During the British Festival of Archaeology 2012, Wessex Archaeology was commissioned to run a volunteer dig at Buckler’s Hard, Beaulieu. This was part of the New Forest Remembers project, which focuses on sites and memories of the New Forest during WWII. The site location couldn’t be in a more idyllic setting, with beautiful views of the river.
The waterfront at Buckler’s Hard and the village were requisitioned during the war by the navy. The slipway was installed so Buckler’s Hard could service and repair motor torpedo boats. The village became heavily involved in several secret projects, such as ‘Quicksilver’, which involved the building of fake landing craft to divert the enemy’s attentions, and the construction of ‘Mulberry’ Harbours essential to the success of D-Day embarkation.
Wartime photographs show a number of Nissan huts and other buildings on the site as well as the concrete slipway which is still visible today, though it had become very overgrown. The excavation hoped to learn what remained of the WWII buildings and to investigate the slipway itself.
The dig began with visits from Beaulieu and South Baddesley primary school children, eager to try their hands at digging in test pits as well as doing other activities organised by the National Park Authority.
Over the course of the next nine days 51 volunteers became involved in the project, all were able to experience and learn skills in excavation, finds processing and recording. The site was on a live web cam hosted by the New Forest National Park Authority and had a daily blog entry:
Though the excavation was able to locate remnants of some of the WWII structures, it was able to demonstrate that most of the buildings had been demolished with some of this rubble used to construct a flood defence. Below the WWII archaeology were some timbers that probably relate to earlier ship building activity.
The slipway was shown to have survived in good condition with additional ‘greaseways’ adjacent on either side. The slipway continued to be used after the war when it was extended. The former harbourmaster was able to add his own personal recollection of this and identify his initials in the concrete.
The dig produced an abundance of nails, bolts and screws from the WWII and later shipyard activity, though there were some earlier finds including a nail with the ‘broad arrow’ marking it as government property. This would relate to late 18th century or early 19th century activity when Buckler’s Hard was a naval shipyard.
For the full report click here