We embarked on the archaeological dig to Thornton Abbey on Saturday afternoon in very good spirits, and, after navigating our way across London and a few trains later, we arrived just in time for dinner. We were immediately welcomed by the Director of Excavations, Dr Hugh Wilmott, and the other staff and students, some of whom had travelled across the Atlantic to join us. There was little time to recover from the journey and we went straight into doing some archaeology. The first couple of days were physically demanding as the preparatory work for the trenches involved removing vast amounts of turf. That said, the good spirits and humour of all involved lightened the labour and we soon became accustomed to using a trawl and attempting to make the trenches look clean, however difficult or impossible it seemed!
The weather on the trip proved to be very variable. The majority of the days found us plundering the English Heritage shop for ice-creams and drinks, but on one afternoon we were forced to abandon the camp as lightening came very close to setting one of the tents on fire. When we returned from the warmth of the cafe, Guy Trevellyan found that his tent had “flooded” which became a running commentary over the rest of the trip: “Guy” and the great flood!
I think that the whole group benefited greatly from this unique opportunity to investigate Thornton Abbey which suffered,as many other such establishments did, during the dissolution of the monasteries under the tyranny of Henry VIII. The trenches revealed some very unexpected treasures of history which included a Saxon chapel, which may have been later converted and adapted into a hospital that played a key role when the Black Death hit the area in 1349. The students seemed to have much better luck excavating than Mr Ramsey who, I believe, was unable to find anything whilst digging, although he took this with great humour.
I think I speak for the whole group, which included Guy Trevellyan, Charlotte Philips, Fin Chesterman and Ally Smith, in saying that we all had a great time. In fact, Fin Chesterman is going to be spending another week on the dig as he hopes to pursue this area of study at university. The trip offered a unique chance to learn about our nation’s past in a way quite unlike the documentary sources we use in the classroom and made us aware of how archaeology is continually reshaping and improving our knowledge of our heritage.
Tim Ayling (Cubitt L6th)