Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Positive local engagement at the Remembering the Chase history event – highlights from Historic England’s project information stall

Historic England’s Cannock Chase project team were asked to host an information stand at the ‘Remembering the Chase’ living history event held on June 24-25th this year. Our stall explained the techniques we have been using to map and record the archaeology of the Chase (including some excellent geophysics and earthwork survey fieldwork by the trusty project volunteers) and presented highlights from what we are finding out so far. Marquis Drive Visitor Centre was transformed by encampments and costumed reenactors (historic and prehistoric). Despite some rather challenging wet weather over the weekend, the event was well attended and we had a really positive response from those who made it over to our stall in the information marquee. There was a high level of engagement with what we have been doing and with what we had to show - at times queues of people were waiting to ask us questions, read the information boards and look at examples of the project lidar and local aerial photographs.

From Neolithic crafts to First World War munitions workers, poetry to veteran motorcycles – there was something for everyone at the Remembering the Chase history event. All images © Historic England

It was very rewarding to interact with interested locals of all ages by showing them highlights from the upstanding archaeology – sometimes about places and stories they already knew, other times about new insights from the research. Visitors often shared their own knowledge or childhood memories with us, and many asked insightful questions about the data which prompted fresh ideas and interesting discussions. Having the opportunity to show many of our most committed project volunteers what the aerial mapping is revealing and to discuss some of the landscape patterns and puzzles with them was especially useful and enjoyable.

On the Sunday we also hosted at visit from the local Young Archaeologists’ Club (http://www.yac-uk.org/) who were very impressive when it came to trying our ‘can you spot…?’ lidar challenges – well done YACsters!

Historic England’s Chase Through Time information stall and the Remembering the Chase history event. All images © Historic England

A big THANK YOU to all those who came and spoke to us at the stall, squinted through our stereoscope and tested themselves with our lidar games, and to Gary for organising and coordinating the whole weekend.

We want your feedback! If you have a particular interest in any of the sites, techniques or themes that we have presented in earlier posts, or that you saw or discussed with us at the Remembering the Chase weekend event, please leave a comment below.

Rebecca Pullen, Archaeological Investigator, Historic England

Find out more about Historic England’s contributions to the wider project here: https://historicengland.org.uk/research/research-results/recent-research-results/west-midlands/cannock-chase/

Monday, 3 July 2017

‘In the Footsteps’ project

The Friends of Cannock Chase, Staffordshire County Council, the New Zealand Government and the Chase Project have joined forces to commemorate the New Zealand Rifle Brigade (NZRB) on Cannock Chase during the Great War.

The ‘In the Footsteps’ project (known as Nga Tapuwae in Maori) is launching an ambitious crowd funding project (hosted by CrowdfunderUK) which hopes to raise £12,500 in just four weeks.  If successful, the project will design, commission and erect an evocative interpretation panel at the Marquis Drive Visitor Centre on Cannock Chase.  This panel will tell the story of the NZRB on Cannock Chase and remember their sacrifice during the Great War.  If successful, the panel will resemble the panel below at Messines, Belgium.

The New Zealand Government have already pledged £1,000 to the fund raising effort and so our Crowdfunding target is £11,500.  The interpretation panel will make use the iconic New Zealand ‘silver fern’ design which was developed as part of the Nga Tapuwae (In the Footsteps) trail.  This trail tells the story of New Zealand soldiers throughout the theatre of the Great War and our panel would become a permanent part of that network.  If you want to find about more about Nga Tapuwae you can visit the webpage at https://ngatapuwae.govt.nz/.

Anyone wishing to find out more about the project or who would like to make a donation can click on the link to www.crowdfunder.co.uk/in-the-footsteps.  Please do pass this page on to friends and partner groups.  We have just four weeks to raise £11,500 and to make this commemoration of Staffordshire’s historic links with New Zealand and the soldiers of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade a reality.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Using earthwork survey to record First World War practice trenches in the Sherbrook Valley - An update from Historic England's archaeological investigation team
Earlier this year project volunteers took a closer look on the ground some of the earthwork features identified in the lidar and other aerial sources.
A number of two-day sessions were run by archaeological investigators from Historic England (specialists in researching and recording remnants of historic landscapes) to train local volunteers in the use of basic archaeological survey techniques so that they can continue to add to the growing body of knowledge about the history of the Chase.
Volunteers learned how to produce detailed measured drawings of the earthworks using traditional survey methods - tapes to create baselines, right angles and off-sets, and simple levelling tools to record profiles - as well as how to create short written descriptions and how to take record photographs.
Volunteers measuring the military practice trenches using tape and off-set techniques © Historic England
The first site that we tackled together is near the southern end of the Sherbrook Valley, and it showed up really well in the lidar data. It comprises an L-shaped arrangement of narrow military practice cut in the classic 'Greek key' pattern (a crenelated outline). Beside the trench there are also lots of circular pits surrounded by doughnut-shaped mounds.
Digital terrain model (DTM) from the lidar, showing the military practice trench (centre) and circular pits. Chase Through Time 2016 lidar. Source Staffordshire CC/Fugro Geospatial BV 2016 © Historic England
First the area surrounding the site was explored to better understand its context. Then using long tapes as baselines we took a series of measurements at right angles from these to record the top and bottom-line of the trenches, pits and any associated mounds of earth. By carefully plotting these measurements onto a drawing board we were able to produce an accurate plan. We used a scale of 1:100 (1cm on paper = 1m on the ground) to draw the site, this allowed us to capture as much subtle detail as possible and also provided a straightforward starting point for learning how to draw to a set scale.
Because this method of survey only collects dimensions in 2D, the volunteers added 3D data by taking a number of spot height readings across the site and to record a profile (measured height/depth model) across one of the best sections of the trench.
Extract from one of the earthwork survey field drawings and an inset showing how measurements were plotted using a set square and metric scale rule © Historic England
The separate pencil field survey sheets were scanned and digitally traced to create a single metrically-accurate drawing. Symbols known as 'hachures' (like tadpoles with triangular heads) are used to show how steep, gentle, prominent or vague the slopes are – the 'heads' are drawn at the top of the slope with the 'tails' running downwards. Our spot height measurements were also incorporated to better explain the depth and shape of the trench.
The completed digital survey drawing © Historic England
This group of features would have been used during the First World War to train young soldiers before they were sent into battle. The width and depth of this practice trench (about 0.9m x 0.6m, ie 3ft-wide and 2ft-deep) suggests that it was a ⅓-scale model. This was quite common - although this is the best example we have found, other instances of the same scale are known elsewhere on the Chase.
Extract from a postcard showing solider posed in a practice trench on Cannock Chase which appears to be of a similar small scale to those we surveyed  © Arthur R Lloyd Collection
Spending time recording these features in detail meant that useful observations were made. For example, it is clear that the north-west and north-east sides of the L-shaped trench arrangement represented those facing the enemy; the earth dug out to create the trench was piled up along this forward side to make a protective parapet of sorts, much like that in the image above. The uneven nature of this mounded earth, often in distinct separate heaps, shows where each man created an individual pile of soil while he was shovelling.
Volunteers also noticed that the shape of the trench itself was quite complicated. As well as the classic rectangular wiggles of the 'Greek key' pattern, there are deep rounded niches projecting from some of the corners on the front side, these have been interpreted as imitating forward gun-firing or grenade-throwing positions. Smaller rectangular ramped niches projecting back at various points along the rear side might have indicated where the communication trenches would have joined the front line and could also have proved access down into the practice model.
One of a fascinating set of wartime postcards hand-drawn by Erskine Williams on display digitally at the Museum of Cannock, this one shows how the full sized practice trenches at Brocton Camp were used for grenade-throwing © Daphne Jones, reproduced by kind permission of Daphne Jones
The circular pits appear to simulate shell holes and would have provided obstacles and positions for occupying during simulated manoeuvres. How they were created is trickier to prove. The earth mounded around their tops is too neat and uniform to have been created by explosives dropped from the air; however, could they have been created by controlled explosions or might they have been dug by hand to mimic holes left by shells or grenades?
Working in all weathers - taking spot heights with the dumpy level in falling snow! © Historic England
With their hard work the volunteers have created a valuable new record to feed into the project, helping to better understand the wider patterns of land use in Cannock Chase. This is only a tiny fragment of the extensive First World War training areas found across Cannock Chase. We may return to look at some of the other good examples of practice trenches and other features simulating battlefield scenarios, in future blog posts.
More information
With Alidade and Tape: Graphical and plane table survey of archaeological earthworks | PDF download page: https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/with-alidade-and-tape/
The Light Fantastic: Using airborne lidar in archaeological survey | PDF download page: https://historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/light-fantastic/
Identifying First World War trenches | Home Front Legacy 1914-18, case study webpage: http://www.homefrontlegacy.org.uk/wp/case-studies/identifying-first-world-war-trenches/
Jones, D (1992) Bullets and Bandsmen: The story of a bandsman on the Western Front | the story of Erskine Williams illustrated with his autobiographical sketches, written by his daughter
We want your feedback! If anyone has a particular interest in First World War training landscapes and can help by adding further information, interpretations or examples similar to the site mentioned in this post, please leave a comment below.
Rebecca Pullen,
Archaeological Investigator, Historic England
Find out more about Historic England's contributions to the wider project here: https://historicengland.org.uk/research/research-results/recent-research-results/west-midlands/cannock-chase/

Friday, 28 April 2017

Geophysics Survey and training - update and some preliminary results

For 3 days in April volunteers took part in further survey training on the Chase,led by the Historic England geophysicist Andy Payne. 

The two sites we surveyed were at:
i) Sheepwash Farm or Smart’s Buildings in the Slitting Mill Lane area of Cannock Chase District where the aim was to investigate the sites of one or more probable burnt mounds.
ii) A trial geophysical investigation of the accessible parts of the interior (where surface vegetation permitted) of the hillfort at Castle Ring, Cannock Wood .
(Photo credit : CTT Volunteer Zoe Mead)

Earth resistance and magnetometer surveys were undertaken at both sites.

To summarise the results really briefly, Andy think's we’ve confirmed that the southern of the three mounds visible in the Lidar in the southern field at Sheepwash Farm is almost certainly a burnt mound but the others are more doubtful. There’s also an interesting area of anomalous magnetic response (intense but not ferrous) in the field to the north where other burnt mound activity was suspected.


At Castle Ring as well as the previously known site of the Medieval ‘hunting lodge’ that is visible in the form of stone wall footings exposed on the surface following a previous excavation, the resistance survey appears to have detected remains of a further probable buried masonry structure to the south but on a different orientation as well as potentially associated linear boundaries perhaps defining paddocks (as previously suggested from the RCHME earthwork survey undertaken in the late 1980s.

By comparison the magnetometer coverage at Castle Ring was disappointing with very few clear features identified and a very marginal magnetic response in general that probably reflects the less than ideal underlying geology in the form of superficial deposits of Devensian glacial Till overlying Carboniferous Pennine Middle Coal Measures formation.

 As a result, the interpretation of the magnetometer data can at best be very tentative. In addition to a very sparse scatter of possible pit or other occupation features, there may be one ring gully just about detected towards the eastern side but this is all very much “eye of faith”. Areas of localised strong ferrous disturbance may relate to some of the possible WW2 structures referred to in the earthwork survey report.

Andy and his team will start working on the formal Historic England Research Report Series reports on the results in due course and will keep us informed on progress with these.

Thursday, 6 April 2017


Hidden within the woods to the north of the Cannock Chase visitor centre are the remains of Fair Oak Colliery number 2. This coalmine is almost impossible to see on the aerial photographs but the airborne laser scanning data (lidar) provides a good view of the spoil heap and some other remains of this mine. 

Chase Through Time 2016 lidar. Source Staffordshire CC/ Fugro Geospatial BV 2016 © Historic England
Old Ordnance Survey maps can provide us with some useful information about sites such as this. The first edition map tells us that the mine was in operation by 1882. It also gives the name of the mine, shows the shafts, buildings and the tramway that linked this mine to the nearby Fair Oak Colliery number 1. We also know that the mine had closed by 1902, the date of the second edition of the map. We will need to do further research to find out the exact dates that the mine was in use and to understand what different activities took place in the mine buildings. If anyone has an interest in mining on Cannock Chase and can help in answering any of these questions, please leave a comment below.

Monday, 27 March 2017


The Chase Through Time aerial survey work has been underway since the beginning of the year. This is the first of a number of blog entries looking at some of the sites Historic England are mapping.

We are currently looking at RAF Hednesford and the first stage of our mapping is using the 1946 aerial photographs that show the camp in its role as a training school. The camp was built in 1938 and for over ten years served as a school of Technical Training for flight mechanics, riggers and fitters.  If anyone can help us by providing accurate dates for the camp or any other information concerning its use please do contact us. There is a comments section at the bottom of the page.

RAF/106G/UK/1483 RS 4263 09-May-1946 Historic England RAF Photography

This 1940s aerial photograph provides a detailed view of the different buildings that made up RAF Hednesford. But we are also fortunate to have a copy of an historic plan of the camp which tells us what all the buildings were used for. Most of the buildings that can be seen on the photo above were huts for accommodation.

RAF/106G/UK/1483 RS 4263 09-May-1946 Historic England RAF Photography

These huts were arranged around smaller buildings, which were the ablution blocks that had toilets and washing facilities. There was an ablution block for every four huts. This photo shows 48 huts in two groups of 24. Most of the buildings between these two groups are bathhouses.

RAF/106G/UK/1483 RS 4395 09-May-1946 Historic England RAF Photography

Special treatment appears to have been provided for those to be billeted in the 16 huts near the north-western end of the camp. Here the sleeping quarters were linked to the ablution blocks via covered or perhaps completely enclosed walkways. These walkways are white in this photograph and must have made trips at night or in bad weather more bearable.

RAF/106G/UK/1483 RS 4395 09-May-1946 Historic England RAF Photography

The only other buildings connected by covered or enclosed walkways are the educational and technical huts. These were near the centre of the camp close to the large hangar-like training sheds with camouflaged roofs. It was in these buildings that the men were trained in their various technical roles.

RAF/106G/UK/1483 RS 4395 09-May-1946 Historic England RAF Photography

The information on the plan and the standardization of the building design means that we can recognise a repeated pattern in the layout of the plan. The building on the left is a NAAFI (Navy, Army, Air Force institute) and on the right a Dining Hall.

© Historic England

This is the aerial survey mapping of part of RAF Hednesford.  The NAAFI and the Dining Hall shown in the previous photograph are near the centre of the image. The distinctive outline of these buildings can be seen repeated at the top right of the image and at the bottom. In total, the camp had four NAAFIs and four Dining Halls. Other buildings included barrack huts, ablution blocks, bathhouses, Squadron and Wing HQ offices. The features outlined in red are air raid shelters.

Plan Staffordshire County Council

Although there is an RAF plan of the camp, the aerial photographs are still an important source of information. The buildings on the plan are not accurately drawn and this is particularly noticeable when you compare this drawing of the NAAFI and the Dining Hall with the outline mapped from the air photos. The buildings are similar enough to be recognised as the same, but the dimensions are different.

RAF/106G/UK/1483 RS 4395 09-May-1946 Historic England RAF Photography

The aerial photographs also show us different aspects of the camp that were not depicted on official plans. For example in 1946 there were a number of aircraft fuselages or apparently complete aircraft at the southern end of the camp.

RAF/CPE/UK/2555 RP 4440 27-Mar-1948 Historic England RAF Photography

The camp plan emphasises the regimented nature of a military camp with regular rows of huts within a rigid system of roads. In contrast, the aerial photographs show the many paths of worn grass cutting diagonally across the site, formed by the men taking the shortest route from building to building.

The camp continued as a technical training school throughout the Second World War and the immediate post-war years but the 1950s saw a change in use. Our next post on RAF Hednesford will look at RAF aerial photographs taken in the 1950s and see if this change in use affected how the camp looked from the air.

Should you be interested in visiting the site of RAF Hednesford, part of the area of the camp is in open access land, but part of it is on private land and you would need to seek permission from the landowner to access those areas.