Welcome to the Urban Archaeology blog. Freelance archaeologist Chiz Harward provides a range of on and offsite services to the archaeological profession, including running and working on excavations, post-excavation services, training and development work, and illustration work. This weblog will carry news of projects as and when they happen as well as wider thoughts on archaeological issues, especially recording, stratigraphy and training.

Holy Trinity Minchinhamptom: beneath the pews

We are currently busy at Holy Trinity Church Minchinhampton where we are carrying out archaeological recording during a major refurbishment. The church is originally medieval, but the nave, aisles and chancel were completely rebuilt in 1842.The project includes taking up most of the floor to install under-floor heating, and although an evaluation showed the  Victorians stripped out most of the medieval strata, it is a rare opportunity to try and enhance our understanding of the development and appearance of the church.
The first task was recording the Victorian pews and choir stalls, which have now been removed revealing a layer of rubble and dust under the pews dumped by the Victorian builders. This rubble included fragments of the medieval church like this wonderful masons' setting out design, shavings from the installation or alteration of the pews, fragments of sculptural plaster, and worked architectural fragments that will help reconstruct the appearance of the pre-Victorian church.

Once the pews were removed the rubble layer was exposed and could be sifted through and removed
Wooden shavings from constructing or altering down the pews

But not everything we're finding under the pews is that old...this cigarette card fell through a crack in the floorboards in the early twentieth century.

Cigarette cards stiffened packets of cigarettes and from the late 19th century sets of themed cards were printed, with albums produced for card collectors. No. 42 in a series of 50 cards on 'Celebrated Gateways' this card by John Player and Sons dates from 1909. 

Was a worshipper desperate for a cigarette, were children engaging in illicit card swaps during prayers, or did reading about St Laurence's Gate, Drogheda relieve a particularly boring sermon? We will never know! 
Another cigarette card, was squarely aimed at children.

This Barratt & Co card from 1955 is from a pack of 'Mickey's Sweet Cigarettes' featuring Tinker Bell from Disney's Peter Pan, number 32 of a series of 35. You'd have to 'smoke' a lot of sweet cigarettes to get the full set...
But not everything we've been finding under the pews at Holy Trinity Minchinhampton has been cigarette related…there's also evidence of a more wholesome nature like this milk bottle top from the mid twentieth century. We'll try and trace the date of this specific design but it is probably from the early 1950's. Milk in glass bottles with cardboard tops was the norm by the 1920's and 1930's, whilst the cardboard tops were replaced by aluminium foil from the 1950's.

A cardboard milk bottle top, probably 1950s

The cardboard bottle top has a perforated flap to push a straw through, tops were produced in a wide variety of designs by different companies and the used tops were used by children to play games, latterly re-emerging as 'Pogs' in the early 1990s. 
Although these objects may not seem to be 'archaeological', they do give us an insight into past behaviours and activities within the church in exactly the same way as excavated coins, pottery and other artefacts. They make us want to know more, about the objects -how old are they, what were they for, who made them- and the people that used, and ultimately lost them.

A mason's setting out slab from Gloucestershire

We've just started work at Holy Trinity Church in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire. This medieval parish church is undergoing a major reordering and Urban Archaeology have been acting as the project's archaeological consultants and are carrying out a detailed archaeological watching brief during the works. We're going to be posting a lot more on the project as it progresses, but for the moment here's one of our first findings from beneath the pews….
The limestone slab with inscribed design

Scribed into this limestone slab are a series of straight lines and arcs that describe the setting out of the complex tracery design of one of the church windows. The sinuous ogee curve of the tracery can be made out, with arcing cusps which would have formed the pointed tops of the window lights, and the side of a quatrefoil. We have found a few more fragments of the slab nearby, so we're hoping to be able to piece together the full design, and will be checking to see if it matches any of the surviving medieval tracery in the church.

The slab with the design marked up in black
The mason would have worked out his design for the window tracery by scribing the design onto a flat surface in the church -in this case onto a smooth limestone paving slab. Using a straight edge and dividers he would have created the elegant design and then transferred the measurements to the stone as he carved the blocks into shape. York and Wells cathedral have surviving 'tracing rooms', but in a parish church the floor, a wall, or the back of a door or rood screen might be used for working out the designs.

The design; only the left hand side of the symetrical design is set out, hopefully further fragments will add to the design, a full reconstruction of the tracery should be possible.

We're not yet sure whether this setting out dates from the medieval church, possibly from the mid-fourteenth century south transept, or from a major rebuild in 1842, but either way it is a rare insight into the thought process of the mason, and a reminder of the geometrical principles that lie behind window tracery.

Not another negative watching brief....

Excavating the gas main diversion at the Thatched Barn

A recent project for Keevill Heritage proved that where archaeological watching briefs are concerned, you can't assume that you won't find something of archaeological value just because you are in late Victorian levels, and that you never know when something rather special may turn up. The work involved a watching brief on a gas main diversion around the mid 19th century Thatched Barn at Christ Church College, Oxford, and the trench was expected to mostly cut through Victorian dumps which had been used to raise the ground level above the meadows and winter flooding.

Happy new year from Urban Archaeology

Happy new year!

2016 was a very busy year for Urban Archaeology, with lots of new projects and a very varied workload which included survey and recording work on Gloucester Cathedral's 15th century Lady Chapel, post-excavation and development work on LP-Archaeology's 100 Minories site and their ARK post-excavation systems, and finishing the analysis and publication text and drawings for the medieval farm buildings excavated at Horse and Groom Inn.
Masons' marks from Gloucester Cathedral Lady Chapel
Excavation work included working on a wonderfully preserved Roman iron smelting site near Ross on Wye -urban stratigraphy in a very rural setting- and a final bit of excavation at 100 Minories where there was excellent survival of the medieval and post-medieval sequence. Smaller scale work has included evaluations and watching briefs and several projects on Gloucestershire churches
Ornate medieval fan tracery, possibly from a vaulted canopy tomb. From a watching brief in Oxford
2016 also saw the publication of two MOLA monographs that I co-authored: the Roman volume of the Plantation Place excavations, including the post-Boudiccan Roman fort, and the Upper Walbrook Roman Cemetery of Roman London. Both books have been in the pipeline a long while, and it is great to see them out and getting excellent reviews. I also had a paper published on archaeological training in the Historic Environment: Policy and Practice Journal, and an article with Nigel Jeffries on post-medieval Spitalfields in Current Archaeology.
Current Archaeology 310 - now on sale!
Spitalfields Market: Secrets of one of Britain's biggest digs
2017 should see the publication of the medieval Spitalfields volume, and then all my MOLA backlog will be out. We are also hoping that the Horse and Groom excavations will be out in this year's Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society.
The early months of 2017 look like they will be full of fascinating projects, with more work on the Gloucester Lady Chapel and several other church projects, some interesting watching briefs lined up, a good bit of finds illustration work to do, and the 100 Minories post-excavation work will restart shortly. There'll be posts on this blog and the Urban Archaeology Facebook page as and when I find time to update it!

So thank you to everyone who has followed us over the last year, I hope you have found all the posts interesting, and I'd like to wish you all a peaceful 2017,

Chiz Harward
Urban Archaeology

Baffled by a Cotswold church...

A recent watching brief on a new electric supply trench at a Cotswold church led to the recovery of several fragments of carved medieval masonry, which have given an insight into the past appearance of the medieval church. 
Reconstruction of medieval architectural fragments

Urban Archaeology joins the Stroud Building Design Association

With an increasing number of projects being local to within Gloucestershire, Urban Archaeology has joined the Stroud Building Design Association, a group of independent planning and design professionals who offer services related to the building and construction industry. The membership covers a wide variety of professions and disciplines offering help, advice and design expertise for the building industry and private residential clients.

Encompassing everything from planning & infrastructure, through architecture & design, to ecological impact & sustainability, Stroud BDA’s combined skills cover everything you need to plan, design and manage a project. Stroud BDA didn't have an archaeologist member, so it seemed a good fit!

Urban Archaeology's recent local projects have included the ongoing recording work on Gloucester Cathedral, watching brief on a service trench through a graveyard, and evaluation and consultancy work within a medieval church. All of these were undertaken under the 'Faculty' licence system, the Church of England's equivalent of planning permission and listed building control. 

If you have a development project and would like advice on archaeology and heritage, and on how Urban Archaeology may be able to help you work through the process, please contact Chiz Harward.