2004 marked the 25th Anniversary of Wessex Archaeology, and also saw the appointment of a new Chairman, Dr. Geoff Wainwright. Dr Wainwright is an influential figure within British archaeology, and helped bring about immense changes to the profession during his time as Chief Archaeologist at English Heritage.
To celebrate, a major exhibition, Changing Places, was hosted at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum in the historic heart of the city, and close to the original offices of the formative Wessex Archaeological Committee. The title of the exhibition was a nod to the many and varied changes that WA had experienced throughout its first 25 years.
To cope with the changes, the company has itself had to change, expand and open up whole new areas of expertise. Throughout, the aim has always been to contribute to a greater understanding of the past, the environment, and the development of society as a whole.
With these targets always in view, the busy fieldwork programmes continued, both from its base at Old Sarum and at its office in London. Ongoing work continued at Horton and Boscombe Down, whilst other large-scale projects included evaluations at Lydiard Park, Swindon and Temple Mills, Bristol, whilst the Coastal and Marine team undertook excavation of a wreck in the Princes Channel, which uncovered cannons belonging to Sir Thomas Gresham, a prominent Tudor merchant and financial advisor to Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I. The wreck was discovered in 2003 by the Port of London Authority in a busy channel on the approach to the River Thames, and offered a unique insight into a technique called 'furring' whereby the ship is rebuilt to increase the breadth of the vessel.
2003 saw changes at WA as Andrew Lawson stepped down as Chief Executive. Sue Davies, who had been with the original Wessex Archaeological Committee since its earliest days at the Blackmore Museum, replaced him.
An office in London, The Chandlery, on Westminster Bridge Road near Waterloo Station, was opened in March, and gave WA a presence in an area where more and more work was being done. There was more expansion at Old Sarum too, where two more buildings were leased to accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of staff and all that went with them.
Projects during the year were as wide-ranging as ever. Locally, evaluation trenching and geophysical survey were done at the site of the proposed new Stonehenge Visitor Centre at Countess East, Amesbury. At Boscombe, not far from Stonehenge or from the grave of the Amesbury Archer, a grave containing seven Bronze Age burials was found during the excavation of a pipe trench.
Slightly further afield, Autumn 2003 saw features found during a watching brief at a gravel extraction site at Kingsmead, Horton, Berkshire which resulted in a large-scale excavation that is still in progress today.
Other projects included a major conservation statement for the "buildings, structures and spaces" at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Starting in January, the project took almost a year to complete, whilst 2003 also saw work commissioned overseas with a small scale conservation and management plan prepared for Sainte Apolline's Chapel on Guernsey.
Continuing growth in all departments led to more changes at WA's Old Sarum offices. Extra office space was created by integrating part of the Finds Room and the adjoining room, and by alterations in the old Medical Block. Two extra buildings were leased to provide additional storage space for the ever-growing quantities of finds, records and samples that were constantly arriving from all parts of the country, and, by the end of the year, the Finds Room was partly cleared so that space-saving rolling shelves could be installed.
A revamped Staff Newsletter, Insite, was launched in December 2002 as a means of keeping staff informed of these organisational changes and the various projects WA were undertaking.
The complexities of organisation and administration also meant that there were changes among the higher reaches of management. The Senior Management Group, Andrew Lawson (Chief Executive), Sue Davies (Deputy Chief Executive), Clive Burrows (Finance Director), Roland Smith (Resources Director) and John Dillon (Operations Director), were now supported by a Facilities Manager. There were, in addition, an Outreach and Education Officer and seven Section Heads: Coastal and Marine, Conservation Management, Framework Archaeology, General Development, Information Technology, Specialist Services, and Transport.
WA's first big excavation in London took place at Fenchurch Street in the heart of the City. Activity on the site dated from 50AD, when the Roman city was founded, and carried through to the 3rd century, after which the site fell into disuse until the medieval period.
Nearer to home at Boscombe Down, close to WA's Head Office, the grave of the ‘Amesbury Archer' (right) was excavated. The burial featured in one of a series of six television programmes called Pathfinders about WA's work, that were made during the year.
Find out more about this amazing excavation here.
The finds from the excavation are on display at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum, who have said that the Archer is "possibly the most significant find of its type in the Museum's collection"
As well as the more traditional range of archaeological fieldwork, WA was carrying out an increasing range of surveys and assessments. These might look at the history and development of discrete areas or broader landscapes, coastal margins or the seabed, individual buildings or collections of buildings, earthworks, environmental or artefactual data, or any combination of these categories. While many of the surveys were preliminary to fieldwork, others were an end product in their own right.
WA had carried out a number of projects for the Defence Estates since 1998 under Specialist Term Commissions. The work of the previous years had included excavations at Tidworth and RNAS Yeovilton and a monument survey of the Salisbury Plain Training Area. During 2001, surveys and assessments of the archaeology of the Aldershot and Longmoor, and Cinque Ports Training Areas were carried out in south-eastern England, while building recording and earthwork surveys were undertaken at Okehampton Camp in Devon.
While the surveys addressed different aspects of the various sites, they were all carried out with a view to management and preservation. Much of the work was made easier by the use of a Global Positioning System (GPS) which helped locate sites in featureless or overgrown terrain.
WA's Coastal & Marine section conducted a preliminary survey of the archaeological and historical heritage of part of the north Kent coast. The survey was used to assess and develop practical and technical methods of conducting similar surveys in the future.
The year started with an excavation at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton that started to rewrite the history of Saxon Hamwic (the forerunner of the modern city). The discovery of a cemetery containing cremation and inhumation burials, some richly furnished with weapons and others with jewellery, suggested that the town's earliest inhabitants may have been Jutish, preceding the West Saxons who were known to have arrived in 686. One gold pendant suggests that Hamwic may have had links with the 7th century Frisian (Dutch) royal court.
At Stansted Airport, Framework Archaeology was in the middle a major fieldwork exercise that had started in 1999 and would end in 2001. An area of nearly 30 hectares was investigated. Two Palaeolithic hand axes and a scraper found near the course of an ancient river channel marked the earliest activity at the site. The gradual change from exploitation of natural resources to farming was marked by the remains of settlements from the Middle Bronze Age into later prehistory and beyond.
Work on the Channel Tunnel High Speed Rail Link (CTRL) in Kent also entered a major new phase with excavations starting on the Roman town and temple complex at Springhead. Started in September 2000, the sites would not be finished until March 2003. The quantity and variety of finds from the excavation was enormous: bulk finds (such as pottery and animal bone) weighing 5,035 kg and numbering 7,565 individual finds, along with brooches, pins, coins (amongst other finds) were brought back to Salisbury for analysis.
1999 was a year of changes and innovations. Bill Putnam stood down after twenty years as Chairman, and was followed in the role by Professor Clive Gamble. At the Head Office in Portway House, increasing staff numbers meant that office space was becoming more and more cramped. A decision was taken to build a single storey extension linking the old Operations and Medical Blocks. Work on this started in October 1999 and was finished by July 2000.
The partnership between Wessex Archaeology and Oxford Archaeology was further cemented in 1999 by the creation of Oxford Wessex Archaeology (OWA). In this new arrangement they set out to investigate the archaeology of the M6 toll road near Birmingham and of the A120 in Essex.
Meanwhile, Framework Archaeology continued work for BAA at Heathrow Airport, where evidence of activity from Mesolithic to medieval times was found and recorded. Work also started at Stansted Airport in Essex. A completely new recording system and database that would link all aspects of site recording (contexts, digital drawings, finds and environmental data etc.) were introduced for use on Framework sites.
Closer to home, evaluations at the site for Southampton Football Club's proposed new stadium in St Mary's, showed that it lay partly within the area of the Saxon town of Hamwic, the forerunner of modern Southampton. Despite the site being criss-crossed and disturbed by the remains of modern gasworks buildings, the archaeology was important and merited excavation. This started at the end of 1999.
Despite having undertaken assessments of several relatively small airfields in the past, WA became involved with airport archaeology in a much larger way during 1998. The British Airports Authority (BAA) was considering developments at some of its most important airports such as Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick. Archaeological investigations would be needed at each airport on such a scale and with deadlines so critical that it was considered impossible for any single company to complete the work. As a result Framework Archaeology, a joint venture between Wessex Archaeology and Oxford Archaeology, was set up to take on the task.
The first Framework projects were at Heathrow Airport, where BAA proposed building a new terminal, Terminal 5. Aerial photographs and previous excavations had shown that the surrounding area and the airport itself were rich in archaeological remains.
Investigations within the airport at Perry Oaks Sludge Works and at Mayfield Farm, outside the southern perimeter, set the scene for work in future years.
Meanwhile, ongoing fieldwork (away from the noise of Heathrow Airport) continued, and several Iron Age sites were investigated. Excavation of a Late Iron Age enclosure at Lea Farm, Hurst, Berkshire, followed on from a WA evaluation that had been carried out eleven years earlier. At Watchfield, Oxfordshire, another evaluation found evidence of several Iron Age enclosures and a Romano-British cremation cemetery. Another Iron Age settlement was investigated at Battlesbury Bowl, near Warminster, not far from the Iron Age hillfort of Battlesbury Camp.
The path of even the most well planned projects can be affected by unexpected discoveries! This was shown during the A30 Honiton to Exeter Improvement scheme when, in August 1997, the site of a 1st century AD Roman military base and later civil settlement was found at Pomeroy Wood. Although the presence of a Roman site alongside the line of a known Roman road (the earlier version of the A30) was not unlikely, what was unusual was that no trace of it had been seen on aerial photographs, which was how most of the A30 sites were identified. The site was instead found during the watching brief that ran throughout the construction programme.
Although the A30 and its associated project, the A35 Tolpuddle to Puddletown Bypass in Dorset, were on a large scale, WA was just about to start work on a bigger project. Work on the Channel Tunnel High Speed Rail Link (CTRL) involved archaeologists from several different companies. WA carried out an evaluation of the Roman town of Vagniacae at Springhead in Kent, the first stage of work that continued into 2003.
A large-scale project of a completely different sort was drawing to a close in 1997. The Southern Rivers Palaeolithic Survey (later the English Rivers Palaeolithic Survey), which had been commissioned by English Heritage in 1991, had set out to assess known Palaeolithic material against the likelihood and location of sites as yet unknown which might become threatened by future gravel or sand extraction.
Since its earliest days WA had always set out to "promote the advancement of public education in the subject of archaeology" as part of its status as a Charitable Trust. This had been done through events such as talks to local groups and schools, taking students on work placements, site open days and displays, participation in courses and day schools. In June 1996 a new step was taken with Pippa Smith's appointment as Community Officer, a post funded in part by English Heritage. Much of Pippa's work involved visiting schools, taking a selection of finds for the children to look at and handle, and answering their questions.
At Clovelly Bay, Plymouth, archaeological assessment of the foreshore and seabed ahead of dredging and the construction of a new marina made this the first project where WA used only its own divers. Diving had been the only means of taking auger samples of the sediments forming the bed of the bay.
Excavations on a major road construction project, the A30 Honiton to Exeter Improvement, started at the end of 1996. Several different archaeological bodies had a hand in the various stages of the project. Assessments, fieldwalking and evaluations were carried out by the (then) Exeter Museums Field Archaeology Unit between 1989 and 1994. Geophysical surveys were undertaken by Oxford Archaeotechnics in 1994/5. Oxford Archaeology was appointed as the Project Archaeologist and Wessex Archaeology as the Project Contractor in December 1996. The archaeology was there but it needed plenty of archaeologists to find it!
A total of 301 projects were worked on during 1995/6, about 200 of which were new. It was estimated that nearly two-thirds of the company's work resulted from commercial developments, that approximately half of the new projects were either desk-based assessments or evaluations, and that about a tenth were associated with new services such as pipelines.
Road developments were major contributors to WA's work through the 1990s, but during 1995 the roads were of a rather different sort. The company was commissioned to carry out evaluations and excavations ahead of the construction and upgrading of tracks on the archaeologically rich Salisbury Plain Training Area. Bronze Age boundary ditches, pits and a settlement, and Iron Age pits, post-holes and hut circles were all excavated and recorded before roads strong enough to withstand use by tanks could be built.
An excavation was also undertaken on the site of a new sports field for Boscombe Down Airfield. Late Neolithic pits, another Bronze Age boundary ditch and a late Romano-British cemetery were excavated.
Also of local interest, 1995 saw the publication of Stonehenge in its landscape: Twentieth-century excavations, which drew together the work of very many people, both in the field and for the publication.
Building surveys at Portsmouth Cathedral and the Christopher Hotel in Bath showed the diversity that such work can bring. Consultancy, an increasingly important facet of WA's work, brought the start of what was later to become a long-term field project at Cambourne in Cambridgeshire which was eventually published in 2009 as Cambourne New Settlement: Iron Age and Romano-British Settlements on the Clay Uplands of West Cambridgeshire now available to download from this site as an e-book.
During the early 1990s developers and archaeologists had found that, much though they may have initially resented it, they sometimes needed each other. Increasing demands from planning and other authorities meant that clients were looking for services beyond those of the 'traditional' archaeological skills. Clients whom WA had helped in one sphere were broadening their horizons and, happy with the service provided, encouraging WA to go with them. Historic landscape and building surveys, environmental assessments, coastal surveys and excavations were all new and growing areas of work, often in new parts of the country. Commercial archaeology had to diversify, and so did WA.
One of the first major coastal projects was the Langstone Harbour Survey on the Hampshire coast, for which WA joined Portsmouth University, the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (HWTMA) and Southampton University. The survey made use of a wide variety of methods to study the intertidal area, amongst which were the digitisation of map and aerial photographic information, walkover and ‘swim-over' surveys (effectively underwater fieldwalking!), and excavation both on land and underwater. This was the first WA project to make use of divers (even though only one, Kit Watson, was from WA; the majority were from HWTMA).
Major excavations were also in progress at two sites to the west of London, one at Hurst Park by the River Thames, and the other by one of its tributaries, the River Colne, at Prospect Park. Both had sequences of activity from the Neolithic to Early Saxon periods.
A countrywide recession slowed development and the financial year 1992-3 was described in the Annual Review as "one of the most difficult for the unit...Wessex Archaeology has not only experienced very variable pressures of work but has withstood extremes . . ."
There was serious talk of short-time working and other cost-cutting measures. The range of services offered by WA continued to grow, however. A most visible 'new' aspect of WA was Phil Harding, who was one of the early recruits from our days as Wessex Archaeology Committee. His new role was in the first series of Time Team on Channel 4. Phil had already appeared in one or two television programmes but this was the first series devoted to real archaeology and all its uncertainties, showing the difficulties and delights that go with it.
There were other, more serious new developments too. Dr Julie Gardiner had been appointed as Reports Manager in 1991. Publication had always been in the form either of articles in the appropriate local, period or national journals or as monographs, published through local societies. One of Julie's many tasks was to prepare the first two monographs for a new WA series: Excavations in the Burghfield Area, Berkshire and Excavations in Trowbridge, both of which were published in 1993.
Another first for the company was the introduction of a computer aided design (CAD) system in the drawing office, which was soon integrated with the more traditional skills already there.
An Annual Review was published in 1992, the first since 1981-2, the old Wessex Archaeological Committee days. The 1991 review gave a short overview of the state of British archaeology and of the work of WA in relation to it. Summaries of work done during 1991, in the field, in post-excavation analysis and in publishing, followed. Also included were summaries of several desk-based studies. These were a recent device which set out to assess the known archaeology of a proposed development area by searching through existing information, old maps and so on. They were to become increasingly common as a prelude to fieldwork.
Areas of work were gradually becoming more widespread, with field projects taking place in London, Kent, Shropshire, Derbyshire, and Yorkshire during the year. In West Sussex, the early part of the year saw excavation of several sites along the proposed route of the A27 Westhampnett Bypass. Amongst these was an important Late Iron Age site, where 161 cremation burials, funeral pyres, and the remains of at least two shrines were excavated. Closer to home, fieldwalking was carried out for one of the first of what would become many projects associated with proposed improvements to the A303 between Stonehenge and Winterbourne Stoke.
Other work in progress included research for a detailed survey of the Palaeolithic archaeology of England south of the River Thames. The work, commissioned by English Heritage, had started in 1991 and was to continue, as a broader survey, until 1997. The results were published in 1999 under The English Rivers Projects (TERPS) and are accessible via the Archaeology Data Service.
Although WA had published leaflets describing and publicising its work in earlier years, a full company prospectus was not drawn up until 1991. Development work was slowing down and government funding was much reduced. Therefore, WA had to promote itself and the services it could provide. The prospectus achieved this, and promoted WA as embracing the new commercial spirit by extolling the value of skilled archaeologists and specialists to whoever might need their services.
The prospectus included brief details of senior staff, including our current Chief Executive Sue Davies, (who in 1991 was one of two Assistant Directors), recent fieldwork projects and clients, and the types of work that WA could undertake.
In the field, the extension of the M3 around Winchester from Bar End to Compton was the first of several contentious road projects undertaken by WA. The problem with new roads was with the nature of the development rather than the archaeology. The destruction of the countryside and the loss of habitats incensed the objectors (and protestors), who feared that the new roads would increase the amount of traffic rather than improve its progress.
The excavation, on Twyford Down, had mixed results. The survival of archaeological deposits was generally poorer than had been suggested by the evaluation, limiting the information that could be recovered. However, preservation of a Bronze Age barrow and its associated cremation and inhumation burials was good, and gave many new insights into Bronze Age burial practices.
Further afield, work on the route of the Theddlethorpe to Killingholme gas pipeline took WA to very new territory in north Lincolnshire and Humberside.
1990 marked a critical point in the relationship of archaeology to planning and development. Publication of Planning Policy Guidance Note 16 by the Department of the Environment summarised the importance of archaeological remains and emphasised their status as "a finite and non-renewable resource, in many cases highly fragile and vulnerable to destruction". Amongst other things, it offered advice about how archaeology could best be dealt with during the planning process and set out the existing legal protection for archaeological remains.
It did not propose a new protective legal framework for archaeology but did make clear that it was important and should receive proper consideration.
The new commercialism was gradually extending WA's work beyond our traditional Wessex counties; field projects were undertaken, for instance, in West Sussex and Oxfordshire. Consultancy, providing advice on the archaeological aspects of proposed developments, was becoming increasingly important. In this role, WA advised clients about potential archaeological aspects of developments in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Birmingham.
Nearer to home, excavations were carried out at Butterfield Down, near Amesbury, and at Market Lavington. The work at Butterfield Down was the start of an extended programme of work in advance of housing development. Evidence of prehistoric activity, including an Early Bronze Age inhumation burial, and of a Romano-British settlement were recorded. An Anglo-Saxon cemetery and part of its associated settlement were excavated at Market Lavington, although there was evidence of Roman-British activity there too.
After the move of the previous year, 1989 was a time for settling in to the new offices. There was time, however, to inaugurate the first WA Newsletter, a simple double-sided A4 handout. It was also a busy fieldwork and post-excavation year.
Post-excavation work for the sites at Jennings Yard in Windsor, Dorchester Bypass, Anslow's Cottages and elsewhere was in progress. WA was also about to start a major project that would draw together the results of all the excavations done at Stonehenge during the 20th century. It was estimated that almost half the area of the monument had been excavated, but the results had never been drawn together to give a comprehensive account of its development. The first task was to find and assemble copies of records from all the excavations.
Fieldwork was still based largely in the Wessex counties. The first seasons of excavation at Charles Street in Dorchester, Bray in Berkshire, Rooksdown near Basingstoke, and at Ashton Keynes in north Wiltshire all started in 1989.
A different sort of fieldwork was carried out at Monkey Marsh Lock on the Kennet and Avon Canal near Thatcham, Berkshire. There, an 18th-century turf-sided lock, a Scheduled Ancient Monument, was in such a state of disrepair that it was surveyed, partly excavated and restored under archaeological supervision. The rebuilt lock, which had already been repaired and rebuilt several times during its lifetime, was finished in time for the official re-opening of the canal in 1990.
1988 was a busy year for WA, with the number of staff increasing as new work kept on being commissioned. Staff numbers were recorded as an average of 62 in the Treasurer's Annual Report for 1988/89. Whilst the continuing growth in work and staff was welcome, it also led to problems, particularly in terms of office space. The situation was becoming critical because, although additional space had been leased at Dunn's House since 1985, that building was about to be sold. So, in July 1988 WA moved to our current offices at Old Sarum Airfield (now Old Sarum Business Park), just outside Salisbury. The buildings were originally the Medical and Operations (flight rather than surgical) Blocks for the airfield and still held a few relics of their RAF use - a drugs cabinet and old newspaper cartoons stuck on a wall, for instance. Many staff pitched in to bring the offices up to scratch, with many painting and decorating their own offices.
In 1988, nine years after the establishment of the Wessex Archaeological Committee, the Trust was rapidly expanding, to the extent that the original offices in the heart of Salisbury - in the Cathedral Close and at Dunns House - were no longer adequate. A decision was therefore made to relocate, leading to the purchase and establishment of the current offices at the Old Sarum Airfield.
The Trust’s Chairman at the time, Bill Putnam, noted that ’it is a remarkable achievement that in only nine years the number of archaeologists employed by the Trust in the region has grown from one (March 1979 – Ann Ellison the Director) to nearly fifty.’ The Unit Director, Andrew Lawson, described the new offices as providing ‘ideal accommodation for a professional unit with offices, processing areas, drawing office and storage. Such a building provides the opportunity for efficient and economic management.’ Wessex Archaeology was the first archaeological practice in the UK to purchase its own premise
The official opening took place on Wednesday, 12th October, 1988. Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, then Chairman of English Heritage, unveiled three commemorative plaques in the entranceway to mark the occasion.
The plaques were made by Andy and Jo Young of Norfolk, and the first showed the logo of the Trust. The second read ‘Opened by Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, 12.10.88’, with the final plaque reading ‘Acquisition supported by MEPC’ who not only funded the plaques themselves and backed the mortgage, but were a valued supporter of the Trust’s work.
The opening took place in front of a large number of honoured guests including the Mayor of Salisbury, David Mitchell (MP for Hampshire North West) and MEP Dr Caroline Jackson. In addition prominent archaeologists, many clients and local business people, national and local journalists and staff attended the event.
The fieldwork for several of the large-scale projects of the late 1970s and early 1980s was finishing or had already done so. Post-excavation analysis for the Stonehenge Environs and South Dorset Ridgeway projects was in progress, setting both on the way to publication.
Although the Kennet Valley Survey had drawn to a close in 1987, it was decided that additional fieldwalking in this year and the next would be incorporated with the earlier results rather than published separately.
Post-excavation work is as important as the fieldwork. Without analysis and publication the archaeology is as good as buried still. Sites such as Greyhound Yard and Dorchester Southern Bypass were also moving towards publication, and WA was also writing up other people's unpublished sites, such as the Roman cemeteries at Poundbury (Dorchester).
By 1987, the attitudes and commercial acumen of developers were starting to make themselves felt. Archaeologists were used to working in their own territory (in the case of WA in Wiltshire, Hampshire, Dorset, Berkshire and the Isle of Wight) where local knowledge and contacts had been built up. Being asked to tender for work throughout the country was one thing, but winning the tender and being asked to work further afield was a venture into the unknown! At the same time other archaeologists coming to work in Wessex was a concern.
Despite the changes, of most importance was that archaeological fieldwork continued. Trial trenching and geophysical survey on the route of the proposed Dorchester Southern Bypass in 1986 and early 1987 located several sites that were excavated later in the year.
Yet more sites were found while construction was in progress. Neolithic and Bronze Age enclosures, Bronze Age ring ditches and burials, Iron Age and Roman cemeteries, and medieval field boundaries all lay within a short distance of Dorchester. Elsewhere in Dorset, the development of the Wytch Farm Oilfield provided fantastic opportunities to examine a wide area of Purbeck heathland.
Away from rural Dorset, excavation at Jennings Yard close by the River Thames in Windsor, cast light on medieval building in the town, whilst excavation in the centre of Trowbridge showed an abundance of change in land use from Bronze Age field systems through to Saxon, then Norman enclosed settlement with church and graveyard. Later earthworks dated to a 12th century castle, which in turn were levelled during the post-medieval period.
The Treasurer's Report for 1986-7 marked the changes in archaeological funding (and thus in archaeology as a whole) of the previous years, when it said: "It is now true that the existence of the Trust, and the archaeological unit, is not dependent on Central Government funding."
Development and developer funding were certainly a growing force behind archaeology. Competitive tendering, normal practice in a commercial environment, would soon start to appear, but, in 1986, archaeology was already having to think about and make changes. Some people (particularly developers but archaeologists too) found the ‘new-style' archaeology hard to deal with. From the Wessex-based, long-term, overview projects that had been a feature of WA's early years, the thrust of much of the new work was towards determining whether:
- An archaeological site existed
- If it did, of what date and type
If it did, whether it should be:
- Left completely undisturbed (in which case the development would either not go ahead or need to be extensively re-planned)
- Excavated and so preserved by record
- Partly preserved, partly recorded by means of an excavation or watching brief
- Any, some, all of these could be done as quickly, cheaply and well as possible
Of course, the permutations could be more numerous and complicated at any stage.
Out in the field, however, evaluations and excavations were still continuing, including major investigations along the routes of the Dorchester and Wareham Bypasses at Trowbridge, and in and around Reading.
By the mid-1980s, surveys and excavations were pushing ahead in the traditional Wessex heartland of Reading, Dorchester, Potterne, Stonehenge Environs, Kennet Valley.
The encouraging result of the appeal for the 1983 Reading Abbey Wharf excavation had shown the value that people placed on archaeology. Archaeologists had taken confidence from the exercise and county and district councils saw that it was possible to press for the investigation of sites that would be destroyed. By 1985, the idea that archaeology should be taken into account during planning negotiations was becoming part of a more clearly defined strategy.
This was borne out at a site not far from Reading, at Anslow's Cottages, Burghfield. Proposals to extract gravel threatened an area of possible but unknown archaeological potential. Evaluation (or trial) trenching confirmed that archaeology existed by revealing a small landing stage or jetty in an old river channel and an occupation site nearby. Two seasons of excavation followed, one later in 1985 and another in 1986, confirming the value of evaluation.
The combination of evaluation trenching and geophysical survey produced good results at Alington Avenue in Dorchester, where the remains of a Neolithic long barrow, Bronze Age round barrow cemetery, Romano-British enclosure and Roman cemetery were excavated during 1985.
The Esso Midline, which ran from Fawley, near Southampton, to Seisdon in Staffordshire, was an important new type of project. Funded by Esso, WA acted as consultants which involved co-ordinating work along the entire route (and far beyond Wessex), and culminating in the publication of a popular booklet once the fieldwork was completed – Smith, R and Cox, P (1986) The Past in the Pipeline. Archaeology of the ESSO Midline.
Large-scale excavations in advance of development continued throughout 1984. At Greyhound Yard, Dorchester (now Waitrose) for example, WA added to the growing body of knowledge about the town's history. Although evidence of the Roman town was encountered as anticipated, the excavation also found part of a much earlier Neolithic 'enclosure'. This took the form of an arc of 21 massive post pits, each big enough to have held the trunk of an oak tree (evidence of which survived). The complete plan of the enclosure is still not known.
Along with Greyhound Yard, the excavation of an Iron Age farmstead and deserted medieval village at Hatch Warren, Basingstoke, also ran Community Programme Schemes, funded by the Manpower Services Commission to help combat increasing unemployment. The financial help these schemes gave not only allowed these important excavations to go ahead, but gave people who otherwise may never have experienced archaeology the opportunity to take part in an archaeological excavation. Some of these have made careers for themselves in archaeology as a result and are still with WA.
Another Manpower Services Commission-funded project was the excavation of a Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age midden at Potterne, near Devizes. The site was notable for the quantities of finds recovered, including domestic, animal, and industrial. It became the first Wessex project to use computers for statistical analysis. IBM was involved in the project, creating a three-dimensional model of the midden to test whether there were any special patterns to its development. Computer costs in 1984 were £645!
In 1983 the Wessex Archaeological Committee became the Trust for Wessex Archaeology Ltd (WA), a registered charity and limited company. That year also saw a change of Director, with Andrew Lawson succeeding Ann Ellison.
Approaches to archaeology were gradually changing too. The pace of development was starting to pick up and, as a consequence, so was the threat to archaeological sites. The archaeological response needed to be quick and appropriate, but this was not always easy to achieve. Government funding was limited and developers were not always in a position or willing to fund archaeological excavations.
It became apparent, for instance, that development of the Abbey Wharf site in Reading was going to be on a much bigger scale than was foreseen when the 1981 excavation was planned. The potential and preservation of archaeological deposits on the site were known to be excellent. Development on a larger scale would mean the loss of more archaeology. Something needed to be done. A decision was made to fund the excavation by means of a public appeal, which was undertaken jointly with the Berkshire Archaeological Trust. Although nerve-wracking, the appeal allowed the excavation to go ahead. The site was opened for public viewing, with over 4000 people visiting between 14th December and 11th February 1984. Not only was the appeal a good publicity and public relations exercise, it also began to focus local planning authorities on a more positive attitude towards archaeology.
During 1982 the Stonehenge Environs Project (SEP), South Dorset Ridgeway Project and the Lower Kennet Valley Survey in Berkshire continued. Like the SEP, both of these projects had developed from earlier government-funded work undertaken before WAC became an active field unit, in 1977 and 1976 respectively. All three projects set out to investigate the early development of landscapes that we see today. In order to do this, a variety of techniques were used to draw a larger and more complete picture. As well as excavation, geophysical survey, fieldwalking, phosphate analysis, environmental sampling, and analysis of soil and crop marks on aerial photographs were all used.
Excavations at Pingewood as part of the Kennet Valley project revealed what was initially thought to be a Neolithic ring ditch as a Romano-British feature. At South Street in Dorchester excavation uncovered part of the Roman town of Durnovaria. The excavation showed how the early town's water supply had developed from being carried along an open aqueduct channel to being piped.
There was a large-scale excavation at Easton Lane, near Winchester, the site proposed for Junction 9 of the M3 motorway. The excavation was co-directed by Pete Fasham for WAC and Dick Whinney for Winchester City Council. The whole site, some 10 hectares in area, was examined either by excavation or watching brief in the period between August 1982 and April 1983. Features dating from the Late Neolithic through to Late Saxon and early medieval period were recorded.
"A Policy for Archaeological Investigation in Wessex: 1981-1985", written by Ann Ellison after wide discussion with colleagues, both professional and amateur, was published in 1981. This was the first of a series of such regional policy documents which were subsequently produced for other areas. It assessed the known archaeology of Wessex and put forward a set of priorities for future work. WAC would undertake some of the work itself, such as the Stonehenge Environs Project (which had, in fact, started in 1980), while universities or other appropriate bodies would carry out other projects, such as work on Cranborne Chase and at Hambledon Hill in Dorset.
In Reading, excavations focused on the Abbey had been in progress since 1979. The town's archaeological potential had been considered low, but the 1979 excavation had shown that this was not so. The excavation at Abbey Wharf confirmed the value of Reading's waterfront sites for preserving not only structural but also organic remains, such as wood and leather. Organic material only survives in wet conditions, where air is excluded, but these often make for extremely difficult and unpleasant working conditions. A dewatering system was used at this and other Reading sites to allow excavation to go ahead more easily.
Elsewhere, a salvage excavation was needed to cope with the discovery during road widening of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery near Downton, Wiltshire. The cemetery had come to light only when a sword was handed in to Salisbury Museum.
Much of WAC's second year was occupied with establishing its Salisbury base. Staff from the five Wessex 'home counties', Berkshire, Dorset, Hampshire, Wiltshire and the Isle of Wight, transferred to Wyndham House, a building shared with the Wiltshire Conservation Service, situated behind the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum in the Cathedral Close.
The transferred staff included field officers from the five DoE funded county committees and the M3 Archaeological Rescue Committee (MARC3): Pete Fasham (who was appointed Assistant Director at WAC), Peter Woodward (Dorset), Julian Richards and Sue Lobb (Berkshire), Vicky Basford (Isle of Wight) and Chris Gingell (Wiltshire), along with Pete Cox from Dorset, Jo Gingell and Phil Harding from Wiltshire, and John Hawkes from MARC3.
Although the newly arrived staff were already working on surveys and excavations in their respective areas, 1980 was the year in which WAC excavations started. The first 'Wessex' excavation, Wl, was a prehistoric, Roman and Saxon site at Wraysbury, between Windsor and Staines. (All excavations need a unique site code, so that the records and finds from one site are not confused with those for another).
W2 was an excavation at Coneybury, not far from Stonehenge, where a Neolithic henge (in this case an oval ditched enclosure with north-east facing entrance) was investigated. This was the first stage of the Stonehenge Environs Project, a project that continued through into 1986.
The Wessex Archaeological Committee (WAC), forerunner of the Trust for Wessex Archaeology and its archaeological unit, came into existence on the 1st May 1979. The committee's Chairman was Bill Putnam, who continued in that role until 1999.
WAC had in fact existed since 1974, although in a different form. Its earlier role was to devise and implement policies for archaeological research and investigation in Wessex and to advise the Department of the Environment (DoE), by whom it was funded, on matters archaeological. As development began increasingly to threaten archaeological sites, the DoE set up regional units to carry out research and excavation. The transformation of the Wessex Archaeological Committee made it the last such Government-funded field unit to be created.
The Committee employed no staff at all until a Field Officer was appointed in 1976. In preparation for the unit becoming active, others were gradually recruited during 1979. The first who took up appointments at the Committee's new offices in the Blackmore Museum in St. Ann Street, Salisbury were Dr. Ann Ellison (Director), John Eyles (Administrative Director), Rob Read (Illustrations and Records Officer) and Sue Davies (Senior Post-excavation Assistant).
Early work, although not a WAC project, involved helping Mike Pitts investigate a telephone cable trench at Stonehenge. The Prince of Wales had noticed the trenching during a visit to the monument, and, worried that no archaeologists were taking an interest, expressed his concern. The trench was soon examined and found to contain a previously unrecognised stonehole near the Heel Stone.