Digging for history with Mercian Archaeological Services
History has always interested me, not just when I was at school, but since I left as well. I can’t claim to be the most knowledgeable on the subject, but certain periods have always fascinated me and the thought that we still find artifacts buried deep underground from hundreds and even thousands of years ago really does send a shiver down my spine. It’s the thought of the history behind the object – who owned it? How did it get here? What’s it’s story?
My fascination was pandered to in a big way when I was invited to Edwinstowe in late July for a special archaeological dig that is seeking to explain much about Nottinghamshire’s history. The fact that the dig was at Edwinstowe, a village at the heart of Robin Hood country, intrigued me even more.
I arrived in Edwinstowe and met up with the team from Mercian Archaeological Services – Andy, David and Sean – and I was on my way to the local vicarage with them, a short drive up the road. The reason for this soon became apparent; across the road from the vicarage was a house the team had been digging the previous day. In the back garden, much to my amazement, the guys had uncovered a Second World War air raid shelter, dating back to the early 1940s. I have a keen interest in the war and this find was magnificent.
However, the Mercian team had bigger fish to fry – they were aiming to uncover the ‘Robin Hood Village’. Andy believes that Edwinstowe dates back as far as the year 633AD and the team has been trying to travel as back back in time as they could. The name ‘Edwinstowe’ is thought to mean the ‘Holy place of Edwin’ after King Edwin of Northumbria who died at the Battle of Hatfield in 633. So there is much reasoning behind an argument that Edwinstowe actually dates back to this time and there’s no reason why they can’t uncover items from this period.
I stood and chatted to the team, including the volunteers who kindly gave up their time to help the Mercian boys with their dig. Each hole had been dug at random locations around Edwinstowe, from people’s back gardens, to the famous St Mary’s church where it is said Robin Hood and Maid Marian were wed. As I chatted to Andy and David, they showed me items they had already uncovered on previous days. Some dated back as far as the 1400s – impressive finds in anyone’s book!
The small items in David’s hands, which were mostly pottery, were of significance for the team and of great local interest. Most of the pot was made locally and all the bits they find go a long way to helping them establish the layout of the town in Medieval times and how the population might have shifted over time due to their locations underground. The centre of the village has a typical Medieval layout with the houses fronting onto a main street and narrow gardens at the back. Before this project began it was thought that the population originally settled around the church and moved outwards – most likely from Saxon times. Of course the purpose of the Mercian project is to try to see if there is evidence of a settlement before this time and if so, how did it form and from where?
During my visit I was impressed with how the local community co-operated with the dig. There seems to be a real interest in what the Mercian team are trying to do and residents were only too happy to offer up their gardens for digging. The number of volunteers was astounding and the time given up in total even more so. People visited from all over the UK and indeed the world to come and see what was happening. There’s a real togetherness in the aim of discovering much that we don’t know about Sherwood Forest’s history as well as the surrounding area.
Phase 1 of the project is now complete. It has been recognised as Sherwood Forest’s biggest ever volunteer excavation project with 117 people lending a hand. So far, project has discovered pottery dating back to the 13th and 14th Centuries. Great finds for the team! They also have items discovered around the church which are awaiting assessment on their origins. Let’s hope that when the results come back they shed even more light of Edwinstowe’s fascinating history and offer the insights that Mercian Archaeological Services are seeking.
You can now enjoy a guided tour of the Sherwood Forest area with the new Sherwood Forest Bus Tour, run exclusively by the team at Mercian. Incorporating a full day and leaving from Nottingham city centre, the tour takes in sites such as Rufford Abbey, Sherwood Forest and Newstead Abbey on an old London Routemaster Bus. Click here to find out more information and how to book your place on the next tour!