Thursday, November 29, 2007

Well, we are still here! But we have been very busy on site hence the lack of blog news. This year we have worked on some brilliant projects, most of which we are now writing up in the warm (ish) office.

So here is the latest update!!

Coffin Works

Over the summer this year, from June to September, we have been engaged in an exciting project in the centre of Birmingham, at Newman Bros. Coffin Fitters. This work was undertaken on behalf of the Birmingham Conservation Trust, who intend to convert some of the works into a museum. The conversion will involve the reinstatement of all the fittings, furniture and other objects exactly as they were left on the day the works closed. Ironbridge Archaeology were employed to carry out the cataloguing, recording and removal of everything that was not nailed down (and some things that were!) prior to the renovation work being carried out. In this work the team were guided by Michael Worthington the project manager, who had carried out similar projects at the Jewellery Quarter and Broseley Pipe Works, and assisted by a team of volunteers. Things were made significantly more challenging due to the strict Health and Safety measures it was necessary to carry out. Numerous heavy metals were used in the manufacturing processes used on the site, and a significant amount of asbestos boarding was used in the building. For this reason it was necessary for the cataloguing team to wear protective gloves, P3 filter face masks and coveralls. In a fit of patriotism these last items were ordered in red, white and blue!
The majority of the work required the cataloguing of boxes and boxes of coffin fittings such as breast plates, handles and coffin screws. However there were some more unusual finds such as the book of Masonic rituals, the funeral shroud in Aston Villa colours and a number of body-bags (presumably unused).

Wonderful Wednesbury

Since uncovering the first timber wheel race (Wheel Race 1) way back in March, and despite the very wet summer, we have found three more! Further excavation of Wheel Race 1 revealed the curved base of the wheel pit and friction marks on the side planks suggests the water wheel would have been around 4m in diameter. Fragments of the water wheel buckets were also discovered in the fill of the wheel pit.

Three additional wheel races were found to the south of Wheel Race 1, two of which sat directly beneath the later brick culverts. Wheel Race 2 was the longest surviving example consisting of two channels side by side. Like Wheel Race 1, this was constructed from oak, with a base frame, uprights and clay lined side boards. Mortice and tenon joints had been used to hold the structure together and some of the timbers bore the original carpenters marks in roman numerals.

We have since removed the timbers and they have been dated to the late 16th - 17th centuries and represent the earliest phase of the sites development. There have also been numerous small finds, including pottery, leather shoes, iron nails, a pewter spoon, gun barrels, many more gun flints, several coins, including a George II halfpenny, dated 1752 and a token dated 1788 – issued by John Wilkinson the Ironmaster.

Glenfield Railway Tunnel

September saw most of the team underground in Leicester, carrying out a photographic survey of the Glenfield Railway Tunnel prior to strengthening works.

The tunnel measures 1 mile and 36 yards long and originally formed part of the Leicester-Swannington Railway which was officially opened on July 13th 1832. It was the longest tunnel of its type in England when it was opened and formed part of the first locomotive railway in the East Midlands. The building of the railway was fuelled by the need to enable the collieries of the area to transport coal to the markets in Leicester though it was soon over taken by the Midland Railway Company and carried passengers until the 1920’s.

The archaeological work involved taking a full photographic record of the tunnels length, and recording in more detail areas that had undergone repairs or that revealed evidence of construction techniques.

Lapley Court

In the spring of this year we carried out a geophysical and EDM survey of the gardens surrounding a timber framed cruck building – Lapley Court - in the hope that additional bays of the cruck frame were surviving under the lawn. This appeared not to be the case, but the vaulted roof of a Victorian water tank was discovered and trial trenching exposed many pottery finds, including one sherd of Black Burnished Ware!

An additional box framed extension forms part of the site, which has received planning permission to be reinstated using traditional materials and techniques. We have been recording the framing prior to dismantling, as well as recording the original cruck framed structure.

Recording of the timber framing continues and has so far exposed some interesting details – including evidence of trestle sawing, whereby timbers were cut from the end, towards the middle, and then turned around on the trestle and worked from the other end. This created saw marks running at 45 degree angles and a triangular shaped ‘snap off’ point where the lines meet. This may date the cruck frame to the 16th century or possible even earlier.

Coalport Bridge

During a brief dry and warm period in August, we carried out a small excavation and watching brief at Coalport Bridge. This involved digging two small drainage trenches and it was anticipated that some early evidence of the bridges construction would be uncovered. The bridge was first constructed from timber, with stone abutments in 1780 and was then called the Preens Eddy Bridge though during a flood in 1795, the middle pier of the bridge was severely damaged and the design and construction was reconsidered altogether.

A second bridge was constructed c.1800-1818, being made of cast iron and timber and involved the redesign of the bridge to become just one arched span, (the original bridge having had two spans). Finally, in 1818, the bridge was completely replaced with cast iron and this design can still be seen today with addition of minor alterations and repairs.

Unfortunately, any evidence relating to the bridges construction was not discovered, although many finds associated with the nearby Woodbridge Inn were plentiful.