Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for November, 2010

Having being inspired by this inspiring project in Nottingham, the Nottingham cave survey. A great archaeological project that demonstrates to me be what investigating the past should be all about.  It hasn´t hidden the investigation behind a curtain of academic drabness, they know it´s fun, the bastards, just look at those bikes! There´s something of the kid in all of this looking at past mysteries looking beyond the normal street level everydayness in all of this. Nothing illustrates this better than whats beneath our feet. Forgotten tunnels, underground spaces  awake all sorts of stories etc within us and is seen in all sorts of underground stories for example in the brilliantly captivating  Rats in the Walls by J.P. Lovecraft.

Tamworth obviously doesn´t have the underground complexity of cities such as Nottingham(unique sandstone caves), Birmingham never mind cities such as New York. New York has even got a whole sub-genre dedicated to its underground world populated with its own set of characters from Mole people  to sewer alligators.  Incidentally great article on BLDG´S blog on rat catching and underground world of New York.

Ley lines

Can you see the entrance below Tamworth Castle into a secret world of ancient sects? I´m not telling

Tamworth and the Timehikes area has a much a more manageable underground world but not without its own mysteries. I remember as a kid messing around on the castle mount which then had the advantage for kids messing about of being hidden by trees. We were intrigued by the doorway below the castle and remember hearing stories being recounted about how it was the start of a tunnel which connected the castle with St Editha´s church. It was locked by barred gate and peering in I remember seeing the passageway filled  with rubble which with my imagination I´m sure I remember complete with  bones and skulls sticking out. How the hell I remember this I don´t know! One of the more intrepid explorer friends even proposed trying to get in and exploring further,  If my memory serves me right it´s the same guy who I was  saddened to read over Summer was involved in the operation Nemesis drug raids. Cruel world.

This Goonies flavoured childhood memory(incidentally goonies adventures have secret tunnels too!) introduced this legend of a tunnel between St Editha´s and the castle. When the legend came about I don´t know and what substance it has I don´t know either. The story of a secret tunnel though is by no means isolated and in fact forms part of the denominated folklore element  Leys tunnels.I´ve only seen this term on wikipedia but I think it´s an appropiate term for all those stories of secret and lost tunnels.  It seems most towns in the United Kingdoms  and overseas  have their version, Nottingham cave survey has actually confirmed it´s own legendary tunnel, see this link.

Going back to those childhood memories I remember that the ruined gateways leading into the castlegrounds presented a couple of hidden away doorways which I connected with the doorway on the mount. Apart from this distant childhood hypothesis I have this to go on from John Harpers page, which I´ve copied and pasted below:

As the demolition men tore down these 18th century buildings, they came across an old tunnel heading out under George Street from beneath one of the shops.  Some suspected that it may have been a long-lost medieval passageway leading from the castle to St. Editha’s Parish Church.  Local people have long believed the tunnel to exist, but as yet, there is no historical or architectural proof.  The George Street tunnel was probably just a cellar dug out to provide extra storage space.  But, as they developers were anxious to press on without archaeologists poking their noses in, the tunnel was simply blocked up with little or no investigation.

So there really is local hearsay about a long-lost tunnel! fascinating. Whatever it´s truth the secret tunnel serves  this blog as a sort of   doorway to that mysterious  captivating slightly creepy underground world  of abandoned cellars, sewers, sealed spaces that could lie below the area. Maybe it could even explain the rat problem in the castlegrounds!

Tamworth´s long lost medieval tunnel according to me.

Now onto the  first of a series on the  underground world of Tamworth.

The cellars of the Old Stone Cross

The old Stone Cross pub on Church Street, Tamworth has got a long history, which includes very old cellars. The heritage pubs of Tamworth initiative has a picture of the cellars  here and heaps of info on the story of the pub,including the Rolling Stones! This post is strictly focused on the underground though. The cellars according the HER entry date back amazingly to the early 16th century.The listed building entry even mentions Tudor Rose bosses on the vaulting. The place looks like it’s a candidate for the underground gem of Tamworth. Are there any other cellars with histories below old pubs of Tamworth?

Abe and Ernst got a part time job in the Old Stone Cross to take a better look at the old cellars, all for the cause.

This is the first and most tangible entry in a series Abe and Ernst explorations of the possibilities of underground Tamworth!

Read Full Post »

Offlow continued……..

Got some info to add to the post on the Offlow tumulus on the borders of Tamworth Timehikes. Staffordshire County Council HER(Historic Environment Record) kindly sent me the report on the site. Most of the info is from the early 20th century, here it is below:

Well can solve the mystery of its dissappearance. Like so many sites, repeated ploughing has all but defaced the mound.” Bedford is recorded as visiting the site in 1934 and collecting a piece of Roman roof tile, he was accompanied by Reverend E. Denesh who suggested the mound may have a Roman origin”.

Again quoting the HER report ” In 1938 Offlow was recorded as a low mound, 30 yards in diameter and not more than 2 feet high, but evidently much spread.” Interestly it was remarked that the barrow was placed so that it would have been in view of both Wall and Tamworth.

Tragically in 1948 the barrow is recorded as demolished explaining it´s dissappearance on maps and the map marker of ´site of´ In 1958 it was recorded as ” a ploughed down barrow 0.5 metres high of indefinite outline but roughly 20 metres in diameter with no possible ditch” In 1976 the site was under plough with no remains visible and no surface finds.

The report apart from confirming its demise adds to the mystery of Offlow. Could be seen from Wall and Tamworth? Roman roof tiles? intriguing place.

Post Changes

This added information together with the ´too long for me´ previous post confirms that I´m going to try another approach to long posts. The more I focus  or tunnel down on a place the more information, thoughts and questions come up this has got to be reflected by the posts growing and correcting  from time to time, so keep a look out on older posts. That’s the great thing about posts over the printed word, they can be changed, cut and add when I want and I aim to make full use of that.

Read Full Post »

Ok back in business and straight into the heart of the metropolis of Tamworth, or at least round the edges of the centre to have a look at the Anglo-Saxon to medieval defences that once surrounded Tamworth.

Witness the Fitness, Abe and Ernst are back in training

This post is riding the wave of Anglo-Saxon popularity of which Tamworth of course is in the premier  in this field. The defences compared to other subjects in Timehikes have had  considerable time and research, internet space dedicated to them so below I´m going to review the work done by archaeologists, historians, witnesses, map makers before going on to suggest a few ways of promoting the elusive defences.

Below I´ve outlined the course of the defences in green

This was a pointless exercise  as Ordnance survey have done it already, below

The defences, known variably as King´s ditch, Offa´s dyke and Walferlong are connected with the very origins of the name Tamworth, they add the worth bit in the name, meaning enclosure, Tamworth = enclosure by the river tame( that´s one translation). That the defences are very ancient  is testified by evidence of even older defences going back to at least the 8th century but more of that later.

The defences consisting of a broad ditch and bank are no longer visible, at least without scraping away the dirt. Back in the 19th century though they formed a very visible reminder of Tamworth´s ancient past.  Below is a description from Victoria County History Vol 1, 1904:

This is an excellent collection of previous accounts. From 350 years ago when the ditch was clearly visible on the 3 sides to descriptions in 1884 of the north-west corner of the defence line.

The story of the defences is one of gradual to quick disappearance to partial  rediscovery by archaeologists.  Falling out of use between the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV, they were still very present as the ´kings ditch´ in the 1600´s( see above, Dugdales account) although filled up in places.  In the 1839 map below, they are  marked on the eastern side of the town as King´s Ditch, so they were at least still present on the eastern and western sides.

1839 map with kings ditch marked on it

The above ( Victoria county) accounts from 1884 and the map below from 1885 give a privileged snapshot of the state of the defences in that time. The eastern side had disappeared and the western portion was at it´s most prominent in the north-western corner. Again quoting Victoria county history it mainly consisted of an ´earth tump´. In the 1884 map below the rounded corner is prominently marked. It runs alongside the very saxon sounding Walferlong, another name for the defences(now the less epic sounding Orchard Street)

1885 ordnance map

At some point between the 1886-1900 the visible North-western portion was built on and the northwestern course was followed roughly by terraced housing. In the 1901 ordnance map they are marked as ´remains of´ in the vicinity of the aforementioned terraced houses and along Hospital Street. ´Remains of´  could be inferred as that there was still evidence of the Defence line at the turn of the 20th century.

1901 ordnance map

At some point  before 1938 they become ´site of´ , which could be taken as that there were no longer remains and have become a ´memory´ commemorated by the nearby Offa street.

1938 ordnance map

Parallel to it´s dissappearance and it´s conversion to memory and then history, archaeologists appear in the scene in the 1960´s-1980´s. A  number of small excavations are carried out in response to building work. Below I´ll outline some of their discoveries.

excavations:

This is a bit of mish mash of reports and is quite difficult to outline so sorry to misquote but it gives an idea of the conclusions of the excavations.Many of the excavations were carried out by Gould in the 60´s and 70´s, his excavations on brewery lane revealed possible different phases. There´s the hypothesis that the defences correspond to King Aethelfaed´s action in 913 written in the Market charter´He went with all the Mercians to Tamworth and built the burgh there in the early summer´. The construction of fortified burhs during this period marks an important transition in the development of towns, Tamworth being a significant example.   The ditch with a turf built rampart , with frontal timber revetments and wooden strapping found at the brewery lane site was ascribed to this Aethelfaed period. Gould also found evidence though of earlier pre-Aethelfaed sequences. It´s described as a ´palisaded trench´.  It seems quite certain that there was a pre late saxon defence and there´s speculation that it originated in the royal defences of the royal site of Tamworth in the mid-8th century mentioned in the Market charters.

Speculated cross-section of the defences from mid-anglo saxon period, pre-Aethelfaed.(copied and pasted from Basset,S, Divide and rule,the military infrastructure of eighth and ninth century Mercia)

On the other side of the sequence there´s evidence of continued use of the defences after 913 up until the 13th centuries. The defences were refurbished and stone walls were placed in front of the ramparts as noted in the excavations on Albert Road and rubble found in ditch of Brewery lane. The collapsed walls were probably used in fact to fill in the ditches. (all taken from  reviews of the excavations from Bassett, S, Divide and Rule, The military infrastructure of eighth and ninth century Mercia and info from online archaeology reports)

map with excavations and original medieval streets, again the above map is again copied and pasted  from Bassett, S, Divide and Rule, The military infrastructure of eighth and ninth century Mercia. thankyou!

I remember (although I maybe completely wrong)that they excavated a wall in the excavation on Hospital street in response to the reforming of the old hospital and conversion into houses, with surrounding houses I remember it was back in the 90´s. I dimly remember that they found remains of a wall and ditch and that it was displayed in one of the reformed buildings with an explanation of the remains. I don´t know where I remember it from and  maybe it´s wishful thinking but as far as I know that´s no longer the case and there´s no explanation of the place currently. They are private residences so difficult to find out. Anyway it would have been a great idea if it did exist outside my head!  Why don´t they integrate the ditch and bank found in one of the excavations into the current townscape.With a small investment it would give back to some extent the King´s ditch back to the town and great introduction to the origins of the town. In Valencia where I live the integrating of archaeological remains into modern townscapes is seen everywhere. From an islamic wall in the middle of a museum gallery, a bakery to part of the Roman town  seen  below a glass plaza. Even if you are not interested in a ´bunch of walls,´  the results look great, as you might see from the picture below

The Almoina, Valencia, a glass covered square showing the Roman excavated ruins below. This is perhaps an overly expensive example of what could be done

Promoting the defences

A commemorative heritage gastronomic trail or pub crawl.

How about a pub crawl along the course of the ancient defences  . This can be taken in a more leisurely or decadent way depending on your style. This could integrate Tamworth heritage pub initiative and the Mercian trail promoted by the local council.

Ok here goes, start at the eastern side of the ditch, at the Weatherspoons. It´s best to start here as a: it´s very cheap and b: you miss the rush of hundreds of people later on. Take your time here as there awaits a long walk along the eastern course to the next watering hole, the Albert Inn. This is not right on the course of the defence but it´s near enough. This is an old-school boozer as are most on the itinerary, or at least it was, haven´t been there for years. You may encounter in some of the pubs, real Anglo Saxons descendents, keep a look out, you´ll know when you see one.  From here continue west along Albert street until you get to the crossroads at Gungate. Here you will face a dilemma, if you´re feeling peckish there´s a thai restaurant on the corner or you can carry on to the Globe Hotel, a fine example of a  Victorian pub palace  as described in Tamworth Heritagepubs. From here you enter a more residential area empty of pubs. Go along Hospital street, stop at the corner shop with Orchard Street and while you´re buying some maltesers imagine you´re  standing on the corner of the renowned King´s ditch. Continue along Orchard street, go past the St Johns club and the borough council buildings onto the White Lion the penultimate and well deserved resting place. From here a short step to the last pub, right next to an excavation of the ditch, called the Three Tuns. … That´s it the King´s Ditch pub crawl!

The pub´s named and placed, click to enlarge

A collective search for the ancient defences

This is a call out in Timeteam or maybe big dig style for anyone living on the course of the defences to have a look around, you never know there just might be a telling dip in the garden, a cellar with adjoining wall,  anyway would be amazing to hear any stories. Also memories of the remains would also be great to hear. Below is a map with the houses and adjoining back yards where there might be evidence. I think the corner of Hospital and Orchard street is the most promising place for some sort of evidence, maybe a rise in the garden.

The residences and church( below St Johns Catholic church, probable basement) highlighted on the defence line where maybe, just maybe there is evidence of the ancient defences

I´m really enthusiastic about this idea so I´m  going to risk the ridiculous and am going to try and post a call out on the Tamworth Blog!

Abe and Ernst getting into the spirit of the search for the ancient defences

This post is far too long and has got out of hand!

Read Full Post »

These are a collection of photos taken a few years back of the sand deposits in the quarry on Hopwas Hill behind the Lichfield Transmitter mast taken at the dawn of the digital camera age. I remember it was my brother´s great  idea to take up close up pictures of the dunes, capturing miniature desert landscapes. As quarries are constantly constructing and destroying landscapes, I don´t know what appearance it would have now but the quarry is still there in full swing.

The quarrying activity reveal and resurrect or at least evoke long dead landscapes. The sands and rounded pebbles in the area, so sought after by the quarries come from Triassic deserts and river deltas(250-200 million years ago). This is information I remember from geography lessons at school, so might not be entirely accurate but definitely made an impression on me and is now part of the story of the place for me( corrections are welcome).

Go back hundreds of millions of ago and find yourself surrounded by giant river delta in a desert setting reminiscent of pre-human Egypt maybe.

Tamworth Timehikes 250 million years ago

If you can´t do that find the next best thing and that´s taking a look and immersing yourself in the prehistoric landscapes created by the quarry. Below is a winding river in the desert created by the quarry, ideally with some large reptiles in the background.

Below are the photos of Tamworth timehike´s very own desert. There windows into a very ancient world, the oldest visible landscape in the Tamworth timehikes area, as well as some of the newest. The sands from those primordial times having  a brief second life. Triassic sands again are being exposed to the elements and set free.

Below an oasis on the horizon

Abe and Ernst couldn´t resist the  One thousand and one nights setting on their doorste.

There was  something of The Planet of the Apes, Forbidden zone about the place too

Read Full Post »

My posts are pretty non-existent at the moment, even slower than usual. I´m a bit overwhelmed at the moment hope to get back to more Abe and Ernst adventures and musings in the macro-macro world of tamworth timehikes soon. Meanwhile I´ll leave this post as a bundle of links about online maps and tools used in Tamworth Timehikes that can be used equally in other places in UK for having a deeper look at the landscape´s history.

Abe and Ernst taking time out from Timehikes

Some possible future and past routes around the area

Well first you´ve got online maps.co.uk. They´ve recently updated their site and have now got maps of the UK from around 1888 to the 1970´s including Soviet cold war maps! It´s got a nice map based search interface too. Staffordshire Past track has got a search map section with Yates 1775 Staffordshire map on scale 2(pretty much the earliest close-up survey of Staffordshire) On scale 1 you´ve got the 1899-1903 ordnance map on view. On vision of Britain through time website you´ve got the Ordnance Survey first Series from the 1830´s. An extremely valuable resource is the British Library´s effort to upload the 1780-1840 one inch to a mile ordnance drawings. They are  beautiful maps and extremely useful in Tamworth Timehikes. I first came across the 1815 map from a link from the Building history map links section. It’s a pretty exhaustive list of map sources and worth taking a look at. Historical aerial photography for free is sparse on the internet at least for England, the situations looks different for Scotland. I think it has something to do with the Old aerialphotogaphy site having the rights! What we do have though is of course Googlearth satellite imagery. One of the great things about Googlearth is that you can toggle the dates on the images, in the clock button at the top. So you can get different images in Tamworth´s case back to far away days of the late 90´s. This is really useful for checking out cropmarks etc. Bill on comments recently pointed out Flashearth, Microsofts satellite imagery platform. The images seem to have been taken at just or almost the right time of year for spotting historical cropmarks, soilmarks, etc, really useful. Geomatics group have the LIDAR images up on the web , LIDAR is amazing see through trees imaging technology that´s revolutioning  Landscape archaeology.  Apart from this, different societies, initiatives, blogs have uploaded old maps, tithe maps, photography depending on the area. So go ahead and do some intrepid exploring from the comfort of your chair. Who knows the lost city of Z could be right next to the local Tescos.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.