

Along the north-eastern baulk, Chris Appleyard is exposing a lot of crushed brick and some rather larger pieces. This may be the line of the north-eastern wall of the barn demolished in the 1930s. I have assigned it context number (7).

Over lunch, I took a walk along Church Lane in the hope of matching up the listing descriptions with the present numbering system for the buildings. Some of the descriptions needed updating (lots of windows have been replaced with synthetic frames, for instance) and I was able to write descriptions for most of the other buildings in the lane. The twentieth-century buildings on the west side of the lane will need further recording, as I was not able to get a clear view and didn’t want to intrude into people’s gardens without permission. Deborah Giles suggested asking Hilary to make contact with the residents. I have also possibly solved the mystery of the seventeenth-century “18-19 Church Lane”: it may well have been 2 and 4 Church Lane, which were demolished some time ago and are now the site of the car park for St Nicholas’s JMI School.

Making progress

We are slowly making progress

After lunch, people went back to trowelling and we have now reached a point where much of (5) has been completely removed. This makes it apparent that (3) and (4) are the same as the material underlying (5), confirming what I suspected this morning. Finds appear to be getting more frequent and more diverse towards the base of (5), with such things as the carbon rod from an electric cell and a rusty spring turning up.

After almost three days of excavation, it is perhaps time to stop and take stock of what we’re hoping to achieve and how far we’ve gone towards achieving those aims. While I am certainly very happy to have a fieldwork project up and running and we have a hard core of volunteers, I am sceptical about how far we have yet engaged the local community. Of course, most people are out at work during the week, so it will be instructive to see if more local residents call into the site over the weekend. The Comet is going to run a story about the project next week, so we will see if there is any more interest generated as a result.  I also wonder how far the excavation of a post-medieval barn is the sort of thing that the general public can really get excited about. Again, time will tell.

I will need to start writing up the results of the test pits once the finds have all been washed – Deborah and Ros are making good progress and I expect they will finish the test pit material today. I may be able to do some initial sorting over the weekend (or, at least, get someone else to do it). It may be that showing how the finds from the test pits suggest a fairly continuous human presence in the village since the Late Iron Age will enthuse local people if we can disseminate the results widely and in an accessible format.

On removing context (1), Tony and Phil have revealed some regularly spaces, narrow cuts. They are too thin and vertical to be plough marks and I wonder if they are a product of harrowing. It would be useful to know if Church Field was put down to cultivation during the Second World War. Unfortunately, we’re now at a point where it’s not really within living memory for many people. Perhaps the Heritage Foundation has records.

As (5) has almost entirely gone, it has become clear that (3) was a superficial deposit that overlay it and that (5) in turn overlays (4). There are various large objects embedded in the surface of (4), at the interface with (5), that include a large square nut (?) and an iron bucket handle (?). I think that (3) relates to an ants’ nest on the site at precisely this point: it could be material from the underlying (4) brought up in making their tunnels that had become redeposited immediately below the root system of the turf above.

At the bottom of the slope, it is so far impossible to relate (1)/(2) to the deposits at the top or to (6), part of the way up it. It has nevertheless become clear that (1) and (2) are the same deposit, which appeared different only because of differential drying toward the top of the slope. The possible harrow marks continue up the slope, clearly cutting (3) and possibly also (4): it was only the relative dampness of (1) that prevented them from being visible at the south-western end of the site.

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About Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews

I'm the Archaeology Officer for North Hertfordshire District Council Museum Service. I was born and brought up in Letchworth Garden City, so I have a life-long connection with the area.

Posted on 4 August 2007, in Fieldwork, Norton Church Field Dig 2007. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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