This week I've had the pleasure of finding out a little more about the archaeology at the bottom of my garden. Thankfully, I didn't have to have that annoying Mr Robinson in, I merely exercised my rights as a nosy bolshy person and invited a consultant round for a cuppa. The consultant in question was a Mr Rob Bourne, of CGMS, a firm that works for developers, handling the pesky archaeology requirements before huge swathes of teeny tiny executive homes can be hoisted up.He conducts the evaluation reports for the County Council and reports back, to say whether there is anything there worth looking at or not. You can see the interview with him here. http://chatteris.shapeyourplace.org/2011/08/18/archaeologist-reveals-the-secrets-of-the-tithe-barn/ It was eye opening in more ways than one.
Firstly, I discovered a little about the planning process. What amazed me about it is the sheer hugely deadening grey aspect of it. It is impenetrable unless you are a) a planner and b) a councillor who is essentially, a planner or developer (and oddly, Fenland is awash with them), or c) a nosy bolshy person who won't shut up until it's explained to you. The whole system of planning is based around a "need to know" attitude which basically means that unless you ask, and ask again, and then ask again, crossly and with threats, you won't find out. If I hadn't asked and asked again about the evaluation dig at Tithe Road, i'd have been told nothing, and known nothing about it. Because I harassed people, I have now been told that i'll be mailed the evaluation report by the nice Mr Bourn. Anyone can read it apparently, but first you have to know it's there. And then there's the whole maze of applications, developers, people in peoples' pockets and so on and so on. You need a mind with the tenacity of a starving Jack Russell in a warrent o keep at it. Luckily, I don't have much to do of an evening.
Secondly, I found that the system of recording finds, and deciding whether something is worth digging or not is tenuous. I've no doubt that Mr Bourne was a nice man with the interests of everyone at heart, but the fact remians that a consultant employed by the developers is not the most partisan of people to write a report about the findings. Whilst I trusted him, I do wonder if this system is open to abuse. Of course it ruddy is. Luckily, Mr Bourne has flagged up finds and is recommending further excavation in the case of Tithe.
Thirdly, where does all this stuff go? So much is found, so much, then, vanishes again. Every build has an evaluation dig. Every dig has a report. (or at least, *should*, despite Mr Melton's protest), but where do they end up? In the realms of grey literature. Processed somewhere and stashed away in the archives, unasked for, unpublicised, unwanted by anyone, least of all the planners. There they sit, in Cambridgeshire or wherever archives, full of tasty info about the history of where YOU live, and nobody knows they are there, unless they are nosy and bolshy enough to ask. Sensing a theme here?
Fourthly: There's a huge amount out there! I recommend to you a visit to the Heritage Gateway, here, and if you are Cambridgeshire, search the Cambridge Historical Environment database. You will be astonished by the huge amount of STUFF found on your doorstep. In Chatteris alone, there are Roman encampments, Bronze Age canoes, shields, urns, barrows, Iron age barrows and burial grounds, coin hoardes, medieval settlements sites, Roman farms, it goes on and on. Over 1116 reports and records that you can access. Of course, you'd need to be nosy and.... you see. You need to know this stuff. Because most of these reports come from evaluation digs, prior to toytown houses popping up.
Fifthly (is fifthly even a word? It just sounds wrong, doesn't it?) This week I have learnt so much. I'm treading on history. Much more than I ever suspected. Why don't we know about it? Why don't we have fabbier, fatter local museums that know about this? If I can spend 2 hours reading through this stuff and build up a rich picture of where I live in history, why can't you? Because you have to be.....
You have to be in the know. You have to be a pain in the bum. So go, go to your local planners. Ask about developments. Keep an eye out for those yellow signs on lamposts conviniently located above normal eyelevel that tell you a major development is coming. Read the boring notices in the back of the local paper. Go to council meetings. Harass people for reports.
I now know that the site for major development at the back of my house has 3 settlements, Bronze, Iron, and Roman, alongside a glacial feature that was in all likelihood water filled for the majority of the year. There are bones, postholes and eveidence of longterm settlement. All over the fields there's ridge and furrow, possibly one barrow. The settlements lay where the road will go, and for this reason the consultant has intimated to me that his evaluation report will ask for mitigation to pursue an extensive excavation. Now it's in the hands of the developers as to when. If they choose, they can do it all at once, and then be able to "sell on" a "clean" site that has it all done. Or, they can choose to develop up to the sites, sell the houses, and do the dig at the last minute. So we could get a dig this year, or in ten years, when presumably they will be hoping i've moved by then. Either way, those who are interested will have to be nosy...etc etc to keep an eye on it.
Here's the political bit. Leaving aside the HUGE ALAN MELTON BOO BOO that he has been using a private email address to conduct Fenland business, and most especially, that this Freedom of Information Act request has stated that, because of this, info about Melton and development cannot be released (, oh yes, more of that next post, and you can see the application for the FOI here), politically archaeology and development are both in this together with the localism bill. The localism bill plays fast and loose with planning, making it easier than ever for developers and nasty fat little councillors to make their bucks and ruin communities, and whilst it *says* it gives locals a voice, it really does not. You can comment on websites, surely, but there's not much you can do.And we do need to do something. The East of England Development plan, and the Fenland section in particular, sanctions MASSIVE development of the Fens.(17,000 houses in ten years) The report, which can be accsessed here, details the major housing expansion in the area, and asks to comment. If you are local, please do. But do more than that. Ring and ask them about how they are addressing the "locals" section of all this. If there is anything you read that concerns you, contact them. In other words, be nosy, annoyed and persistant. Email is easy to ignore.
And in terms of the archaeology? Southport group report recommended a number of moves that would enable archaeology and the developers to, in trendy report speak, "enable" each other. (You see what I did there? Do you feel warm and cuddly now?). It's a good report with some good ideas, and the main thrust of it seems to me to be goodhearted, and sensible, placing the onus on public participation and publication, getting the info out there. It's worth a read. And anyone local who is interested in putting some of those ideas into place in the Fens, particularly around major new developments that are coming, is welcome to mail me and we'll sort something out.
Council brief summary of Chatteris history. Pretty basic.
Heritage gateway: ruddy fab