Monday, May 28, 2012

A quick update on the other projects

I know I've been going on about the Dover Boat for a few posts now so thought I'd bring you up to speed on the other projects I've been getting involved in. All of the projects require endless meetings in various conference rooms over Kent , but there were biscuits and the occasional doughnut so it's not all bad.

A Town Unearthed (aka Flowerbeds)
We're still planning our season of Test pits but things are progressing and we should *hopefully* be starting in the next few weeks. We are focusing our efforts on the East Cliff area to try and establish the size of the Roman and Iron Age site but there is potential to do some work up on the Bayle as recent investigations have uncovered possible evidence for the medieval Bailey Castle, the location of which has been subject to much debate over the years. I'm currently putting the finishing touches on a handbook to give to the volunteers on how to excavate a test pit and fill in the associated paperwork (archaeology isn't all about digging!).

CSI: Sittingbourne (aka Beads)
Is still in the back of my mind although I have been plenty busy with the boat to go and help of late. Next week is looking a bit empty so I will try to go over before A Town Unearthed eats up my time.

Northfleet Harbour Restoration Project
I've been up to have another meeting with the Chairman of the Trust about how to proceed. There is a lot of work to be done to secure the site and improve access before opening this project up to the wider community, but things are progressing and maybe we'll get cracking with the main excavation work in the next few months. They have been doing a little bit of exploring on the slipway and have uncovered 3 phases of tipping which happened in the 20th century; maybe not exciting to some people but I'm interested. They've uncovered leather shoes from the 1920s, coins from the 1940s, bits of old motorbike, early 20th century cosmetic bottles, and glass lampshades from the demolition of a row of houses which once overlooked the site.

 Council for British Archaeology paperwork and NVQ stuff
As this is a training placement I have to complete some paperwork to prove I'm learning things! I'll be also working towards getting an NVQ in Archaeological Practice which is part of the training scheme. Getting a job in archaeology can be difficult as there is a lot of competition for very few positions, especially of late with the economic downturn and the halting of a lot of development projects. Most (not all, don't shout at me!) archaeologists go to university and get degrees, MA's and PHD's but find that securing a practical job in archaeology hard because they don't have any experience in excavation. The way most of us have got round this in the past is to volunteer on community excavations and get some experience (rule of thumb is about 6 months before the commercial units will consider hiring you). The NVQ is designed to show employers that you have experience in practical archaeology and are therefore competent on site. I'm on the fence about this but maybe this debate is for another post at a later date.

Kent County Council
The wonderful thing about this placement is that I'm not constricted to working just for CAT so can go off and get involved with external projects. Kent County Council have a strong community archaeology presence and the county community archaeologist, Andrew Mayfield, has a number of projects centred around Shorne Woods in June and July ( More information to follow but June will be test pitting a Mesolithic site and July is the on going excavation of Randell Manor.

Other projects and ideas
  • Westgate Parks for People. I've got a minor role in helping to set up the bid for this project, due to start 2014 if funding applications are successful. Part of the Parks for people scheme running across the country ( aimed at regenerating neglected parks with ecological and heritage benefits.
  • Institute for Field Archaeologists. I've been asked by a friend to write an article on community archaeology for the Digger's Forum newsletter. I'm not sure what to write it on yet but it'll probably be centred around the benefits of community archaeology to archaeology as a whole. Some archaeologists don't like community engagement and don't see the point in it, but again this is a debate for another post.
  • Operation Nightingale is still in the back of my mind. If you can't remember what Operation Nightingale is, it's the scheme run by the army to rehabilitate injured soldiers coming back from the front lines (mostly from Afghanistan). I'm hoping to be involved in the set-up of something for the regiments in Kent.
  • Kent Archaeological Society, Maidstone Museum and the CBA Festival of Archaeology. This is a joint project between CAT and KAS hosted at Maidstone Museum for the Festival of British Archaeology between the 14th and 29th July ( We're coming together to set up a display of our community projects, our volunteering opportunities, and our educational services so I get to help arrange that.
So that about sums it up for now. I'm sure I've missed something but you get the idea! be continued...

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Boat arrives in Boulogne-sur-mer

Tuesday 10am in the office and the director of the company, Dr. Paul Bennett approaches me and says he wants me in France the next day to help deliver the Dover Boat (which I had in all honesty thought I'd finished with), of course I'm going to say yes! The boat has been residing in the marina storage yard at Dover since it's last launch attempt, still mounted on the yellow trailer it was displayed on at the launch event. The trailer + boat were being loaded onto a hiab and transported by P&O ferries who very kindly allowed free transport across the channel.

Boulogne is beautiful. The old city is completely surrounded by the original medieval walls and is accessed by 4 entrances in the middle of each wall; a rare thing in this day especially for Northern France. The museum is in a castle, built on top of a Roman Fortress, in one of the corners and is surrounded by a very deep moat that has recently been restored and refilled with water. Lovely. Well, lovely if you are visiting but not so much when you are trying deliver one and a half tons of boat and trailer. The streets were too narrow and too busy to pull the trailer through the town so it was suggested we took the whole lot up onto the ramparts and to the castle from there. From here on in I'll let the pictures do the talking:

The general width of the streets in Old Boulogne.
Cayole Gate. We need to get the trailer through here. The arch is too low for the hiab to go through so we had to hire a separate vehicle.
On top of the ramparts.
The boat arrives in Boulogne...
...and is unloaded off the hiab.
Through Cayole Gate. Just.
Up on to the ramparts.
The next obstacle.
Not much room for manoeuvre.
In the end the trailer is unhooked and turned manually...
...and off again.
Next problem. The boat needs to go through that stone gate on the right but the road doesn't allow for an easy turn. The dome in the background is from the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Boulogne.
The front of the gate. This lucky tour group got a preview of the boat before the exhibition officially opened.
And after much more manoeuvring the trailer is ready to be reversed into the castle courtyard.
And finally in the courtyard. Now we need to take the boat off the trailer.
Everything is prepared.
The boat in it's new home.
So there you have it. Piece of cake! The boat will remain in the courtyard and two of the builders will be putting some finishing touches to it. The exhibition opens 29th June. It was a real opportunity to meet the French side of the project and to come together in a practical way, though we unfortunately didn't get a tour of the Basilica or the Museum, maybe next time! be continued...

Monday, May 21, 2012

To conclude the British leg of the boat's journey

So here I am to conclude the British leg of the boat's journey. As of Wednesday it will be residing in Boulogne-sur-mer in France for 6 months and then heading to Velzeke in Belgium for another 6 months before returning to Dover. If you haven't already seen all the press coverage, then the launch event didn't really go to plan as the boat took on water. Our initial vision of the launch had been totally shattered by this point in any case as, hinted on in previous posts, things went a little wrong on the Wednesday. Not horrifically so but enough that forward planning even by the 3 days was useless so we just had everyone on standby and went from there. Luckily the people involved were incredibly relaxed and helpful so everything ended up fine.
Not so much for the rest of us though. The launch was scheduled for 2pm and the boat builders (Richard Darrah, Robin Wood, Trevor Marsden, Rachel Head, Sam Curtis and Damian Sanders), who deserve all the credit in the world, were chipping away at it until 1pm on launch day and had racked up some ridiculous hours working on it the few days before. Robin's blog ( sums all the action up nicely and has some great images of them all trawling on through the night. All the local press was out, as was Time Team (including Tony Robinson). I was nominated to stand on the sea front and direct people so I missed all the action. Essentially what happened was that due to our last minute plan changes we decided it would be a better idea to lower the boat into the marina using the sling they use to lower yachts in, that way if it did take on water it wouldn't sink to the bottom! The boat did indeed start to take on water, slowly at first, but the decision was made to raise it up before the boat was irreversibly damaged.

The boat being raised in the yacht sling. Photo courtesy of CAT
And as so many people had gathered to watch the boat being paddled in the harbour, including Tony Robinson who had returned to have a go, we loaded it back onto it's trailer and drove it over to the seafront where the crowd could see it close up and have a chat to the builders.
The boat on display on the seafront. Photo courtesy of CAT.

Now, I know there were a few people who were a bit disappointed but I was not one of them I assure you. It was a pleasure to see the boat come together over the last few weeks and I'm so chuffed I got to help even if it was only in a small way. The information gained from reconstructing the boat has certainly turned a few commonly held theories on the Bronze Age on their head and has defiantly enhanced the story surrounding the original. This project has been a massive success, with regards to the physical construction of the vessel, although I'm sure we'd have all liked an extra month or two to really perfect it. It was patched up and re-launched (in private this time!) and did float for a little while longer, helped by a crew of 2 who were bailing the water out, but yet again started taking too much on board. Unfortunatly time has run out and it must leave us for France, maybe when it returns we can have another bash!

Again I'd like to thank the boat builders for all their hard work and dedication, and also to Dover Sea Safari ( and the Dover Harbour Board for all their help, understanding and support; it was no smooth ride! Canterbury Christchurch University ( lent us a brass band to play some music so thank you to them. Finally I'd like to re-iterate my thanks to Faith and Terry who have both given up so much of their time to help guide the visitors around the boat's history and construction.

I'll keep you updated on any developments in France and Belgium. be continued....

Friday, May 18, 2012

A week away

This week I've been on holiday. Nowhere exotic, just back to my parents to pick up all the stuff I couldn't fit into my tiny car (VW beetle, old style; very proud of it!) when I first moved to Canterbury nearly 2 months ago now. This post will be me banging on about how fab Herefordshire is and I will let you know all about the big launch when I'm back in the office, but needless to say it didn't quite go to plan.

I'm from Herefordshire, Bishops Frome to be exact. For those who don't reside in the UK, or are a bit rubbish at Geography, Herefordshire is on the border with Wales and is one of the Marcher Towns. There is some great farming land here and people have been here since prehistory. Historically, Hereford was an important location for invading and subduing the Welsh right from the Romans. We have some fantastic castles and ecclesiastical buildings in the area but more on that to follow. Once the Welsh had been subdued, finishing sometime around the 15th/16th century, the castles began to decay as they were no longer needed and the wealthy families had started moving into more fashionable residences. Most of them were finished off in the Civil War (1642-1651) when the Royalists and Cavillers blew them apart with cannons. We were a Royalist area, as was neighbouring Worcester where famously Charles II supposedly hid up an Oak tree to escape the Parliamentary forces, and Hereford Castle was so badly damaged from Parliamentary cannons that nothing of it survives. After that we were pretty much left alone. Hereford is a bit out of the way, and we have always been famous for having the worst roads in the country, so besides wealthy Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian tourists visiting the Malvern Hills or Tintern Abbey, my ancestors just got on with thier lives until the arrival of the railway when we were finally re-connected with the rest of the world.

Our being disconnected was not a bad thing. We have some of the loveliest untouched villages in the country and the quintessential black and white buildings that Hollywood likes to pretend Britain is littered with, are 10 a penny. My paternal Grandad's family have one which he was raised in (photo below) and my Mum grew up in one. Herefordshire always has had a lot of cider orchards (the Cyder Bible was written here as a monk in the early medieval period at Hereford Cathedral replaced all references to wine with cider) and we are also famous for our Hereford Cattle. So that's Herefordshire in a nutshell. Rural, full of cider, cows and black and white buildings; just the way we like it! I'll include some pictures below so you can see how lovely it is here and give a quick run down of the best places to visit in and around Herefordshire.

The White House, Halmonds Frome. This is the house my Grandad lived in as a child. His sister and her family live there now. She's adamant the house has been passed through the female line since it was built in the 1560s. Privately owned; not open to the public.

Interior of the church at Great Witley Court. The house burnt down in 1937 and is just a shell but this fantastic interior and the equally impressive fountain is well worth a visit. House owned by English Heritage. Church free!
Fountain firing at great Witley Court. The statue is of Persus and Andromeda.
Hereford Cathedral. I spent a few months here excavating the Cathedral Close during the re-vamp. The Mappa Mundi is housed here and is a must see for anyone visiting Hereford. The tower is covered in little fist-sized balls which are apparently unique to this cathedral.

Goodrich Castle. A bit bashed by the Civil War but you can get on the battlements and up to the top of the keep. Owned by English Heritage.
Tintern Abbey. Medieval Cistercian abbey on the edge of the Forest of Dean. Painted by Turner. Owned by Cadw.
Ludlow castle during the Spring Food Festival. One of the best preserved castles I've been to.
Very important in the Marches history and well worth a visit especially during the Food Festivals! Independently owned.

Some more places to visit (not exhaustive) are:
  •  Arthur's Stone, Bredwardine. Neolithic chamber tomb right on the edge of Wales. It's a bit of a trial to find but well worth it for the view alone. Owned by English Heritage.
  • Eastnor Castle, Eastnor. Victorian stately home, if you are into that sort of thing. Independantly owned.
  • Castle Frome Church, Castle Frome. Saxon church with a wonderful carved font.
  • Ledbury, Malvern, Ross-on-Wye, and Weobley. Just a few pretty towns worth a visit.
  • Malvern Hills. If you are feeling energetic go for a climb, the views are spectacular. British Camp is a popular peak as it has a prominent Iron Age hillfort on the top which was used right up to the Norman period. There are other Iron Age settlements on the other peaks but this one is the most popular. Free (except the car park).

So there's a whistle stop tour of Herefordshire, and some of it's surrounding counties. Business as normal next week. be continued....

Friday, May 11, 2012

Launch day tomorrow. Crikey.

I have spent the day in a very sunny Dover and am proud to announce the first sunburn of the year, right on my forehead. Must remember the suncream tomorrow. I didn't spend a lot of time at the boat because the builders were frantically building, and Time Team were filming, so I did all the other bits and took some photos of Dover for you all to get a feel for the place.

As I left this afternoon latest was the boat will be ready for it's maiden voyage at lunchtime tomorrow, which is fantastic news. We've had to change the planned event a little but the ice cream lady has been forewarned so I consider everything sorted. Enjoy the photos, I will post the days events when I have time over the weekend.

Dover Harbour from above. The paddling will take place in the stretch of water to the left. Away from the massive ferries!

The original boat was found, and still remains in part, underneath the building with the red front to the left of the underpass.

Time Team filming. Yes that is Tony Robinson and Phil Harding.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

...and now for something completely different.

Today I managed to spare some time to go and look at a potential new project in Northfleet, North-east Kent. The project is run by the Northfleet Harbour Restoration Trust ( who intend to restore the old harbour into a marina and general communal centre, encouraging those interested in sports and heritage. There are some great pictures of the old harbour in it's glory days on the website. The harbour was blocked off from the sea in the 1980s by a sea wall which they hope will ultimately come down to return the natural estuary to it's former state.

1920s concrete hides a mid
19th century brick wall
The harbour was used for centuries by local industries and fishermen with evidence stretching back to the Romans and possibly beyond. An Elizabethan Mansion is rumoured to occupy one corner, but mostly the archaeology is dominated by the industrial history of the site. This harbour would have been used mostly by the cement works which used to dominate the landscape behind the harbour; and there is a beehive kiln, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, hidden in amongst the modern buildings which occupy the site today.
This project is in it's infancy and work has mostly been concentrated around clearing the overgrown vegetation away. I took some photos so you can get an idea of what they are up against! At the moment they are uncovering the 20th century slipway used by generations of fishermen as access to the Thames and beyond. This site will be a little different to the ones I'm used to working on because it will be mainly to do with Industrial Archaeology, something I've never really had much experience in until now. I'm very excited about getting involved though and once security on the site is improved we hope to get stuck into the deeper deposits to see if we can build up a better picture of the harbour over time.

Uncovering the early 20th century slipway. You can see how much work there is left to do! be continued...

The best laid plans of mice and men....

Oh lordy. Spent yesterday on the boat (pictures of the progress included) and what a day it was! I'll spare you the details but it seems like everything that can go wrong, is going wrong. So we are running around like crazy people trying to re-organise but it's all pulling together so panic over for now. Hopefully tomorrow we'll be in a position to have it in the water to see if it floats ready for the big day on Saturday. I have every confidence in the boat building team!

Full length of the boat. You can see how much extra height the side planks will add to it.
I've made this image extra large so you can see the holes which the yew witthies pass through to secure the planks together.

Putting some finishing touches to the end of the boat.
One of the builders, Robin Wood, has a blog ( with loads of fantastic pictures and explanations of how the boat has been constructed. He also does spoon carving courses so here's a link to his website if you want to have a go The head boat builder, Richard Darrah, is an archaeologist who specialises in ancient timbers, his website has some fabulous pictures of past projects he's been involved with and is well worth a look (

We've had some fantastic volunteer stewards who have given up their time to come and educate visitors about the boat, so a big thank you Terry and Faith. And I really do have to give a massive shout out to Dover Sea Safari ( who have been so supportive of this project and patient with all of us landlubbers as we try to understand what launching a boat entails. The Dover Harbour Board also deserve a mention as, again, they have been very understanding and supportive of us.

Tomorrow I should have some pictures of the complete boat and maybe in the water if we're lucky! be continued....

Sunday, May 6, 2012

One week to go......

...until the big launch day. Well in fact it's less than a week now, it was a week away yesterday. *eep*

The boat progresses. Here with one of the side panels in place so you get an idea of the height.
It's progressing nicely. I took some pictures for you all so have a gander at those. The end pieces are nearly done and the builders are fine tuning the fit which involves a lot of lifting it into position, taking it down, chipping a bit off, lifting it into position, chipping a bit more off, you get the picture. And these pieces aren't light often taking 2 or 3 people to hold and carry. When the original boat was excavated in September 1992 (20 years this year!) the end pieces were missing, as were the side panels you can see in the picture above. There had to be side panels because the swell (the height of the waves in the sea) would have washed over the top and sunk the boat. Because the boat is only at half scale, the boat, even with the extended sides, will still be too low to handle the famously rough Channel swell. The original would have been twice as tall so would have been able to cope. The shape of the end pieces are basically an educated guess. We know how they fitted onto the end because we can analyse the joint surviving on the original boat so we know that's accurate but shape of the top is under much debate. The builders have made them rounded but they could have been flat or pointed, or anything really! The ends of this boat are not matching because it gives us a chance to experiment and see how the boat behaves with different shaped ends; does it go faster/slower, turn quicker, paddle easier, that kind of thing.

Testing the fit of one of the end pieces
If I haven't already mentioned, the boat made up of planks of wood which are sewn together with yew withes and rope. The holes are sealed with moss and beeswax to keep the whole thing water tight, and as the boat ages and gets wet, the wood swells and seals it further. It might seem like an odd way to make a boat but the commonly held theory is that repairs would have been easier to do if you could just take it apart and replace the broken part, than it would be to make a whole new boat. The boat would have been paddled and one of the research questions we hope to answer is how hard it is to move the boat in the water. There will be a few 'lucky' people who get to paddle it around Dover Harbour and test it out once it's completed (which will be this week as the launch is on Saturday!).

If you are in the area the launch will be on Saturday 12th May on Dover Seafront (near the Water Sport's Centre). The event starts at 1pm with the launch being at 2pm. Come and have a look if you are around! be continued...

Friday, May 4, 2012


....and so finally to Beads.

As already mentioned the project is located in The Forum shopping centre in Sittingbourne. In May 2008 excavations were undertaken at 'The Meads' ahead of a new development of the area by Canterbury Archaeological Trust. It was expected to yield little archaeology because the site had been used for Brickearth extraction and the topsoil had been stripped. Luckily the damage hadn't reached as far down as predicted and there was some archaeological features cut into the underlying gravels. By December the site had produced 227 Anglo-Saxon (mostly 5th and 6th century) inhumations and 2 cremations, most of the bone had degraded away but the grave goods survived and over 2500 objects, including weapons, dress accessories, knives and vessels, have been recovered. This is where the beads come in. There have been a remarkable number of beads recovered from this site made from glass, amber and amethyst; most of them wouldn't look out of place on the catwalks today! Further information on the background to the site can be found here
A small selection of beads on display in the CSI:Sittingbourne exhibition

The CSI: Sittingbourne is unique in that it is the first community project which involves volunteers in the conservation process. Members of the public can drop in and have a look at the conservators at work or sign up and become part of the team. The lab is in an unused shop in The Forum, kindly supplied rent free from Tesco, and there is another which houses the exhibition side of things. The lab is run by Dana Goodburn-Brown in partnership with Sittingbourne Heritage Museum (SHM) and Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT), and aims not only to conserve the artefacts, but also to get the community involved in their local heritage. The volunteers have been hard at work these past years whittling through layers of soil and corrosion to get valuable information from the recovered artefacts. This is not just concerned with the shape or purpose of the physical object and much more information can be gleaned from the conservation process, for example, textile, wood, bone, feathers, plant fibres and bug cases which were also in the grave can leave an impression on corroded metal. Rob Bloomfield ( has been volunteering his time to create some fantastic images of the project and the Anglo-Saxons so watch out for more of his work appearing in relation to this project.

My involvement in this project will be mostly centred around rejuvenating the exhibition side but I am also fortunate enough to get a chance to spend some time in the lab. I was lucky enough to be tasked with cleaning a decorated cremation urn (the cremation wasn't in the urn before you ask). Due to the fragility of the ceramic I had to clean it by gently rolling a damp cotton bud over the top to lift the dirt. It takes a lot of patience and many hours before you feel like you are getting anywhere! Unfortunately the project is nearing completion but I hope to be able to have more opportunities to get my hands dirty before the end and join in on the next CSI: Sittingbourne project, if funding applications are successful...
Me in action! be continued....