The Woodchurch Big Dig is a HLF funded community archaeology and history project set at the heart of Woodchurch Estate, Wirral. Big Heritage have joined forces with Woodchurch Church of England Primary School to discover exciting new archaeological information through geophysical survey, excavation and curation on the community's own doorstep. In addition, recently uncovered historical documents have revealed new stories of the lives of past Woodchurch residents, spanning some 200 years. Since January we have been recording, conserving and digitising these with help of the Cheshire Archive Services and local volunteers. This will ensure their long-term survival and make them accessible to everyone for the very first time. The project was devised to help commemorate the school's 350th anniversary.
The project activities began in October 2016 when we kicked off the excavation with a Big School Dig in the grounds of Woodchurch CofE Primary School. Every year group came and helped us excavate a test pit, sieve the soil for artefacts and wash them to help with identification. Over the next six weeks we went on to excavate 15 test pits with the help of the pupils, their families, teachers and local volunteers. We undertook test pits in Meadowside School, the Rectory, in back gardens and on common ground. We found some fantastic objects dating back to at least the 12th century. Volunteers had the opportunity to learn new skills, such as excavation, drawing and photography.
As part of excavation we also organised a visit from Magnitude Surveys who specialise in undertaking community based geophysical survey. This was a chance to bring science out of the classroom and into the great outdoors. Years 5 and 6, supported by Science Ambassadors from the local high school, Woodchurch High, undertook science experiments and two types of geophysical survey. We were later joined by volunteers from the local community. The geophysical survey allowed us to examine what lies beneath the ground surface without opening a single trench. We measured the magnetic signals and the resistance in the ground, both of which can indicate evidence of human activity.
You can read the geophysical report by Magnitude Surveys by following the link: Dig Woodchurch Geophysical Report
Once all the excavation was well underway we began the 'post-excavation' phase of the project, where we wash, dry, sort, ID and bag all the finds from the test pits in preparation for specialist analysis and report writing. Every week community volunteers would gather to work through the weeks finds. We were also helped out by pupils and staff from Meadowside School and Woodchurch CofE. The latter also helped us record some of the more interesting finds by taking part in our Artefact Lab.
In December, as the excavation element of the project drew to a close we invited our volunteers to spend some time with local archaeological finds specialists. Volunteers had the opportunity to partake in hands-on workshops exploring animal bone, human osteoarchaeology (skeletal material) and pottery. These sessions help volunteers understand how the artefacts they have uncovered might be used to inform us about the history and development of Woodchurch.
As Christmas drew nearer and the artefacts we had processed were sent to finds specialists for analysis we began to turn our attention toward the digitisation project. This project focuses on the school log-books from Woodchruch CofE Primary, which begin the 1870's. The log books cover national events, such as bombings in the area in WW2 and the Queens Coronation, and more local events such as Scarlet Fever outbreaks, school truancy and seasonal activities such as bringing in the harvest and the local shooting season.
Volunteers had the opportunity to attend planning sessions delivered by the Cheshire Archive Service, in which they learnt how to photograph and digitally record the information on each page. Creating a digital copy will help preserve the information inside, whilst making the contents searchable. We hope, by the end of the project to have a searchable, digital archive, which can be deposited with the Cheshire Record Office and made available to anyone who might have an interest. We also hope that the volunteers will have learnt some key skills, such as photography and databasing, plus a little about the history of Woodchurch of course!
The excavation report will be made available online once completed and the artefacts will be curated by pupils from Woodchurch CofE and placed on display throughout the summer. You can follow our progress on Twitter by searching for #digWoodchurch and if you have any questions or queries please contact Jo Kirton on 01244 515568 or drop her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.