The Woodchurch Big Dig is a HLF funded community archaeology and history project set at the heart of Woodchurch Estate, Wirral. Big Heritage 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 In addition, recently uncovered historical documents have revealed new stories of the lives of past Woodchurch residents, spanning some 200 years. We recorded, conserved and digitised 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.
As part of the project we created a film, documenting the discoveries and hard work of all the volunteers.
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 13th century. Volunteers had the opportunity to learn new skills, such as excavation, drawing and photography.
You can read the excavation report by Big Heritage by following the link: Woodchurch Big Dig Test Pitting Report
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.
Once we completed the post-excavation analysis of the finds from the excavation, pupils from Woodchurch CofE Primary School worked with Big Heritage staff to curate their own mini museums for the school, which are currently on display. The remaining material, alongside all the paperwork and reports, is to be deposited with the Museum of Liverpool in the coming months, making it accessible for anyone who wishes to research the area.
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 focused on the school log-books from Woodchurch 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. The volunteers learnt some key skills, such as photography and databasing, plus a little about the history of Woodchurch of course! Creating a digital copy will help preserve the information inside, whilst making the contents searchable. You can now view the logbooks spanning the 1920-1970's digitally, as they have been uploaded to the Cheshire Archive Services' website: http://archives.cheshire.gov.uk/
We rounded off the project by putting a short publication together documenting the project activities and some of the thoughts and views of our volunteers. You can see this below: