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.

100 Minories dendrochronological dating

Oak revetment at 100 Minories, the revetment has been dated by dendrochronology to between 1567-75, and very likely is that mentioned by Stow in 1569
News in from the #100Minories post-excavation programme where dendrochronological (tree ring) samples on a revetment within the London City Ditch have returned dates that closely match known documentary sources. The dendro dates strongly suggest that the oak plank revetment is that described by antiquarian John Stow as being built in 1569 when a new ‘sewer’ and ‘wharf of timber from the head of the Postern [Gate] into the town ditch’ was built. 

This gives us a calendar date for one of the main ditch revetments, and means we can better calibrate the date of our other revetments and ditch recuts. Of great interest is that the timber revetment stops on the line of the northern boundary of the Liberty of the Tower. This suggests we may have physical evidence for different administrative regimes and their methods of ditch management.

Urban Archaeology's Chiz Harward was Project Officer at LP Archaeology's excavation at 100 Minories, and is working on the post-excavation programme.

Read more at http://100minories.lparchaeology.com/18-timbers/

For more information on John Stow and the City Ditch, read this post -written before we excavated the ditch.

Holy Trinity Church, Minchinhampton, a major Re-ordering project

Ecclesiastical and monastic archaeology is one of Urban Archaeology's core areas of expertise. Each year we carry out many projects at churches under Faculty -the church equivalent of planning permission. These can range from a one day watching brief on a new water pipe-trench in a parish church, to long term programmes of excavation and building recording at Gloucester Cathedral.
Holy Trinity church, with its distinctive truncated spire, sits above the small Cotswold town of Minchinhampton

Whether it is a one day watching brief or a two year recording program, every project receives our full focus and benefits from many years of experience excavating in and around churches of all sizes. We ensure that the potential archaeological risks and impacts are understood by the Parochial Church Council (PCC), architect and contractors, and wherever possible are minimised or designed around. 

Delays and cost over-runs often result from a lack of understanding of legal and Faculty requirements, especially regarding human remains, and of the failure to integrate archaeological work with that of other contractors. We can't ensure that a project won't have unexpected archaeological costs, but we can help project teams create a design and methodology that minimises the archaeological impact, whilst making sure that archaeological work on site is done in an efficient and professional way.

Holy Trinity Church, Minchinhampton

One current major project is the 're-ordering' of the parish church of Holy Trinity, Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire. Urban Archaeology has been working with the Parochial Church Council (PCC) and architect Antony Feltham-King at  St Ann's Gate Architects for over a year to help prepare for the re-ordering, and we are now working on site with specialist conservation building contractor Nick Miles.
Removing rubble and dust from beneath the pews, the spoil is all checked for archaeological remains such as architectural fragments, pottery, bone and small artefacts

A 'reordering' is an alteration to a church to allow for changes in religious practice and the arrangement and use of space. In the case of Holy Trinity the proposed re-ordering aims to reduce the problem of damp within the building by installing underfloor heating, and create a more flexible space for worship and other community uses. The replacement of Victorian pews and choir stalls with chairs and moving the 20th century rood screen will 'open up' the church and allow for more flexible worship, whilst safeguarding and enhancing  a secluded and tranquil space in the Lady Chapel. To counteract damp, underfloor heating will be installed across much of the church with a new boiler and electric system; there will also be a new church store and work on the main entrance. The scheme involves the replacement of the existing floor over the whole of the nave, aisles and transepts, and as such has the potential to severely impact on any surviving archaeological remains throughout the church.

Faculty and Statement of Significance

Most work on churches is not covered by the system of local authority planning permission, instead church PCCs need to apply for a 'Faculty' from the Diocese. This requires a detailed application, a key part of which is the 'Statement of Significance' (download Statement of Significance here). Part One of this covers the general historical and archaeological significance of the church, its contents and setting, whilst Part Two gives a more detailed description of the particular parts of the church affected by the proposals, and the scheme's potential impact.
Engraving of Holy Trinity church before the 1842 rebuilding

Preparing a Statement of Significance requires not only a thorough knowledge of the church building but also detailed documentary research. Holy Trinity is a medieval church, dating back to at least the 11th century, however it was extensively rebuilt in 1842 when the entire chancel, nave and aisles were demolished and rebuilt. Only the mid fourteenth century transepts and tower remain above ground from the medieval church. Desk-based research in Gloucestershire Archives found plans, illustrations and documents from both before and after the rebuilding filling out the known history of the church. This enabled us to chart the development of the church, and reconstruct its appearance on the eve of the 1842 rebuild.
Plan of the 'Old Church' prepared immediately before the 1842 rebuilding


To support the preparation of the Statement of Significance, and to help St Ann's Gate Architects design a scheme that minimised the impact on any surviving pre-Victorian remains, Urban Archaeology excavated a series of 1 metre square evaluation test pits across the church. These investigations enabled us to better understand the impact of the 1842 rebuild, and the potential survival and nature of earlier remains (download evaluation report here). Understanding what archaeological remains survive on the site helps the architect avoid disturbing them, thereby reducing costs and potential time delays. Raising the new floor level in nave, aisles and transepts to match the floor level in the crossing means that despite the addition of underfloor heating there would be limited need for ground reduction and the potential disturbance to in situ archaeological remains.
Evaluation pit in south transept, 50cm scale. The evaluation pits provided evidence for the survival of archaeological remains across the church
The evaluation suggested that the 1842 rebuild involved the complete demolition of the nave and aisles, and that little horizontal stratigraphy would survive below the existing floor level. Tombs and graves would still be present, although these would be below the proposed project formation level. Whilst it appeared that the design might have relatively little impact on archaeological remains, it was acknowledged that a programme of archaeological recording would be required as a condition of any Faculty, and a pre-emptive mitigation strategy was included in the Faculty application.

Phase plan of Holy Trinity church prior to the 1842 rebuilding

Following consultation with Statutory Bodies including Historic England, the Victorian Society, 20th Century Society, Stroud District Council and the Church Buildings Council the proposed design was reviewed, revisions made, and the application submitted. A written judgement was given by the Chancellor of the Diocese and the application approved in full -with the expected archaeological condition.

Watching brief

As the re-ordering works start on site Urban Archaeology is carrying out an archaeological 'watching brief'; this is a flexible way of recording  features of archaeological value, whilst allowing works to proceed largely unimpeded. 
View of the nave with pews removed, the rubble dates from the 1842 rebuilding and contains architectural fragments that will allow us to reconstruct aspects of the appearance of the former church

Working with the wider project team we advise on specific and general archaeological impacts and risks and devise strategies and solutions to the problems that arise. We liaise with the Diocesan Archaeological Advisor and Church Buildings team at Church House, as well as carrying out the archaeological recording in a prompt and efficient manner. If required the watching brief can be escalated to deal with areas requiring full excavation or building recording, whilst avoiding the costs of having a full archaeological team on site throughout the project.

Public outreach

Minchinhampton PCC is very keen that parishioners and the wider public can keep up with the project's progress, including any archaeological discoveries. Urban Archaeology is writing regular updates for the church website, helping to explain what we are finding as well as what it all means. Finds such as a rare mason's setting out slab are of regional, if not national significance and can bring good publicity to the project and church.
Mason's setting out drawing inscribed on a limestone slab, the drawing is set out using a straight line and dividers at a scale of 1:1 and appears to match the finished tracery of the side windows of the mid 14th century south transept

Publication and archive

Following completion of the archaeological watching brief the written, drawn and photographic records will be checked  and all finds will be assessed for their significance and their potential to add to our understanding of the site. An initial report will assess the archaeological work and its findings. Significant finds, such as the mason's setting out slab will require further publication in a suitable archaeological journal. Finally, the site archive will be prepared for deposition with the local museum.
Medieval painted wall plaster from Holy Trinity
Working within churches and cathedrals involves some major challenges: respecting the historic church fabric including archaeological and human remains, whilst accommodating the developing needs of the congregation and parish. Cost and time implications are always important factors, and considering the archaeological implications early on can pay dividends. Urban Archaeology aims to make the entire Faculty process as simple as possible, supporting and advising PCCs applying for, and carrying out Faculty projects.

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