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Alton Big Dig

East Hampshire's community archaeology group with 160 volunteer members working under professional archaeologist supervision, exploring sites at Alton, Colemore and Stroud near Petersfield.

Email: altonbigdig@gmail.com

East Hampshire Community Archaeology

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  • David Quick

Day 6 - Weather: careful what you wish for.

I'm looking after my 2-year old grandson Ted for 3 days while his parents are visiting Singapore and my wife is at the Tatton Park flower show with friends, so as I pushed Ted to the site in his buggy in the drizzle this morning I though "I wish we could have a bit of sunshine". Then I saw the forecast for next week where they are predicting temperatures of 34+ degrees in south-east England by Tuesday. On second thoughts I think I prefer the drizzle.


After the usual morning brief today we moved the kit into the gardens from the store in the rain and shortly afterwards Leah, the Town Clerk, came to see how we were getting on. Juliet and I showed Leah the plinth we had uncovered in the middle of the Gardens, the foundations that Davy's team had been uncovering of the WW2 "British Restaurant", the range of finds we have been getting from Carol's team's two test pits - and of course the Romano-British pot rims the workmen replacing the fence around the play area had uncovered, that caused all the excitement yesterday.


Leah was as usual really helpful. She seemed interested in keeping the plinth area uncovered instead of putting the turf back and perhaps putting an 'interpretation' sign next to it for the public to understand the history and archaeology of the gardens; she agreed it would be a good idea to temporarily display the pot rims in our window display in Westbrook Walk; seemed keen on the idea of our coming back next year to do another Big Dig; and agreed to allow us to do one or perhaps two test pits where the workmen had discovered the pot rims.


We also showed Leah something else we had just uncovered. If you remember, this was our geophysics scan of the lawn, where purple and blue signify soft soil/damp conditions and red and yellow signify something very hard/dry under the ground - typically foundations or walls:

We now know that the central red circle and north-south stripe are the plinth - probably Victorian - with the gravel path either side of it but we have also been interested in the diagonal red stripe from the centre to the top-left of the scan. Juliet decided to put a test pit across this feature to see what sort of solid feature lay beneath the surface. This is Henry and Tony starting to uncover the feature:

Henry and Tony being observed by Ted as they uncover the feature.

And this is what they have found:

A pathway running to the north-west corner.

It appears to be a crude pathway made of large blocks of re-used building material - stone slabs, bricks, etc. At the moment we do not know whether this was connected with the British Restaurant or pre-dates it.


In Carol's two test pits (TP4 & 5) the team were working under the cover of two gazebos to keep the diggers and the test pits reasonably dry.

Carol's and Davy's team working in TP4 & 5 under cover.

These pits - especially TP4 - are still producing quite a few Romano-British items. They were sited by us to avoid the buried high-voltage electricity cable but to adjoin the 1988 archaeology trenches. Unfortunately the drawings from 1988 had no measurements on them to allow us to plot their positions accurately so Carl had to do his best to plot them from the sketches. It looks as though he was pretty accurate because Carol tells me she thinks she has found where her TP4 connects with the 1988 trenches.

Grandson Ted asking Carol and her team what they are doing in their big hole.

This is Test Pit 5 - seen here before a gazebo was brought in to provide cover.

Cheerful in TP5 despite the rain.

Ted was fascinated by how you sieve a spoil heap - and by the noise it makes.

The spoil heaps of TP4 and TP5 being sieved to look for any small items missed by the diggers.

Davy thinks he has hit the 'natural' at the bottom of the test pit he had been digging (TP1) containing the WW2 foundations, seen below, so later in the day he moved over to help in TP5.

Davy talking to my grandson Ted.

Despite the rain Sue did a wonderful job of washing pottery finds, including the large pot rims.


The test pit in Kingsland Road has now been closed off and re-turfed. So far it doesn't look as though we are finding much of significance at Barton End either - but we don't want to give up there just yet. However, we needed some diggers to start a test pit next to where the workmen discovered the pot rims by the playground. So Juliet decided to mothball the pits at Barton End for a day or two and bring some of the diggers over to start next to the playground. When I took this photo they were just starting out. It was dark under the trees but at least it was out of the rain.

The new test pit next to the playground where workmen found Romano-British pot rims yesterday.

I think Keith is now contacting residents in Lenten Street to ask when we can start in their back gardens but the Public Gardens are still producing the goods. I have high hopes for Test Pits 4 and 5 and for the new one next to the playground. Oh, and I have been contacted by a community TV channel wanting to come and do some filming and interviews on Monday, so need to send them directions before I finish for the night.

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