A Whitle Walk

On Good Friday, some of the Peeling Back members enjoyed the spring sunshine in the lovely Dove Valley, walking from the farm at Under Whitle to “The Packhorse Inn” for lunch.

The group before setting off
The group before setting off

Down Marty Lane, on an ancient, we passed Broadmeadow Hall, a large manor house dating back to Tudor times.

Broadmeadow Hall
Broadmeadow Hall

We then walked downriver to explore Pilsbury Castle, which was built by Henry de Ferrers in the C11th as a statement saying “Here we are, us Normans, get on with it!”. Pilsbury Castle was never rebuilt in stone, as was Peveril’s Castle in Castleton, and today is owned by The National Park to safeguard its integrity as a rare example of a motte and bailey earthwork Norman castle. Would it have been possible that someone living in a timber house on the house platform where we found the charcoal (dating the site to 1350ish) looked towards Pilsbury Castle and wondered what was going on?

Standing on the remains of Pilsbury Castle
Standing on the remains of Pilsbury Castle

Turning upriver, we followed the Dove where Simon pointed out the remains of wide medieval ridge and furrow ploughing in the field beside the path, especially interesting as it still showed the headland at the top of the field. This was a raised area where soil from the plough was left as the team of eight oxen were turned around before continuing in the opposite direction.

At “The Packhorse”, Mick made us very welcome and, after lunch, we walked back to the farm, over the Dove by the stepping stones where Simon pointed out a series of strip lynchets “cultivation terraces” on the hillside.

at the Packhorse Inn Crowdecote
At the Packhorse Inn Crowdecote. Has Eric just told a rude joke?

Sitting round the table in Elspeth’s kitchen, where we had held so many planning meetings for the Project, we drank more tea, and cut into a traditional Easter Simnel cake.

Margaret and Eric

End of Project Archaeology Open Day

Sunday 16th July 2017    11am-4pm
All Welcome!

Archaeology and history will come alive in the tranquil Dove Valley when you discover the results from the ”Peeling Back the Layers” community project.

Meet archaeologists who led the investigations, and discover the results and finds from surveys, excavations and historical research.  Encounter historic characters who farmed at Under Whitle over the centuries. Try your hand at spinning, dyeing cloth, reed-light making, butter making, or even become part of an oxen plough team!  There are archaeological activities for children, medieval potage to taste, Tudor dancing and the appalling Pathetic Players perform “a play what they wrote” based upon Tudor documents! 

The event is free but donations are welcome.

Find us at the Dove Valley Centre, Under Whitle Farm, Sheen, Near Longnor, SK7 0PR.  Map Reference: SK107 635.  Tel:  01298 83282.

CBA West Midlands: News From The Past 2017

(This post first appeared on Enrichment Through Archaeology’s website on 9th March 2017, written by Ian Parker Heath)

Last weekend saw Catherine and I travel to Birmingham to take part in the Council for British Archaeology’s West Midlands branch annual conference. It was a chance to both catch up on what had been going on archaeologically and to present our work on the Peeling back the Layers project, which is in the West Midlands, but only just!


The day kicked off with

A typical motte and bailey castle
A typical motte and bailey castle. The motte is the raised mound and the bailey is the protected area below.

Mike Hodder’s re-examination of the castle next to the M6. That’s at Castle Bromwich obviously, and although I’d heard the name I knew nothing of it, but as you might expect, many place-names in Britain ‘do exactly what it says on the tin’! This one is no exception to that rule. The castle is, and was, nowhere near as grand as it’s neighbour Dudley Castle, rather it was what is known as a motte and bailey. These were typically large raised mounds with a keep on top and below was timber palisade providing protection for those inside. The site was excavated back in the 1970’s but hasn’t been properly analysed or published. It seems to have been occupied for a relatively short time, but interestingly, within the grounds the excavators found not only evidence of medieval material but also Roman period habitation and prehistoric flints.


The next presentation was from members of the Worcestershire Buildings Preservation Trust and their work on the restoration of the Weaver’s Cottages in Kidderminster. Unassuming terraced houses you might think from walking past, but inside they reveal their part in the growth of the textile industry in the town. Did you know for example that “The cottages at 20-22 Horsefair are listed as “three houses with attic workshops dating from the mid and late 18th century with later alterations”, adding that “these buildings, which combine domestic and workshop functions are rare survivals from the period associated with the domestic worsted weaving industry in Kidderminster”. The key phrase here is ‘attic workshops’ as you might think a workshop would be on the ground floor, but weaving requires a good, natural light source and the attics of these houses had large windows which are a tell-tale sign! So it seems it was a trade-off between moving raw material and finished goods up and down flights of narrow stairs, or working long days in poor light.

The Tilley Timber Project was next up, and my favourite of the day! This is another Heritage Lottery Fund project, this time from Shropshire. George Nash (@Tilleyite) told us of the project, which has been using dendrochronology to date houses in the hamlet. Almost half the houses in Tilley are listed buildings and were thought to be of medieval dates. Whilst many of the dates gathered as part of the project confirmed the dates suggested by the construction techniques etc, there were some surprises, including one house which looked like a ‘railway cottage’ but turned out to be several hundred years older! Just goes to show, looks can be deceiving!

The thing about Neolithic sites is that some of them have tremendous names. Hetty Pegler’s Tump is one that springs to mind. Paul Garwood of University of Birmingham presented us with the results of excavations at the equally splendidly named Mavesyn Ridware and Alrewas in Staffordshire. The first is thought to be named after the Norman family Malvoisin who were given the land in 1066. Alrewas is derived from the Old English word  Alor-wæsse meaning”alluvial land growing with alder trees”. There is a deal of evidence that many henges are to be found close to, or associated with water, and clearly Alrewas is another. Both sites were like a number of other Neolithic sites, some of which I have helped excavate, and were largely devoid of finds/artefacts. While this might sound disappointing, the excavation recorded the ditch construction, topography and more, which adds to our understanding of these somewhat enigmatic monuments.

As you might imagine, the Romans featured in the day, with two presentations, one on the culture clash between the indigenous Iron Age tribes of the area, and one on the distribution of brooches. So, Angie Bolton of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) took us into the world of Roman brooches. First question then – when is a Polden Hill Brooch not a Polden Hill brooch? Good question! Back to the naming of things in archaeology, many artefacts are named after the place they are found, so for example the Neolithic pottery type ‘Peterborough Ware’ was first found in, yes, Peterborough! Polden Hill was the place where a type of Roman brooch was first found. However, Polden Hill is in Somerset and as more were found the area their distribution showed that Polden Hill was in fact on the very edge of this area, and that in fact their manufacture and use seems to have been centred on the West Midlands. Not only that, but that rather than there being just a single type of brooch, there are many variations. The value of this study though lay in the establishment and maintenance of a good working relationship with metal-detectorists in the region who were responsible for many of the finds. Their work has helped shape our understanding of the everyday piece of Roman life.

As a result  of works carried out to improve heating etc, Holy Trinity church in Sutton Coldfield was the scene of our next paper. The work allowed a team from Archaeology Warwickshire to explore some of the normally hidden parts of the church, some of which date back to the 14t century. Its amazing some of the things you can find under the floor, and the team found a Swiss coin, suggesting that one parishioner had tried to pull a fast one at collection time! The church has also recently been awarded £96,000 for a heritage project  to help improve interpretation at the church.

The day closed with another presentation from the Archaeology Warwickshire team, this time on a multi-period site of Hillmorton near Rugby. Here the team discovered a range of features from the Bronze Age to the Roman period with some pretty impressive elements. Among these were Roman period kilns, a very fine Roman jar, a line of Bronze Age post holes and a similar line of post holes from the Iron Age. These are shown below and all the images are shown here courtesy of Archaeology Warwickshire and my thanks go to Stuart Palmer for helping with this.

In addition to presenting a paper on the project, throughout the day Catherine and I had a display highlighting Peeling back the Layers, and we were very busy during the various breaks with delegates from across the region keen on finding out more about our work. We’d like to say thank you again to the organisers for inviting us along, to all the people who came to talk to us, and to say that we have another Open Day on the 16th July to which you are all welcome to come along to! Is that everything?

Ian Parker Heath

Radiocarbon Date for Charcoal Sample

In case you did not know, Ian sent off a sample of charcoal found in the extension to Trench 3 for Radiocarbon dating (C14 dating). This sample of charcoal came from the same context (230) as a piece of pottery that was thought be 15th Century in date, and where there was an ephemeral piece of daub (see Ian’s report p12: Parker Heath, I (2016) Report on the Extension to Trench 3). So we had high hopes…

Pottery from context (230)
Pottery from context (230)


We now have the result…

And we thought you might be interested in knowing what it is…

The short answer is…

1350 + or – 30yrs!

This means that it is pre-Tudor i.e. Medieval, and is further support to the theory that there was indeed a house on the platform (site of Trench 3) at this time. It has to be kept in mind too that the date given above is for the felling of the tree and not the use of the wood nor when it was eventually burnt. The pottery therefore is a better indication of this.

Please feel free to post any queries, theories and/or comments in the comments section below…

Peeling Back the Layers’ website is updated

updated website
Updated website

Updating the project’s website is a job long overdue. Whilst none of the information in it was essentially incorrect, it was in many places written in the wrong tense!

Hopefully, the website now reflects the passage of time and makes clear the stage that we are up to now, namely the interpretation of what we have found and learned.

It also now states, on many different pages, that the project’s final Open Day showcasing the entire project has been pinned down to Sunday 16th July, 2017. Put the date in your diary!

Have a read through and if you spot anything that is incongruent or any links that don’t work, please contact me at peelingback@outlook.com


Peeling Back the Layers is ‘Highly Commended’

Gordon Miller Award Certificate showing that the project was Highly Commended
Gordon Miller Award Certificate

Lynn Burrow nominated the Peeling Back The Layers project for a new award in November – ‘The Gordon Miller Award’ – which celebrates countryside projects and group or individuals contributions across the UK (there is further information about the award and a link to an article about Gordon Miller below).

Myself (Rose Clarke) and some other Ranger colleagues attended the Countryside Management Association (CMA) 50th Anniversary conference last week where I had a 15 minute pitch to Rangers and countryside professionals from across the UK to showcase the Peeling Back the Layers Project and it’s achievements (so far) before delegates voted for their favourite project.

We were up against 3 other projects:

  • Coed Y Bont – A Community Woodland project in Ceredigion, Mid-Wales
  • Sticklepath Conservation Group – A 25yr running Volunteer conservation group in Dartmoor National Park
  • Natural England Nature Reserve dedication project – a national access and nature conservation project.

All of us did a presentation (thanks for putting ours together Lynn) and explained the why, what, where and how of our projects. I also took the Lidar maps and some of Elspeth’s finds (pre-project, which helped initiate enthusiasm to start the Tudor Farming Project and thus the PBTL Project).

Alas, the Sticklepath group project received the trophy but all were highly commended (and I was told we came a close second)! You can see the certificate we received above. Various delegates commented on how they thought the project sounded very interesting. There should also be an article on all projects in the next ‘Ranger’ magazine which the CMA publish quarterly to members (the PDNPA Ranger service is a corporate member).

So well done to everyone who contributed to the project!

Rose Clarke

For those of you who want to know more, here is some information about the award and Gordon Miller:

“The search is underway to find the most deserving project, initiative or innovative practice that has made or is making an outstanding contribution to countryside/urban green-space management for the Gordon Miller Award 2016. The Award will then be presented annually, with the ‘trophy’ being passed to the next recipient.
The Award is a way of acknowledging the hard work and commitment of people who contribute to making the UK’s countryside and urban greenspace a wonderful and inspiring place to visit, live and work in. Each year CMA will look for a person or a group of people for whom sharing their knowledge, skills, experience and enthusiasm has resulted in an exceptional contribution to the management of the countryside and/or urban greenspace of the UK.
Nominations can be projects, initiatives or innovative practices that have resulted in positive improvements for habitats, species, access or people (education or interpretation).. You can nominate a person or organisation that you feel deserves to be the winner of this year’s Award, or you can put one of your own projects forward.”

Gordon Miller is a retired Peak District Area Ranger who has done an awful lot of work to promote rangers and countryside staff and their work around the world, and he has set up the International Rangers Federation. If you click on the link below it will take you to an article in the Derby Evening Telegraph from a while ago:
European title recognises Peak District ranger

Graveyard Gang Successfully Finish Survey!

We of the “Graveyard Gang” wanted to tell you we have finished the survey of all the graves in St Luke’s churchyard, Sheen.

This has been very enjoyable,  working with friends delving into the histories of the people who are buried there, sharing their lives. Some of the stories revealed by the inscriptions are unbelievably sad, but the solid stone church set amid lime trees and snowdrops has witnessed joyful occasions too.

We celebrated with a Christmas lunch in The Staffordshire Knot, running across the car park in a deluge of winter rain, to the warmth of fires, holly and Christmas decorations, and very good food. Now all we have to do is copy  the information onto a database which will be available and searchable on the web-site, and which hopefully will not involve laying on wet grass trying to read faded lettering!

Happy Christmas everyone!

Margaret and the Graveyard Gang

Tudor Farmers Frolic Festively

Frolicking Festively at the Cheshire Cheese in Longnor
Frolicking Festively at the Cheshire Cheese in Longnor

The Tudor Farming Interpretation Group held a festive get together and lunch at the Cheshire Cheese pub in Longnor on Tuesday.  But to earn their dinner they had to have a very busy meeting first to plan the events happening over the forthcoming months.  These are:

  • Developing the school comic with the heritage interpreter and artist:
  • Creating an on-site concession path for visitors to discover the amazing archaeology on site.
  • Creating a travelling exhibition and talks programme in the local area
  • Writing a book about Whitle and the project
  • The final event extravaganza – put it in your diary – you know you don’t want to miss it:  Sunday July 16th 2017

If anyone wants to get involved with any of these activities please get in touch with project manager, Catherine. And if you know of any groups in the area who would like us to come along with our travelling exhibition and talk, please let us know.

Merry Christmas!

Lynn Burrow

A Community Archaeology Project At Under Whitle