Tuesday, 25 June 2013

DigBromsgrove: Digging in the Records…

Background research for #DigBromsgrove is well underway! One question we've been asked about the project is 'Why Bromsgrove?', and, more specifically, 'Why the Market site?' Hopefully, this post should answer those questions!

One of the reasons we're so keen to have an excavation in Bromsgrove is that in comparison to other Worcestershire towns, Bromsgrove hasn't been the subject of much in the way of below-ground archaeological investigation. We do, however, have quite a lot of information obtained from other sources like maps, historic documents and standing buildings, in addition to clues from the street layout and landscape.

Over the winter, the Worcestershire Archaeology team completed an in depth survey of the 'historic environment' of Bromsgrove Town Centre, as part of the THI scheme. The survey looked at historic buildings in the town, as well as the historic character and land use of different areas. It brought together the knowledge gleaned from previous work like the Central Marches Historic Towns Survey (available from Worcestershire's Online Archaeology Library) and the results of other archaeological work in the town, including an extensive survey of the existing historic buildings in the town by Shona Robson-Glyde, our buildings archaeologist.

The survey identified the area around St John Street and Hanover Street as probably the earliest area of historic settlement outside of the church precinct, due to its location between Spadesbourne Brook and St John the Baptist Church, thought to have been the location of a Saxon Minster. It also backs onto the course of the Worcester to Birmingham road, a routeway of Roman origin which has remained an important transport link throughout the centuries.

The construction of the Market Hall in the 1990s revealed glimpses of the once-bustling tenement plots that occupied the site until the area was levelled in the 1950s. 16th century deposits were encountered, along with a layer of burnt material dating to the late 17th or early 18th century. Unusually for narrow tenement plots such as these, some of the foundations were partly constructed from large sandstone blocks, raising the intriguing possibility that they were re-using stone from a much earlier building on the site.

In 1994, about 40m to the southwest of our site, the excavation of a manhole led to the discovery of a sandstone wall. Fragments of a 13-14th century cooking pot were found within deposits associated with the wall. This is likely to be a remnant of the foundations of the medieval buildings that once stood on the site. The wall was located about half a metre below the modern ground level, which raises the exciting possibility that we may have medieval remains surviving in the area.

At the moment, we're working on a 'map regression', which involves analysing historic maps showing the site, 'rectifying' digital scans to ensure they are all at the same scale and orientation and then overlaying them onto one another to observe the changes to an area over time. This is all done using Geographic Information System (GIS) software which allows us to build up a picture of an area using 'layers'. In this case, each layer contains maps of a different date, which can be switched on or off to allow us to compare them quickly and accurately. Below is a nice example as a teaser - the 1884 1:10,560 Ordnance Survey 1st edition map, overlaid onto the modern OS Mapping. To see the fruits of our efforts, pop along to the public exhibition next month and have a look!

Rob Hedge

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