Transactions of the Thoroton Society, vol 114 (2010)
Be careful what you wish for...
Reading through my contributions, as Honorary Archaeology editor, during the recent past, it seems that an emerging theme has been the challenge that commercial archaeology has faced in the light of the economic woes facing us all. I am sorry to report that this depressing theme continues, affecting archaeology in Nottinghamshire as elsewhere. The past twelve months have seen cuts in the archaeological staff at Nottinghamshire County Council and the loss of field archaeology units at several regional universities. Indeed my own institution has recently dispensed with its field archaeologists, shedding more than twenty staff in the process.
So. it was with a rather weary and jaundiced eye that I perused the results of the recent members' survey and, in particular, the desire to see less archaeology in future Transactions. In the short-term, this wish has been alarmingly fulfilled, as this year we have only a single significant archaeological contribution, from Scott Lomax, and that in the form of a mystery story, unravelling the conundrum of a forty year old excavation in Nottingham city centre. Where has the archaeology gone? Well, in part, the dearth of reports reflects the depressed state of commercial archaeology, jobs lost, funds scarce and those archaeologists who remain employed more focused on protecting their position than on publication. As a discipline, archaeology long ago lost the potential of turning to academic archaeologists to fill this gap, as the ridiculous pressures of government research assessment protocols mean that even those with an interest in English regional archaeology feel compelled to focus elsewhere, often abroad, as foreign archaeology is naturally equated with "of international significance".
Where then do the interests of the members of Thoroton coincide with that of regional archaeology? One of the roles that Transactions has fulfilled, almost since its inception, is to act as a journal of record for antiquarian, now archaeological, endeavours. This is a vital responsibility, since it is in the very nature of most archaeology, certainly of excavation, to destroy what it records in the act of creating that record. The durable, permanent record of the past is therefore the published account of an excavation, its context, results and the meanings attributed. For decades, Transactions has quietly and faithfully fulfilled this role. Members through their subscriptions provide a modestly subsidised place of publication; more recently, archaeologists, through generous grant funding, support and defray the cost of publication of Transactions. In this quid pro quo, everyone wins, and we, the members of Thoroton, perform a vital duty for posterity. So, be careful what you wish for, as the loss of published archaeology reflects a significant change in Transactions' long tradition of service to the scholastic community and ultimately a loss of income for the society as a whole.
Is there any good news? Well, precious little, but one thing worthy of report is the publication of the Research Agenda and Strategy For The Historic Environment Of The East Midlands, funded by English Heritage and authored by David Knight and Blaise Vyner of Trent & Peak Archaeology. This useful document sets out a five year plan for archaeological research within Nottinghamshire and the wider East Midlands. Whether there will be any archaeologists remaining to implement this strategy is another matter, but a further bright note is the continued resurgence of amateur archaeology (nowadays we call it community archaeology). Often with funds from the Heritage Lottery in its various incarnations, community archaeology groups are at the forefront of much of the most worthwhile research-led archaeology in Nottinghamshire; witness, for example, the work of the Bingham Heritage group (reviewed below), the Norwell Parish Heritage Group (further results from which appear in this volume of Transactions), and the reports by the professionals of the Nottinghamshire community archaeology team, on their work with community groups in the Trent Vale (see the separate review of 'Archaeology in Nottinghamshire').
I would go so far as to say that the future of meaningful, research led regional archaeological work lies in the hands of community groups, using public funds to pursue a local and regional agenda. Arise Transactions to take up your natural role as the journal of record for this locally led archaeological research!
I'll end with another aphorism, which both reflects both where I feel we are, and is my wish, as archaeological editor, for Transactions and its readership, "may you live through interesting times..."
Bingham Back in Time
Peter Allen, Geoff Ashton and Adrian Henstock, Bingham Back in Time: A history of Settlement in the Parish of Bingham, Nottinghamshire. Bingham Heritage Trail Association (BHTA) with Lowdham Writers' Group, 2010; 140pp; 222 illustrations (978-0-9554359-3-5). £12.50, available from Bingham Library, the Lowdham Bookshop or £15 post-paid from BHTA, 3 Quantock Grove, Bingham, Nottingham, NG13 8SE.
In a generally gloomy time, one of the great hopes of British Archaeology is the resurgence of high-quality archaeological research carried out by local amateur groups (call them independent archaeologists, community archaeologists or what you will), most often with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Bingham Heritage Trails Association (BHTA) is one such group, formed in 2000, initially to produce and publish trail leaflets explaining all aspects of the town's history, from heritage to natural history and buildings. This work, elegantly accomplished, has also served to fill a large and constantly growing website (www.binghamheritage.org.uk). The group also produce a quarterly newsletter, organise exhibitions, a winter lecture series, have designed and written a heritage board for the town centre and engage in archaeological and local history fieldwork and research.
In 2004 BHTA received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to undertake an ambitious six-year research project to investigate the history of settlement in the parish, from prehistoric times to the 20th century. This great undertaking comprised professionally supported archaeological fieldwork, study of historic maps and documents and even in some cases translation of original Medieval Latin texts.
The results are brought together in an exhaustively comprehensive and profusely illustrated volume authored by Peter Allen, Geoff Ashton and former Transactions editor Adrian Henstock. Bingham is a market town of some 10,000 people ten miles east of Nottingham, close to the A52 and the Fosse Way and encompassing the Roman Small Town of Margidunum. Although much altered by 20th century expansion, the original medieval town grid is still evident in the street plan, a weekly market - granted a charter in 1314 - still takes place around the town's Butter Cross.
In many ways Bingham stands as an archetype for many of the small towns and large villages of the East Midlands, just as Kibworth in Leicestershire did for Michael Wood in his recent BBC television series The Story of England. What we learn of Bingham or Kibworth points us to the potential for what we may learn of all communities. In Bingham Back in Time, archaeology and local history are brought together in eight very thorough chapters, tracing the development of the town from prehistory to the present. This is not a homogenised popular local history for the casual enthusiast but rather a source-book for Bingham's past combining detailed descriptive text with maps, charts, tables and photographs, to produce a compelling archive of a substantial piece of research.
This is not a book for the uncommitted. Its information-packed pages demand close critical attention but reward that attention with the developing story of a community from its origins, made all the more worthwhile by access to the evidence base from which that story is drawn. One problem of such an approach is that the sense of historical narrative that makes much popular local history an attractive read, can become swamped by sheer volume of information, and there is much here in what at time is a visually busy book; almost too much to take in at times, particularly in the earlier archaeology-driven chapters. The story comes alive once the bare facts are populated by the past inhabitants of Bingham as they emerge from early texts, and for my money the later sections are the more successful with the earlier chapters sometimes reading uncomfortable like the dreaded "grey reports" of commercial archaeology. To their credit, the authors have wisely recognised that many readers will be unfamiliar with some of the technical language of archaeology and local history and, in lieu of a glossary, the text is broken by regular bordered cartouches explaining technicalities such as cropmarks, wapentakes and dendrochronology in simple terms.
Overall this is an attractive, well written and well illustrated volume that deserves the attention of anyone interested in local history and archaeology in the Midlands. Its approach - more source-book than narrative - seems wholly appropriate given the nature and aims of the research on which it is based and that fact that popular bite-sized histories already exist in the form of the BHTA's many leaflets. Indeed, the fact that this volume, while seeking to popularise, never talks down to its readers should stand as a salutary lesson to the professional archaeologists who have produced many popular volumes of late, often through public funds such as the Aggregates Levy, but who have rarely managed to combine data and interpretation this effectively.
The Heritage Lottery Fund should be gratified to have supported such a fine piece of work; it is highly recommended both for its content and approach to local historical and archaeological research.
Local History News
The results of the recent membership survey were very heartening in respect of Transactions as a whole. Keith Challis has outlined very clearly the importance of retaining the number of archaeological contributions to Transactions. In terms of the intellectual breadth and health of historical studies, a journal without the contribution of archaeology would indeed be impoverished. It is also worth pointing out that many of the (funded) archaeological papers have traditionally helped to offset the publication costs of the journal as a whole - so we should not be too quick, as a membership, to dismiss the practical as well as intellectual contribution which archaeological studies make! At the same time, it is gratifying to note that so many Thoroton members find the journal to be good value, interesting in content and part of the wider benefits of membership of the society. Many articles arise out of lectures first delivered to the Society whilst others are communicated to the Thoroton readership out of a shared interest in, and love of, the history and archaeology of the county. Transactions has always occupied an important place in the range of serial publications devoted to the history of the region - including Nottinghamshire Historian, East Midland Historian and Midland History - which, between them, cover the range of interests and readership. The much-expanded Thoroton Society newsletter, under the editorship of Howard Fisher, has also increased the scope of the society's publications, including dedicated book reviews and notices of interest.
This volume of Transactions has been a particular pleasure to edit - less because it will be my last as your History editor, but because of the (largely unplanned) concentration of historical papers covering the 17th-19th centuries. Whilst this is a useful focus of interest for the current volume, I would particularly like to encourage more contributions relating to the medieval and contemporary periods (broadly conceived as post-1900 subject matter). Transactions endeavours to cover the entirety of the history and archaeology of the county and reflect this in the fair coverage of all periods. In passing the editorial baton on to others hands, I hope that Transactions will continue to play its own distinctive part in reflecting the range and diversity of academic work being undertaken on the history and archaeology of the county.
Nottinghamshire County Council, Libraries Archives and Information Recent Publications
The publications programme aims to promote the local history and heritage of Nottinghamshire and in particular the resources of the Library and Archive Service. It seeks to identify and extend the range of published material and aims to produce a small number of high quality publications a year which are commercially viable and have a popular appeal.
This year's publications have included Politics, Law and Society: The Diaries of Godfrey Tallents of Newark, 1829-1839 edited by Dr Richard Gaunt (£7.50); An outline history of the Railways of Nottinghamshire by Michael Vanns (£7.50); Turning Back the Pages on Nottinghamshire Canals by Ray and Joanne Bickel (£3.95); and a reproduction of Moules map of Nottinghamshire, 1837 (£2.50). Publications can be obtained from Nottinghamshire Archives, major libraries or by post from Libraries, Archives and Information, 4th floor. County Hall, West Bridgford, Nottingham NG2 7QP (please add £3.00 for postage and packing).
Two grant funded projects have recently been completed. Funded by the National Cataloguing Grant Scheme for Archives, an eighteen month project has seen the cataloguing of the important Southwell Minster Archives. Dating from the 14th century, and comprising over 7,000 individual items, the archives are an important source not only for the history of the Minster but also for local and family historians. They include records from over twenty villages in the county where the Minster held property and ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The catalogue can now be viewed on the internet at nawcat.nottinghamshire.gov.uk and the archives consulted in the Archives public reading room.
Work has also been completed on the revision and updating of the Nottinghamshire entries on the Manorial Documents Register. This was originally established in 1926 to record the nature and location of manorial documents following the abolition of copyhold land tenure. Recently systematic updating of this information has been undertaken by The National Archives, with the aim of not only improving its quality, range and accuracy but also making it much more accessible by putting it online. This has proceeded on a county by county basis, and the work for Nottinghamshire was carried out between August and December 2010 by an archivist at Nottinghamshire Archives. As a result, information for manorial documents in Nottinghamshire, held anywhere in the UK, is now available on the website of The National Archives at www .nationalarchives .gov .uk/mdr
'Our Nottinghamshire' website
The Nottinghamshire Libraries, Archives and Information Service has recently launched a new Community History website called Our Nottinghamshire which may be found at www.ournottinghamshire.org.uk
Funded jointly by the County and Nottingham City library services, the website aims to gather information from local communities on all aspects of Nottinghamshire history, some of which may be used to enhance library collections.
One major innovation with the website is that it is interactive, enabling anyone - from individual researchers to Local History Societies, conservation groups or archaeological investigators - to create a web page of their own on a topic of their choice. Others can then respond by adding comments, additions or corrections - or, indeed, by starting a new page of their own.
All page content and comments are mediated by library and archives staff before being 'published' on the site, and there are already some lively discussion 'threads' underway, each adding to the appreciation of Nottinghamshire's varied history.