Wednesday 6 August 2008

On site: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Mick James, Cameron Gormill, Christl Squires, Hilary Wood, Lisa Waldock, Alan Goodwin, Freddie Sharman, Muriel Hardman, Philip Dean, Sheila Love, Luke Gearing, Alex Hill, Chris Hobbs, Greg Hobbs (a.m.)

Weather: overcast, dry and humid (threatening rain); sunny spells during the afternoon

Arrived at Norton around 9.15, so I came across to the field to get photographs of the compound before any work had taken place. The compound straddles the hollow way on the southern side of the crossroads, with most of it to the south-west. We have laid out the main part of the trench alonside the north-eastern edge of the compound, measuring 17 by 5 metres.

Removing the turf is rather difficult, owing to the length of the grass. We’re having to rake over the grass first and then really work hard to cut through it. Its a much slower process than last year…

Beginning to strip the turf

Beginning to strip the turf

We have no bullocks in the field; this is why the grass is so long. The advantage, of course, is that we won’t have over-inquisitive animals pushing against the fence, breaking it down and trampling on the site.

It’s almost midday and hardly any turf has been removed. It transpires that Cameron’s father, who is a landscape gardener, has turf-cutting equipment. It would be very useful to be able to use something that is specifically for the task! Chris is ringing him to find out if he would be able to bring it across for us. The equipment is a specialised spade and he’ll assess how useful one would be to us when he comes to pick up Cameron at the end of the day.

It’s surprisingly warm on site and the rain is at least keeping off. There are some excitable grasshoppers nearby that keep buzzing, making it feel really quite rural. As I forgot to give people a teabreak during the morning, I’ll stop for lunch at 12.30 today.

Washing finds on site

Washing finds on site

I have a feeling – nothing more tangible than that – that morale may be a bit of a problem this year. For one thing, the area where we are working is almost double the size of last year’s, so progress will be slower. Secondly, there is likely to be less of the really obvious archaeology (brick foundations, cobble farmyard etc.) that made things so easy for novices to understand last year. I’ll be happy if events prove me wrong.

Things are speeding up slightly as we get into the afternoon. The sun is also breaking through the clouds occasionally, so I think we may have escaped the threatened rain. It is very humid still and some people seem to be becoming a bit dehydrated and will need to be reminded to keep drinking water. At least there’s a tap in the churchyard where we can refill our bottles.

One of the challenges of this site is that it’s not immediately possible to identify it as a particular named property in the medieval documents. Quite how we do tie it down to a named house or identify its owners or occupiers, I don’t know. It may be that the documents talk about a crossroads, the Baldock or Stotfold road, or refer to places between the church and Nortonbury. On the other hand, it could end up being a lot more difficult and we may never be able to recognise it in the documents.

It has become very muggy as the afternoon has progressed. It was supposed to get up to 24° today, but I’m sure it’s hotter than that.

I’ve taken a walk across to the site of last year’s excavation and it’s remarkable how there is really no trace of it now. That, I hope, will convince anyone from the Heritage Foundation who might be worried about what we’re doing to their meadowland.

A local resident frog

A local resident frog

Another issue that we face this year is locating out trench and its grid accurately, given that we are now in the centre of the field. Without GPS or an EDM, we’re going to have to do some old-fashioned surveying with tapes and level (we don’t even have a theodolite!). At least we can set up the grid before we need to tie it in to features mapped by the Ordnance Survey.

A number of people were under the impression that we were due to finish at four o’clock. I’m not sure how much this is their misapprehension, how much owing to the fact that last year, we finished at 4.30 (I think) and how much is misleading publicity (although the website is quite clear about the working day). Today has been tiring for people: not only is it the first day and they aren’t used to this sort of heavy work, but also the weather has been very much against us, being oppressively hot and humid despite a start where it looked as if we’d be rained off.


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 6 August 2008, in Fieldwork, Norton Church Field Dig 2008. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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