Autumn in Breckland

In July 1866 the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society also visited Grimes Graves, near Thetford.

‘About sixty of the members and friends met at Brandon Station, where arrangements had been made for conveyances. The weather was unsettled and on arriving at Grimes Graves the company were detained on account of the heavy showers of rain and hail which fell; but as soon as the weather had a little cleared, Mr. Manning read a paper on Grimes Graves, in which he showed that this irregularly shaped cluster of holes were ancient British dwellings, forming the remains of an ancient town’.

It was only in 1870, when one of the pits was excavated, that Grimes Graves was revealed to be a Neolithic flint mine, one of only a handful of such sites in the UK, and now the only one open to the public.

Last week we took our second year undergraduate students there on a field trip to Breckland on a beautiful autumn day – certainly in better weather than the Norwich and Norfolk Archaeological Society in 1866! When we arrived the sun was just burning the mist off the strange landscape of pits and hollows that show the location of the mine shafts, which made for an atmospheric start to our day.

One of the mine shafts is open, and after donning hard hats and descending a steep ladder, the students were able to see the tiny tunnels full of rubble, all dug out by hand during the Neolithic using picks made from antlers.

Our next stop was Thetford Priory, a Cluniac house founded in 1107, and one of several religious houses in Thetford during the medieval period. It was dissolved in 1540, despite efforts by the Howard family to transform it into a college, and therefore save the family tombs in the church. The Howard family tombs were eventually moved to the parish church at Framlingham in Suffolk, which we visited with students last summer.

Finally, we clambered up the huge 25 metre high motte at Thetford Castle to take in the views of the surrounding Breckland landscape. The Norman castle was inserted into the ramparts of an Iron Age fort overlooking the river Thet. The huge earthworks of the ramparts and the motte are very impressive, and very steep on the way down!

Thetford has a long and interesting history, and there are a number of trails around the town exploring different aspects of its heritage on the Exploring Thetford website. We can heartily recommend chips from the chip shop opposite the Kings House if you should visit…


Drawing Earthwork Plans

On Friday we took our third year undergraduate students back to the site they surveyed in June as part of their field course – a medieval moat within an ancient wood in south Norfolk.

The earthworks of the moat, and of its outer enclosure (above) were much clearer to see now that the blanket of dogs mercury has disappeared!

This gave the students the opportunity to work on their earthwork plans of the site, adding in extra details that were not easy to spot in June.

They will spend the next few weeks learning how to produce earthwork plans, before moving on to concentrate on their research projects about the history of the site. A group trip to the Norfolk Record Office this week to look at the historic maps of the wood will hopefully help to get them started!

There are more photos of the summer field course on our Flickr photostream.

Ancient Trees and Wood Pasture

Kimberley OaksVeteran Oak pollards at Kimberley Park, Norfolk

On Saturday UEA was the venue for the annual conference of the Society f0r Landscape Studies. The theme this year was ancient trees and wood pastures, and the papers covered a great deal of ground.

Dr Robert Liddiard kicked things off with a detailed paper on the nature of the medieval deer park, suggesting that our understanding of the ‘classic’ medieval deer park needs to be revised to take account of variations in the date, location and uses of parks. He also drew attention to the important, but often neglected, theme of disparkment from the sixteenth-century onwards, and the problems of interpretation this can cause.

Some of these themes are explored in the volume on Medieval Deer Parks: New Perspectives, edited by Rob in 2007.

Dr Robert Liddiard giving his paper ‘What is a Deer Park?’

Patsy Dallas, currently finishing her thesis at UEA, spoke about the use of commons as wood pasture in Norfolk and their survival (or not) after enclosure in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Patsy brought to light several examples of wooded commons on contemporary maps, including the ‘Plantings’ in the parish of Gressenhall as shown on Thomas Waterman’s highly detailed map of 1624 (now in the Norfolk Record Office).

Dr Della Hooke (Honorary Fellow at the University of Birmingham) discussed wood pasture in Anglo Saxon England, particularly in relation to the distribution of place names and the grazing links between heavily exploited agricultural areas and more marginal areas of wood pasture, using examples drawn from the Weald and the Malvern Hills.

Many of the themes covered in Della’s wide-ranging paper are explored further in her recent book Trees in Anglo Saxon England: Literature, Law and Landscape (2010).

Prof. Tom Williamson talking about ancient trees in Norfolk.

Professor Tom Williamson from the University of East Anglia talked about the problems of dating trees, drawing on a study of over 5,000 veteran trees in Norfolk. This detailed study shows that it is virtually impossible to accurately date trees by measuring their girth, using examples of trees which can be confidently dated from documentary sources or their archaeological context. Tom also showed how the modern pattern of the survival of ancient trees is dictated by social, cultural and economic factors, rather than just environmental ones.

The project is the subject of a forthcoming book, Ancient Trees in the Landscape: Norfolk’s Aboreal Heritage, which will be published this autumn.

Nicola Whyte from the University of Exeter gave a paper which emphasised the cultural importance of ancient trees in the landscape during the early modern period. Drawing on examples of trees used as boundary markers in parish perambulations, she showed that it is possible to map topographies of custom and memory in the early modern landscape.

Nicola’s book on Inhabiting the Landscape: Place, Custom and Memory 1500-1800, explores more aspects of this cultural landscape.

Delegates at the annual Society for Landscape Studies conference.

The last paper was from Professor Andrew Fleming (University of Wales) who discussed the evidence for areas of wood pasture in both Swaledale, in Yorkshire, and Powys, demonstrating the variety of different types of wood pasture, ranging from large intercommons to individual wood pastures, and the complexity of their post-medieval histories. He emphasised that large, very old pollards have a greater capacity for resistance than other trees, which may partly explain their survival, and noted the high number of very high, so-called ‘giraffe’ pollards in Powys.

Andrew’s work on the landscape of Swaledale has been published as Swaledale: Valley of the Wild River by Oxbow Books.

Taken as a whole, the papers presented a broad cross section of regions and chronologies though with some common themes – most notably the difficulty of pinning down defintions and reconstructing patterns of use when it comes to ancient trees and woodpastures. Clearly there is much valuable research still to be done in this fascinating and important area of landscape studies.

Thank you to all those who contributed to such an enjoyable and thought-provoking day.

Walberswick Goes International

In our last post we wrote about a trip to Walberswick in Suffolk, which has been the subject of a project led by Dr Rob Liddiard on investigating the defences constructed along the Suffolk coastline in World War Two.

As a result of the success of the project, last year UEA was invited to become a partner in a major bid to the European Union for an umbrella project ‘The Heritage of the Second World War’ and this spring we received the welcome news that the application had been successful.

This secured over four million euros of match funding for a three-year project from the European Union’s Inter-Region IV Cross Border Co-operation Programme. There are ten partners in total, from four European countries (Belgium, France, Netherlands and the UK), with UEA teaming up with Suffolk and Essex county councils to promote the heritage of the Second World War as a resource for sustainable tourism.

Above: A well preserved section of the Atlantic Wall in Ostend, Belgium.

Key to the project is cross-country co-operation, with partner nations working together to form inter-linked sub-projects. So far this has involved familiarisation visits to the Netherlands and Belgium, with the European partners coming to Suffolk in 2012. In continental Europe, little is known about the efforts that went into fortifying the British coastline and so far many interesting comparisons have been made between Britain’s ‘Coastal Crust’ and the Atlantic Wall.

Above: A concrete artillery observation post, Vlissingen, Netherlands.

The funding will help sustain and promote all kinds of Second World War archaeology in the partner countries, ranging from capital investment in museums, to the creation of heritage trails and downloadable resources for walking and cycle routes. We will be posting more details about the project later in the year.