Articles tagged with: Historic Environment Record

What IS the HER?

on Thursday, 14 December 2017. Posted in Archaeology

After eight years working for the Museums Service at the History Centre, I was lucky enough to be given the chance to change direction slightly and join my colleagues in the Archaeology Service working directly with the Wiltshire and Swindon Historic Environment Record (HER). This was a somewhat daunting prospect – moving from the sunny uplands of the first floor in the History Centre down to the darker, subterranean office with stellar views of the car park. However, my welcome was warm and friendly, regardless of my ignorance in the matters of tree throws, debitage and test pits….

In the august words of Historic England, ‘HERs are an important starting point for anyone interested in the archaeology, built heritage, and history of an area. They can provide information on a wide variety of buildings and sites, from finds of prehistoric flint tools to medieval castles and Second World War pillboxes.

HERs are a primary source of information for planning, development-control work, and land management.’

There are over 85 HERs held in England, maintained and managed by local authorities and often held by joint services such as district councils and national parks. Similar records are maintained by the National Trust.

The Wiltshire and Swindon HER is not only used to advise planning authorities and developers of the implications to the historic environment when a proposed development looms but is also consulted by a variety of different users. They include archaeologists, historians, community groups, students, schools and general members of the public.

One of my favourite queries was in June this year from the 12th Cambridge Scout Group, asking me for the dimensions of Stonehenge, as the troop were about to recreate the monument with cardboard boxes. You can check out some photos of their creation on their Facebook page

Most HERs contain three types of record, Monuments (the archaeology or buildings), Events (fieldwork such as excavations or building surveys) and Sources (the associated documentary source). The records include non-designated archaeological sites and buildings, designated Heritage Assets (e.g. listed buildings, scheduled monuments, protected wrecks, registered parks and gardens and registered battlefields) and other areas such as conservation areas.

Wiltshire is obviously rich in all of these monuments (apart from the protected wrecks!) and our HER can be used as a signpost to discover further information about them. Something as splendidly evocative as the Amesbury Archer, whose grave was discovered in 2002, a Central European man suffering from an abscess and missing left kneecap who was buried with an unusually large number and variety of objects including pots, arrowheads, two bracers (archers’ wrist guards), flint tools, three copper knives, a pair of gold hair ornaments and a cushion stone (used as a small anvil during metalworking). The gold ornaments are the oldest gold objects yet to be found in Britain.

As the most recent member of the Archaeology team, I found this information fascinating and used the HER database to search for other sites and monuments in the near vicinity of the discovered burial, using the GIS layers on which the data is linked.

Having worked with the National Buildings Record many years ago, I’m also passionate about architecture, quite often post-medieval and dare I say it, 20th century, much to many archaeologists’ bemusement. The HER can also signpost the user to the built heritage and in Wiltshire we have an interesting supply of military building types with evidence at Larkhill of a First World War training battlefield and trench system (including finds of associated bottles!).

(For more information about this fascinating site see first world war tunnels, a blog by my colleague Clare King, Assistant County Archaeologist).

Our HER is constantly being added to and enhanced, with various projects also included into the database including a farmsteads project, an Extensive Urban Survey and the Historic Landscape Characterisation project, which is an overview of the modern and historic processes that have influenced the character of the landscape.

Celebrating 5 years with the Wiltshire Archaeology Service

on Monday, 02 October 2017. Posted in Archaeology

At the end of August I celebrated five years with the archaeology team here at the History Centre in Chippenham.  I thought this a suitable milestone in which to reflect on some of the most exciting discoveries in the central part of Wiltshire (the area I cover), discovered through the advice we give on planning applications.

The Government set out its requirements for the planning system in the National Planning Policy Framework in 2012.  Section 12 deals with conserving and enhancing the historic environment.  The advice we give on planning applications follows this guidance which needs to be relevant, proportionate and necessary. It is important to understand the significance of heritage assets impacted by development, which is why we ask for a proportionate level of investigation to be undertaken prior to determining applications.  Various stages of investigation are carried out. To begin with an archaeological Desk Based Assessment (DBA) pulls together existing information, using as a baseline the Historic Environment Record and other sources where available such as historic maps, aerial photographs, field surveys and site assessment.  The DBA helps to establish the potential for archaeological remains to be present within a development site. Sometimes, there is little existing information available because there have been few investigations within the area.  In such cases geophysical survey is a useful method for revealing unknown archaeological remains within a site.  We get greyscale plots and interpretation plans to help understand what potentially is of archaeological origin. In most cases we ask for trial trench evaluation following geophysical survey. Trial trenching enables us to understand the significance of the archaeological remains which will be impacted by development.  Depending on the heritage asset’s significance (to use NPPF terminology) we may ask for a site to be preserved in situ i.e. not impacted by development, or preserved by record i.e. it gets excavated, the remains assessed and then reported and/or published. The following examples show previously unknown settlements which have been found through such methods.

Westbury
Trial trench evaluation followed a geophysical survey in 2015 which discovered a number of features dating to the Romano-British period including a number of trackways and ditches. The site has yet to be developed.

Melksham
Trial trench evaluation followed a geophysical survey in 2014 which confirmed the presence of a Romano-British settlement. The site is currently being excavated, more detail to follow.

 

At another site in Melksham, a geophysical survey identified a number of features and the trial trench evaluation confirmed remains dating to the prehistoric, Roman, medieval and post-medieval periods. The site has yet to be developed.

Trowbridge
Geophysical survey across a large proposed development site highlighted two sites of particular interest.  Trial trench evaluation confirmed a concentration of early Romano-British ditched enclosures associated with trackways and pits and posthole features which appear to represent settlement remains. The relationship between the two sites is of interest. More ephemeral prehistoric activity was represented in other parts of the site which the geophysical survey did not pick up.

Discovering Wiltshire's Historic Environment

on Tuesday, 31 January 2017. Posted in Archaeology

Are you interested in the rich and diverse landscapes of Wiltshire but wondered what influences and activities have shaped them? Have you ever tried to identify traces of the historic in the present day? These questions and so much more can be answered by the use of the Wiltshire and Swindon Historic Landscape Characterisation Project dataset!

 

Old Sarum and fieldscapes beyond
River Avon at Stratford Subcastle
Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC) is a technique to explore the time depth of the present day landscape and to identify how it has evolved over time. What’s really great is that everywhere has character that can be perceived and so every part of the county has HLC data to investigate whether rural or urban, and it is intended to be descriptive not prescriptive! In that way it can help individuals, groups and communities to identify what is characteristic and of interest to them and to enrich what they may know about the places they live, visit and work in.

The historic core of Castle Combe village

It could be useful for those:

• Producing neighbourhood plans or design statements

• Investigating their local parish, town or village

• Involved with planning or strategic decision making • Undertaking academic research for school, college or university

The project started in 2012 and ran until the end of 2016 and was sponsored by Wiltshire Council, Swindon Borough Council and Historic England. The actual data itself and was created by studying historic and modern maps, aerial photographs and archaeological data to build a complete record for Wiltshire and Swindon. But what exactly will be made available to you?

• The complete dataset of c.14,500 HLC records, covering every part of the county giving details about the present and past character and attributes of the landscape for each land parcel

• Maps of historic landscape character built from the records so patterns and distributions across parishes, districts and the whole county can be seen

• A comprehensive and easy to read report explaining how the project was carried out, the sources used and descriptions of the different landscape types out there

• Case studies showing how you can use HLC data to investigate historic towns, historic farms and places like the Avebury and Stonehenge World Heritage Site

On a Voyage of Discovery...

on Tuesday, 06 October 2015. Posted in Schools

Diaries and sketches and maps from the trenches; Tudor plots, pardons and royal machinations; Civil war sieges at old Wardour Castle – these are a few of my favourite things...

At least, these are just a few of the archives I have delved into since joining the History Centre team in May.

It is not merely self-indulgence that finds me exploring the strong rooms and miles of shelving housing historic documents – it is work. Really, it is. I am actually researching and preparing sessions for schools.

I am privileged to be the centre’s new Heritage Education Officer – taking over from Laurel Miller – which gives me access to all areas and the opportunity to work with the incredible team of archivists, local studies staff, archaeologists and conservators who occupy this building. (The collective knowledge of this team is phenomenal – and it’s all here on your doorstep, ready to be used.)

Working with primary sources and discovering the stories of people involved in our county’s history is exciting and my pleasant task is to share that excitement and enthusiasm with young people who visit the centre as part of a school group or community project. I also work with other heritage and arts educators around Wiltshire, promoting learning outside the classroom

Our education programme caters to all ages and as well as workshops held at the History Centre I also travel to schools and community groups to deliver outreach sessions.

The First World War Centenary is an area of particular personal interest and expertise, and I am delighted to be working with the county’s Wiltshire at War project which has launched two travelling exhibitions, with another three planned.

Looking Back on the Festival of Archaeology

on Monday, 07 September 2015. Posted in Archaeology

As many of you are no doubt aware, the Festival of Archaeology was held from 11th to 26th of July 2015. This celebration of the diverse and intriguing archaeology present in the British Isles was 25 years old, and comprised a series of events to allow people a chance to engage with all aspects of archaeology. As part of this, the Wiltshire Council Archaeology Team held two guided walks to explore different parts of the county, and to show off some of the spectacular sites that can be enjoyed here in Wiltshire!

The first walk was held on 11th July at Cherhill, which lies between Calne and Avebury, and principally investigated Oldbury Hillfort and the White Horse hill figure. The day dawned sunny and bright and a party of 30 or so enthusiastic visitors (complete with several dogs!) set off up the hill to explore the Iron Age hillfort and the surrounding landscape and monuments. The intrepid walkers learnt how the distinctive Cherhill White Horse is one of 13 such hill figures in Wiltshire but is the second oldest having been created in 1780, possibly to imitate the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire.

Once the steep climb to the top of the hill was complete, there was a discussion of the Landsdowne Monument, the 120ft high obelisk that many of you will have seen from the A4 Bath Road in your journeys across the county! This was built in 1845 by the Landsdowne family as an ‘eye-catcher’ to commemorate their adventurous relative, Sir William Petty, who made his fortune through trading, banking and ownership of land in Ireland during the 17th century. Looking down to the road also brought to mind the infamous Cherhill Gang; a group of notorious highwaymen that robbed stagecoaches in the 18th century. The group were amused to learn that the robbers carried out their crimes entirely naked so as to conceal their identity – but even this didn’t prevent them from being caught and executed at Devizes!

Wiltshire Archaeology and Conservation Fair

on Thursday, 27 June 2013.

On Sunday 14th July the History Centre is hosting a Wiltshire-wide event for this years’ Festival of Archaeology. The Archaeology and Conservation teams have joined forces to organise an event which will give visitors plenty of opportunities to get more involved in archaeology in Wiltshire. Whether you want to join a club, attend a course, volunteer, gain work experience, have a go at field work or just find out more about this fascinating subject this free event has it all.

With 20 organisations bringing stands the fair will have plenty to interest visitors of all ages including activities for children, objects to handle and information from university courses, archaeological units, world heritage sites, the Young Archaeologists’ Clubs and the Council for British Archaeology. A full list of organisations attending the fair can be found on our events page.

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