Southborough and High Brooms Amateur Archaeology Society

Southborough Valley Community Archaeology Project


Monday, 20 June 2016

Hops across the Channel

Archie Ologist ponders the big decision. 

With the final few days upon us to make up our minds on the referendum for the UK’s status in the EU, Archie Ologist finally got round to thinking about how the migration issue might affect him and his life. He had been so preoccupied by the new dig in the Southborough Valley that he had entirely lost touch with day to day reality. There had been much in the media about migration, among other things, and Archie needed to give the matter some thought. In his studies of the issue so far the trend of inward migration to this country seemed significant and it vexed him that our indigenous culture had been so radically affected by the ever continuing flow of different peoples into our green-and-pleasant, tea-at-four-o’clock, church-bells-and-cricket-on-village-greens Sceptred Isle.

In his mind he began to make a list of all the peoples who had invaded our shores. It seemed to stretch back a long way. By the time he had got to the Beaker people he knew there was still a long way to go but he gave up and began time travelling forward. Among others the Celts had come our way followed: Romans, Saxons, Danes, Belgics, Normans, Irish, Hugenots, Jews, Indians, Africans, Chinese, and any number of traders from Europe and beyond. Eventually he had to stop reading Wikipedia his brain hurt so much. In the early days many had come illegally without the proper documentation and they had traded freely without due regard to quotas and protocols. They had come for our rich resources of flint, tin, lead and salt, and in return brought their strange ways and customs including some fine pottery and jewellery. These migrations had continued, and he remembered in particular the Flemish who had come over here to turn our wool into cloth and thus helped make the country extremely prosperous. Queen Elizabeth the First had been so impressed that she came to Cranbrook herself where, in the Cloth Hall, she saw and praised these foreigners who were weaving the renowned Kentish broadcloth.

Archie decamped to the pub where he was once again reminded of the Flemish weavers who did so much to introduce hops and beer to the country. He fell asleep and had a drink-fuelled nightmare where he lived in a land with no evidence of hill forts, stone circles, villas, Viking and Saxon jewellery, cloth halls, gold hoards, olive oil jars, castles, and a succession of his favourite historic things and places. His weekends were filled with emptiness and there was nothing interesting to do. On waking he reflected that, at least in historical terms, archaeologists had done well out of Johnny foreigner. None of this helped him make up his mind but it gave him some pause for thought.

He logged on to the Voter Registration website. He felt he would be ready to make his mark when the time came. What was this? He had spent so long down holes and in the pub that he had missed the registration deadline and the extended deadline. It was all the fault of the EU. If it hadn’t existed, then there would be no need to vote and therefore he wouldn’t have missed the deadline. That settled it – he now knew which way he would have voted had he registered in time. Well, there was nothing for it now except a few more pints of Flemish comfort.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Community Archaeology: funding & sponsorship

Robert Falvey presenting the Mayor of Tunbrige Wells, Cllr David Elliot, with a t-shirt for his pledge to Kickstarter campaign.   
It might be said that a community archaeological group is only as good as its members. As the new digging season gets underway, SHAAS can reflect upon the strong support from its members and its growing assetsAt our inaugural AGM we passed a motion to introduce membership fees. SHAAs effectively moved from being a volunteer group to a constituted archaeology society. It was decided to keep subscriptions as low as possible so as to not impede its existing members while it attempts to grow more self-sufficient. We are glad to see that we have not seen a fall in membership since fees were introduced. We continue to have an enthusiastic pool of members to draw on as commence work on our new site at Honnington Farm.
Table Quiz held at the Imperial Pub, Southborough to raise funds
Over the winter period we had more time to focus on fundraising, as the rain had put an end to our fun in the woods. Robert Falvey took the lead on raising capital via crowdfunding. This is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a larger number of people, typically via the internet. Kickstarter is one of the leading established benefit corporations which provide a platform for fundraisers, and a successful campaign led to the raising of £1,062. Each person who pledges support gets a reward and the most popular of these rewards was an official SHAAS t-shirt. Other popular gifts included tickets to our forthcoming archaeology workshops.  This was enough to provide its members with a range of brand-new archaeological equipment and facilities. Tricia Bamblett soon followed suit with the inclusion of the society in the Asda Green Token Scheme which raised much needed money for our cause. 

The fundraising did not stop there; the society wrote a successful bid to the Royal Tunbridge Wells Round Table Give-Away and received a generous donation of £714. This grant went straight into developing the facilities and pay for a geophysical survey of our new site.

This project shows that community groups can be successful if run with a strong community ethos and aligned to achievable goals. SHASS does not believe in squirreling away the money generated. Rainy days may come, but for the time being we are enjoying the fine weather. All the money raised has being invested into our new site to make it a fantastic resource for the community. SHAAS strives to be a beacon for those people who were fired up by the sort of popular people’s archaeology so effectively fostered by Time Team and its successors. 
Part of the money raised went towards our site office, which was a group effort to put up!
If you would like to take part in this summers dig please get in touch via the website  or email

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Believe what you will

Last month’s bit of fun about Frittenden set me thinking of some of the other archaeology-based trickery that has been perpetrated over the years. Recently the National Trust tried to persuade us that twice every year they move one of the stones at Avebury to allow for British Summer Time which, of course, the original builders of the monument did not know about. Effective April foolery often relies on the po-faced establishment status of the National Trust or English Heritage and other august bodies – we trust them implicitly. 

A similar hoax was perpetrated in 1991 when the Daily Mail reported the following under the headline: Stonehenge faces a new dawn today. 
“To correct the misalignment caused by the gradual slowing of the Earth's rotation, the world-famous monument is to be dismantled and re-assembled on another site of similar prominence. The plan to transport the stones, which attract 700,000 visitors every year, has outraged conservation groups and caused a split in the Ancient Society….  A consortium of Tokyo businessmen is believed to have offered 484billion yen (2billion) for the monument, saying it will enhance Japan's status as the Land of the Rising Sun when re-sited on top of sacred Mount Fuji….  So sensitive are the stones that archaeologists have ruled they must be moved in exactly the same way they were erected. Thousands of labourers will be hired and trained in prehistoric building techniques.” 

Photos can be helpful in making hoaxes more convincing (I've no idea where Rob found his tourist sign for the treacle mine article but it added a satisfying veneer of veracity to the tale). Even being on social media can add to a story’s weight. In 2015 Justbod pasted a story on Facebook claiming that Stonehenge was having a roof installed over it to protect it from the weather, with some pretty convincing architect’s impressions. Others have used early photographs of renovation work at Stonehenge to claim that it was erected between the 1930s and 50s and even claim that the whole monument is made out concrete. In 2013 a furore was caused when it was announced by English Heritage that adverts would be projected against the stones at night to increase revenue. There was a strange compulsion to believe this simply because many people feel that EH is becoming too commercial – too worried about chasing the cash and turning its sites into theme parks. 

If astrological alignments are the ‘in’ thing, then we will want to explain sites in those terms. And if space race tragedies are your bag, here is a preview of next year’s SHAAS April Fool hoax – the wreckage of a failed Russian Voshkod mission of 1964, photographed at a secret location near Lamberhurst earlier this year. The crew miraculously survived because the capsule first landed on a hayrick before sliding into a muck heap. Unbelievable eh?

In hindsight we can all spot a hoax but at the time it may not be quite as easy. Piltdown Man worked as a hoax because Darwinism was a new science and people felt the need to find fill in the ‘gaps’ in the historic record. In the end we believe what we want to believe. If we want to explain an archaeological site we can construct any theory we like and then search for the facts to prove it.

By Charlie Bell

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Sweet smell of success

I have many walks over the years in Kent and Sussex and have come across some amazing things. I recently walked through Frittenden and was intrigued by a tall brick chimney to the south of this small village. On further enquiry it turned out to be connected with the now extinct Frittenden treacle extraction industry.

The industry began in a small way in 1667 when a nobleman on horseback, Sir John Blackstrap, stopped to rest his horse by a small cottage and discovered a spring oozing a black sticky substance. The cottager, Widow Tate, said it had been there for many years and that it was how she fattened her pigs.  It also had miraculous healing properties and had cured her gout on more than one occasion. Sir John bought the land from Widow Tate and rebuilt her cottage for her on the proviso that she acted as a Dispenser for those who began to seek out what became known as a miracle cure. As the crowds increased it became obvious that it would be better to extract the treacle, purify it and distribute it across the country and so the treacle extraction industry was born. We know this much from extant records but until recently there had been no archaeological study of the area. It was known that there were at least two treacle mines in the parish with associated industrials works but apart from the chimney itself the location and nature of the various sites was unknown.

Last year a group of enthusiastic residents, supported by Tate and Lyle and a local university set up the Frittenden Archaeological Research Trust and began a study of a small area near the chimney. Initial work proved encouraging and there were some significant finds including an early treacle smelting hearth and a dump of Victorian treacle tins. The leader of F.A.R.T., Irma Sweetheart, told me, tongue in cheek, that she was experiencing a sugar rush and was very excited about the project. 
SHAAS are always exploring joint ventures with local societies in the area, especially one as appetising as this. F.A.R.T. is seeking volunteers to help on this year’s dig and invites potential archaeologists to meet at Frittenden Village Hall on April 1st to discuss the next phase and to pore over the finds found to date. To act as a sweetener, the group will be serving treacle pudding and custard to everyone who attends. We wish them all the best with their endeavours.  

Friday, 5 February 2016

SHAAS acquires vast flint assemblage

The society is delighted to announce that it has received a generous donation of flint artefacts dating back over 10,000 years. The vast assemblage of over 800 unique pieces of worked flint has been gifted to the society by Mr David Lambert. The collection was amassed by Mr Lambert of a period of nearly 50 years of field-walking.  

A small sample of the flints donated to the society

An example of one of the pieces
The flints will form part of the handling collection which the society will use for educational purposes. The artefacts donated are from the second tier of Mr Lambert’s vast collection. These tools were made by the process of “knapping.” Knapping will always leave similar scars on stone artefacts, regardless of whether they are the work of the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, or elaborate Bronze Age dagger blades.These pieces of worked flint exhibit characteristics such as retouching, percussion marks, bi-faces and bulbs which will help to teach people, young and old, about stone tool technologies

In 2005 a group of Finds Liaison Officers from the Portable Antiquities Scheme visited Mr Lambert’s home to record the function, date, material and location of his finds. The information was then uploaded onto a national database. This allows the Lambert assemblage to be used by researchers who want to understand more about the archaeological landscape of the Tunbridge Wells district. Click here to see examples of Mr Lambert's collection on the PAS website.

Mr Lambert explaining what he finds so interesting about these finds

Below is an extract from a talk on the Portable Antiquities Scheme Mr Lambert gave in 2007 at the British Museum:
I am not a trained archaeologist but by field-walking in my spare time, mainly between 1960 and 1980, I collected thousands of prehistoric flint artefacts, marking most of them with six-digit map references. The majority came from the hilly east-central core of the Weald, the eroded anticline forming South-East England south of the River Thames. In relation to the time spent and area covered the number of finds is not great and without a stratigraphic context most cannot be dated more closely than to between 10,000 and 4,000 years ago. But between them at least they indicate Mesolithic, Neolithic, and possibly Bronze Age activity in several localities where I believe none had been recorded before.   
Searching was helped by the fact that flint does not occur naturally among the clays and sandstones of the central Weald.  All that is found there had to be brought by people, who had to transport it 30 kilometres or so from the north or the south, where flint does occur naturally as nodules in and on the chalk escarpments of the North and South Downs and in the Thames river terraces.
I began my field-walking by searching the sandy tracks of a forest near a group of published Late Mesolithic rock-shelter finds. I knew of no published report of open-air sites from the forest itself but found many hundred artefacts on certain parts of some tracks. Most were thin waste flakes, but there were also microliths, blades, scrapers, cores, core-rejuvenating flakes, burnt cores from hearths or possibly used as pot-boilers, and in another part of the forest a fragment from a polished flint axe-head. Apart from that the material was mostly Mesolithic in character.  
Later I explored ploughed fields in a wider area with mixed results. Most heavy clay soils proved unproductive, but hundreds of items appeared in the hillside fields of quite heavy soil around my home overlooking the River Teise valley near the village of Lamberhurst in the county of Kent. Finds here have included blades, scrapers, burins, microliths, cores, micro-cores, leaf-shaped and tanged-and-barbed arrowheads, and a polished axe-head fragment. A backed blade and other artefacts even turned up in my garden. This varied material probably includes Mesolithic, Neolithic and perhaps even Bronze Age items.
Searching for flints in the east-central Weald is now less productive than when I did most of my looking more than 20 years ago. So I am glad that I field-walked when I did, and very pleased that because I had marked items with their provenance, the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s finds liaison officers for Kent and Sussex have thought it worthwhile to put them on record. Without this national archive, collections like mine would be undocumented, and become forgotten and lost.    
 David Lambert 

Robert Falvey of SHAAS receives part of Mr Lambert's collection  
Robert Falvey, Chair of SHAAS, was delighted to accept Mr Lambert's donation of flint artefacts:
"I was blown away by the amount of flints David has collected over the years. I'm particularly interested in the pieces he retrieved from the Southborough area. We have more flint artefacts now than if we spent a whole year excavating at High Rocks"  
The collection is going to be used as part of the society's outreach to schools. SHAAS will be accepting school visits to the site during the summer term. The next season of digging will be starting in May. If you would like to take part in the forthcoming excavations in Southborough then please contact the society via the blog or email

Please visit the website for more information.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Outreach to Tunbridge Wells Primary School

When the Year 5 class at St. Peter's Church of England Primary School was asked by their teacher to write a report on prehistory, one of the pupils knew exactly what he wanted to write about. Alexander Yeo had read in his local paper about the Iron Age discoveries made by Southborough & High Brooms Amateur Archaeology Society. Deciding he wanted to do his report on SHAAS, Alex contacted the society via email with a list of interview questions. Robert Falvey, one of the archaeologists, replied to his enquiries with photographs of the furnace and Stone Age tools allowing Alex to write his report on the local Stone Age and Iron Age.

Alex signed off his interview with a request for society to come visit his class. Ms Fisher, Alex's teacher, was more than happy to find us a slot in her busy schedule leading up to Christmas. Simon Bamblett and Robert Falvey, of the outreach team, visited St. Peter's School early on a Monday morning with a handling collection which includes items from the Southborough Valley dating back 4,000 years. The presentation started with a group activity for the pupils. After an introduction to archaeology the class are set their first fun task. The pupils work together to solve a 3D jigsaw puzzle which mimics the conservation care given to ancient pottery found on archaeological excavations.

Objects found while excavating are used to build a picture of the Stone Age. Simon and Robert explained how tools are made from flint and passed around worked pieces of flint. The main focus of the talk was on the Iron Age as SHAAS had excavated a metal working furnace from this period. We learned previously that most children these days know all about the evolution of tool technology from playing the computer game Minecraft©. The game effectively represents the Three Age System by moving through stone, bronze and iron tool technologies. In the game players must collect types ore to forge into metal objects. Using Minecraft© allows us to explain this complex procedure while showing the real iron-rich stone and bloomery slag used by our ancestors.

The end of the session we invite the class up to take a closer look at all the objects we brought to show them. This is an opportunity for the pupils look closely at artefacts they might only ever see behind glass at a museum.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015


This project was started by a group of people banding together, with only their own resources, to explore the archaeology of their area. We are currently holding the status of an unincorporated organisation but we seek to establish ourselves as a sustainable field school in the area. This month we launched our crowdfunding campaign at our first public lecture, which was held at Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery. We hoped to show the wider public what we intended to do with their support. Community engagement and sustainability is high on our priorities and one of the objectives of our event was to highlight our fundraising aims. Our event also allowed us to show to the wider public what we have discovered over the summer.

SHAAS was lucky to secure a grant from the High Weald Joint Advisory Committee soon after being established. This grant of £1000 awarded to us the project is in a draw-down capacity which means that the funding is received gradually. SHAAS are extremely grateful to the support shown by the High Weald Joint Commission but the reality is that most of the costs at present are being covered by its core members. We have launched this crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds needed to keep the project going at this critical preliminary stage. 

Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a larger number of people, typically via the internet. Kickstarter is one of the leading established benefit corporations which provide a platform for fundraisers. Click here to view our Kickstarter campaign.                  


Why we need your support.

Our tool shed is more akin to something found on an allotment. We need to purchase adequate tools so that our members can carry out their work efficiently and concentrate on learning about archaeology. In order for us to run a sustainable service to our members, ranging from age 7 – 70, we must install the proper amenities on our site. We need the financial support to bring our site up to acceptable standards. Developing a field school in the local area will enable people learn the skills needed to pursue a career in archaeology. We intend to publish our findings in academic papers in the hope our research will extend the archaeological record of Kent. We will undoubtedly have to pay for publishing our work, which means we will have to allocate funds to a printing budget. Printing educational material will be a weekly running cost which will eat into the printing budget.

We will continue to sustain a strong link with those who back us, contacting with them via our newsletter, emails, website, and via special events. We count on community support, to return this goodwill we will update the developments unfolding on the community's door step. 

Even a small contribution of £5 will help us along our path to becoming a sustainable enterprise. People who back our Kickstarter campaign will receive a tangible reward along with a one of a kind experience in exchange for their pledge! Click here to find out more about the rewards for lending support.

Please follow the link below to find out more about our Kickstarter campaign: