2011 Swadlingcote

CIA Conference, Swadlincote, 27th November 2011

The 2011 conference and AGM of the Council were held at Swadlincote, in Derbyshire on Sunday, 27th November 2011. Originally we had planned to hold a weekend congress in Lincoln, but unfortunately this had to be cancelled. Despite being organised at short notice, on a Sunday, and rather late in the year the Swadlincote conference was a great success with over forty people attending.

The conference was held in the Sharpes Pottery museum which proved to be a splendid conference centre. Swadlincote developed as a pottery manufacturing town following the discovery of clay associated with the coal of The South Derbyshire Coalfield seams and took over from the pottery industry at nearby Ticknall in the 19th century. The Sharpes Pottery was one of the leading manufacturers that eventually specialised in producing what are delicately called ‘sanitary wares’, that is lavatory bowls.

Lavatories were one of the great inventions of the 19th century, and the Victorians embellished the bowls with exotic floral designs. Sharpes made among the finest, and exported them all over the world, and some splendid examples of their products were on display in the museum. The museum was based round a large bottle kiln or hovel, which has been preserved, together with all the ancillary buildings, which meant that there was plenty of space for a lecture theatre, kitchens and dining areas. Keith Foster, our Treasurer, was one of the Trustees, and made us very welcome.

The proceedings began at 10.00 am with the AGM, which went through very smoothly. The only point of note was that Jan Bailey, our Hon. Secretary, has had to resign for personal reasons, and the office is now vacant, though Kevan Fadden has nobly come back from retirement to act as Assistant Secretary. Any volunteers to take over?

I then followed with some thoughts about future directions for the Society. In the current economic crisis there should paradoxically be a greater need for independent archaeological societies, but how are we to fulfil this need? Hitherto we have been chary of undertaking much political activity, as we wanted to do nothing to impede the very welcome rise of professional archaeology. Admittedly, we had our very successful Valetta campaign, which is summarised on our website: but should we be doing more to look after the interests of the amateurs? (Anyone interested in becoming the Parliamentary officer of the CIA?)

Our two main activities of late have been the holding of annual meetings where local archaeological societies could get together and display their achievements, and the production of the resistivity meter – currently in abeyance but shortly to be revived (see below).

I put forward a new activity where we might possibly take an interest – that is church archaeology. Church archaeology is different from profane archaeology as the church is governed by its own laws with an elaborate scheme of getting the faculties for alterations to churches. I suggested that we should take a look at these procedures and see what part local societies were playing in them. I described how I had looked into two local churches in north London, in Primrose Hill and East Barnet to see how they were faring with the various authorities. ronically in both churches it was the tree preservation officers who were causing the biggest problems.

The next speaker was Chris Yates, a diver from the South West Maritime Archaeological Group. This is one of the longest established diving groups who are very active in the Salcombe region and have licences to dive over several important archaeological wreck sites.

The earliest is known as the Salcombe Canon Wreck site, where a hoard of 17th century gold coins was discovered, which brought them a lot of publicity. However, they then went on to discover apparently two Bronze Age wreck sites. The most recent contained not only obvious Bronze Age tools and weapons, but a vast number of copper ingots which demonstrated that copper was being exported from the continent to England. Indeed analysis of some of the Late Bronze Age copper ingots suggests that they may have come from Switzerland. This is a most remarkable discovery which reverses all our ideas about trade in the Late Bronze Age, showing that not only were finished articles traded, but also raw materials (see article in CA 197).
We ended with a brief talk about the English Heritage position over underwater archaeology. English Heritage is currently making a great effort to extend its reach and protection over maritime sites. But unfortunately they seem to be rather neglecting the amateurs. Fortunately the South West team have sufficient prestige that they are likely to be safe and allowed to continue. But it is worrying that English Heritage does not appear to be pursuing a policy of active collaboration with the very numerous sub-aqua clubs.
(Is there anyone out there who would be prepared to look at the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (and its Annex) to see whether , like the Valetta convention, it inadvertently is against the interests of the amateur underwater archaeologist?)

After coffee we had an interesting talk from Alex York on his survey of Roman roads in Cheshire. He had formally been a tree-planter in India, but on his retirement he had taken up the survey of some of the missing Roman roads in Cheshire, and he had published his results in a book entitled “I Once Was Lost, But Now I Am Found” describing all his excavations in full colour. He came to tell us about his results in person.

This was followed by a talk by Sue Brown on the work of the Ticknall Archaeological Research Group. Ticknall, which lies only half a dozen miles north east of Swadlincote, was one of the leading pottery production sites in the late Middle Ages and Tudor and Stuart periods.

Sue Brown and Janet Spavold, both historians, set out to study the industry, originally from an historical point of view, and published an excellent book on their researches. However, they turned increasingly to archaeology and set up the Ticknall Archaeological Research Group, obtaining a grant of £49,981 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a three-year project. They were supported by the National Trust, local farmers and individual property owners as well as enthusiastic members, who were trained by Archaeological Project Services of Heckington, Lincs. A major excavation was carried out in a Ticknall garden, which uncovered a kiln from c1500. (See CIA Newsletter 69 – Oct 2010) A huge amount of pottery was recovered – they showed the sherds spread out in three great heaps – and the group recorded it after training. Some volunteers were trained in archaeological pottery drawing with regular evening sessions held to deal with the material they recovered. Test pits were dug on National Trust land to assess the value of another site.

Janet Spavold then took the floor to tell us about her research on the decoration to be found on Ticknall pottery, particularly the Cistercian wares. These appear at first sight to be conventional rosette, wheel and acanthus ornaments, but she showed that they should really be analysed as Christian symbols with parallels to be discovered in the stained-glass windows, and in stone and wood carving in medieval churches.

We then broke for an excellent lunch which provided a valuable opportunity for the members to meet each other and hear about their progress and achievements.

Then after lunch David Hibbitt told us of his struggle to break into commercial geophysics using the TR/CIA resistivity meter. He gave us two case studies of major sites, including Little Witham which was extensively excavated by Phil Mayes in the 1960s. He showed that the meter could be used to great effect for commercial and research work.


He was followed by Ed Archer, a stalwart of the Council who had come all the way down from Scotland to tell us of his work with the Lanark Archaeological Society. They had obtained a Heritage Lottery grant of £26,000 to interface with the community and they were preparing a book and setting up a website to promote the Clydesdale heritage.

Coffee and tea followed and then Kevin Barton, who had come all the way from the west of Ireland told us about his researches into two remarkable sites which he is carrying out on behalf of the Clifden and Connemara Archaeological Society. The first was the site of the Marconi wireless transmission site, which operated from 1905 – 1922. Before wireless the only communication across the Atlantic was by cable, which was costly to lay and maintain. So in 1905 Marconi purchased 300 acres of boggy land at Derrigimalgh in the west of Ireland, where he built a huge radio station. This included a power house with six steam engines to provide the huge amounts of electricity needed to maintain a spark thee feet high and twelve feet long, with thunder that echoed around the countryside, but which produced radio waves sufficient to reach America. However, by the 1920s it was becoming obsolete and in the troubles of 1923 the factory was looted and virtually destroyed by the Irish Republican army. Marconi was by nature very secretive and never kept any records, and so only by archaeology can the layout of the station be recovered.

How the first transatlantic flight ended

However, there is also a second archaeological site, for when on 14th June 1919 Alcock and Brown succeeded in flying across the Atlantic in a converted bomber, they saw the factory and decided to land in the green field adjacent to it. But the green field was in fact a bog and they ended up with their nose in the bog and their tail in the air. The precise site has been lost, but Kevin has been going out with a metal detector, and after weeks of blank prospecting he had just obtained two beeps, and hopes to be able to recover the site.

The conference concluded with an address by Bob Randall telling us about the latest progress with the redesign of the resistivity meter. He described the problems caused by the EU banning the use of lead solder, with illustrations to show how neat lead soldering is compared with non-lead solder. This makes an extensive redesign necessary. He plans to use the latest state of the art processor which integrates many discrete functions found in the earlier meter into one chip. Bob explained that this will allow him to produce a cost effective meter that uses the very latest technology and will allow new features such as multiplexing to be built in. The development of the new meter is sponsored by Current Archaeology combined with a grant from the CIA, he hopes to have the first model ready by the summer of 2012.
Bob handed out a new interface programme CD for delegates who own the old model meter and wish to interface it with Windows 7.
He went on to discuss some of the benefits of the Google Earth program available to archaeologists at no cost. He demonstrated how geophysical images can be added to Google Earth and how oblique aerial photos can be rectified to fit on the Google picture to make it into a matching vertical shot. Once overlaid it is possible to read off an accurate position for a crop-mark enabling efficient geophysical surveys to be planned.

The conference ended with an informal discussion of the resistivity meter and of matters generally. We finally broke up around 6pm after a very good meeting. Our thanks are due to our Treasurer, Keith Foster and his wife Barbara for organising the very successful conference and finding the conference venue for us. The result was an extremely productive and enjoyable day.

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