In an alarmingly swift response to our request for specific clarification of a number of points regarding the effect of the proposed staff cuts, we received this response on the 3rd August 2017. We are not amused. The University has not addressed a single one of our concerns, or outlined in any way how they proposed to mitigate the effects of staff cuts on our studies, improving the quality of research outputs, continue to run undergraduate degree courses and improve teaching and student outcomes. Here you go:
In reply to the generic and somewhat vague response by the M2020 Project Management team on the 27th July 2017 to our concerns about the effect of the proposed staff cuts on both the department of archaeology at Manchester, and our studies particularly, we drafted a much more direct letter requesting specific details and plans:
Dear M2020 Project team and Senior Management at the University of Manchester,
We appreciate your detailed response regarding our concerns about the effect of the proposed M2020 restructuring on the Archaeology department, but fundamentally disagree with the anticipated effect that a reduction to 4 members of staff will have on both the quality of research and the student experience.
Specifically, we request further clarification regarding the following comments you made in your previous correspondence:
1. ‘We are fully committed to ensuring that you will not experience any disruption’.
This statement is beyond our comprehension. Every single one of the permanent staff within the Archaeology department is supervising PhD students. To make any one of them redundant, and therefore unable to provide supervision, will result in some disruption to at least some of the PhD students. As we each have two supervisors and an independent reviewer, it is likely that every single student will experience some level of supervisory disruption with the loss of half the departmental staff. It is entirely possible that a number of students will lose every single member of their supervisory team. The loss of 50% of the staff will result in a dramatic decrease in the breadth of expertise within the department, and given the wide range of research being carried out by the PhD students, it is likely that the remaining 4 members of staff will not have sufficient expertise in our area of study to provide adequate supervision.
We request clarification as to how exactly you propose to ensure that we ‘will not experience any disruption’ to our studies in the event that we lose one, two or all three members of our supervisory panel? How exactly do you propose to ensure that the remaining staff have adequate expertise to provide PhD level advice and supervision in all our research areas?
We further request that you clarify what the situation will be should more than 4 members of staff voluntarily leave the department? As was the case during the internal review in 2015, when three members of staff sought positions elsewhere, many of the staff are, yet again, feeling unvalued and worried about their futures. Can you confirm whether, in the event that more than 4 members of staff find employment elsewhere, that the university will recruit appropriately experienced, senior level staff to maintain a minimum of 4 members of staff within the archaeology department?
We would like to make it clear that we are in correspondence with Professor David Langslow regarding this issue, but he has been unable to provide any level of reassurance regarding proposed supervisory arrangements, largely due to the lack of information being passed to him from the M2020 Project team and senior management. David has done his best to provide us with information, and we acknowledge his support for our concerns, but we request that this issue be addressed directly by the M2020 team and senior management.
2. ‘Our vision is for The University of Manchester to be one of the leading universities in the world by 2020’. ‘Improve the quality of our research, by increasing the quality of research outputs and research income, through enabling investment in our research priorities.’
We appreciate that the SLT has high aims for the international reputation of the University of Manchester, but we do not understand how reducing the Department of Archaeology to just 4 members of staff helps with this vision. As mentioned above, reducing the number of staff to just 4 dramatically reduces the breadth of expertise within the department, therefore limiting the level of collaboration within the department and directly reducing the range of subjects that can be taught and supervised. Although the department at Manchester may be viewed as having performed poorly in the 2014 REF, we out‑performed every other department of a similar size (10 in 2014), with significantly more of our submissions scoring at 4* and 3*, compared to other departments with 10 or less staff that had the majority of their submissions graded as 2*. Whilst those departments currently ranked in the top 5 in the country all significantly ‘out‑performed’ the department of archaeology at Manchester, they also had at between two and six times the number of staff. We would argue that league tables and the REF do not tell the full story of departmental success, however this brief assessment also suggests that it is the larger departments that consistently produce ‘world-leading’ research. Furthermore, the departments that had 5 or less members of staff had the majority of their submissions graded at 1* or 2*. We do not understand how reducing the number of staff within the department will assist with your vision of producing higher quality research than at present.
We request that you clarify what your plans are to ensure that the archaeology department continues to produce increasing quantities of world‑leading research. Can you also please clarify, exactly, what provisions will be put in place to ensure that the research produced by staff within the archaeology department does not deteriorate to the level of other departments in the UK with 4-5 members of staff, as the quality of the research environment has a direct impact on the experience of PhD students.
- ‘we need urgently to improve the quality of our intake’
We note that many of the University ranking systems use student intake scores as part of their assessment, and we therefore assume that SLT believe that increasing the required admission scores will assist the quest to rise up the rankings. As a group of students who have excelled academically within the field of archaeology, often entirely within the department at the University of Manchester, we feel it is important to highlight that, like our fellow students at undergraduate level, we did not all achieve straight As at A level. Archaeology departments across the UK (with the exception of Oxbridge) have a long tradition in enabling students that did not excel at school to flourish and become outstanding students, professionals and academics. The unique mix of scientific and humanities approaches that characterises archaeological research is a particular draw for students who struggled within the confines of the school exam systems. Whilst not documented scientifically for obvious reasons, anecdotal evidence and discussions with dyslexia support staff indicate that archaeology, as a discipline, attracts disproportionate numbers of students with dyslexia, many of whom are only diagnosed at university, often explaining average or poor A level grades. Limiting admission to students who excel at school restricts the diversity of the student body and therefore diminishes the quality of the student experience. High A‑level grades are not a guarantee for achieving 1st class honours, but exclusion of those with lower grades does exclude students who may go on to excel in the subject.
- ‘provide highly talented individuals, to support large-scale infrastructure projects of national importance’
We note your understanding that the archaeological profession is in desperate need of more trained archaeologists, but do not understand how your proposed halving of the archaeology department staff in any way supports the profession’s needs. We draw your attention to the following event, organised by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, titled ‘A Crisis of Upcoming Work’ in which the dire lack of qualified archaeological staff will be discussed. The department at Manchester excels in the field of British archaeology across a range of periods, and along with its teaching of field techniques, heritage management and support for undergraduate fieldwork experience, makes Manchester graduates highly desirable employees. This combination is crucial for students wishing to work in the UK, and it is the excellent teaching of these subjects that place Manchester 7th in the UK for graduate prospects. It is inconceivable that 4 members of staff could effectively cover the range of subjects and skills that go into providing this vocationally relevant degree course, in addition to the academic skills that enable so many students to progress to MA and PhD study.
Can you please clarify what your vision is for the department in terms of the courses it is expected to deliver, and the breadth of subjects expected to be covered? A reduction in teaching volume has direct consequences for GTA opportunities for PhD students, and has the potential to leave PhD students with limited teaching experience and therefore unprepared and under qualified for academic posts.
Further to this point, there have been suggestions that with just four members of staff the archaeology department would no longer stand alone, but be merged within the department of Classics and Ancient History, and that single honours degree courses will no long run. Such a move would be hugely detrimental to students wishing to work in the UK, with an associated negative effect on the employability of students in the field of professional archaeology. Of the 6 universities placed higher than Manchester for graduate prospects, only one (Birmingham) has a joint department of Classics, Ancient History and Archaeology, in which 11 archaeologists are currently employed. Many students at Manchester are concerned that the significant reduction in staff numbers will make a stand alone department of archaeology no longer viable. We request that any consideration of merging the department of archaeology with Classics and Ancient History, or any other department, be clarified and stated out‑right.
- ‘Reduce student numbers leading to an improvement in teaching, learning and student outcomes’
It is widely recognised that smaller student:staff ratios provide a higher quality student experience, and we welcome the potential for this initiative. Manchester compares favourably at present to other high ranking UK universities offering archaeology with a student:staff ratio of 14.3:1 although it has a somewhat higher ratio than the highest ranking universities in the UK (which average around 11:1) and internationally (which average around 7:1). A reduction of staff to just 4 in September 2018 would require a simultaneous dramatic cut in student numbers to ensure adequate supervision for undergraduate students in their second and third years, with a concurrent significant negative impact on the quantity and quality of PhD supervision able to be offered by staff. We do not understand how the proposed loss of staff will provide an improvement in the experience of either undergraduate or post-graduate students.
We therefore seek a full explanation of how adequate supervisory time will be ensured for PhD students when the staff within the archaeology department are overloaded with undergraduate teaching and supervision.
After threatening to go a little public, this was the response to received to our letter:
- Improve the quality of our research, by increasing the quality of research outputs and research income, through enabling investment in our research priorities;
- Reduce student numbers on some degree programmes, leading to an improvement in teaching, learning and student outcomes;
- Improve the effectiveness and efficiency of certain areas of the Professional Support Services (PSS);
- Increase income and/or reduce costs, to provide funds for investment in strategic priorities.
As a result of the M2020 vision, the senior leadership team at the University of Manchester has proposed 171 job cuts, of which 4 will be within the Department of Archaeology. The department currently has just 8 members of staff, and this 50% reduction will effectively end the delivery of single honors undergraduate degrees and the MA degree.
The PhD students at the Department of Archaeology raised a number of concerns with the senior leadership team around the proposed cuts to staff and the impact on the survival of the department. The only reply we had was, in summary, that ‘it will improve the student experience’. In response to this non-reply, we have taken it in turns to send the following letter, every day for a week, but have yet to receive any response at all.
Dear senior management,
I write to you on behalf of all PhD students currently studying in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Manchester regarding the impact of the proposed M2020 vision on our department.
We note the responses given to date, but ask for clarification in relation to the stated aims for the M2020, specifically how the reduction from 8 to 4 members of staff within the archaeology department will improve the student experience, improve the quality of research and provide financial stability for the University.
Regarding improving the student experience, we ask specifically that you clarify exactly how you will improve the student experience by actions that reduce staffing numbers to a point where running single honor undergraduate degrees is almost impossible, there will be no master’s degree programs, smaller numbers of PhD students are enrolled and students come from a less diverse background? Given that the Archaeology department has an unparalleled reputation for positive student experience already, it is difficult for us to understand how cutting staff numbers by 50% helps to improve an already excellent student experience. At the moment Archaeology is the only subject in the University to have 100% student satisfaction, and the only Archaeology department in the UK to achieve this figure. In recent years, our staff have won four University wide awards for teaching excellence, in the fields of Social Responsibility, Mental Health Champion, Best E-Learning Experience, and Best Communicator. The positivity of the teaching and research environment is something that we PhD students have benefited from first-hand, and is something that will be increasingly valuable to the University under the TEF.
We are also very confused at the suggestion that the M2020 plan and loss of 4 members of staff from Archaeology will somehow improve the quality of research in that department. We understand from Senate meeting minutes that there is no specific grievance against individual members of staff, which suggests that none of the staff are underperforming in any way. Academic staff in the Archaeology department are involved in or direct world leading research, and are internationally recognized for their contributions to the field. They work collaboratively, and acknowledgements within their publications highlight the valuable contributions that colleagues within the department have made to their work. This positive and encouraging approach to research extends to the PhD students, who are attracted to the department by the unique research being carried out and the supportive environment. The staff attracts PhD students from across the country, and internationally, adding to the quality of the research environment at Manchester. From our perspective a loss of 50% of the staff and potentially 50% of the PhD student intake can only have a negative effect on the quality of the research at the department. Can you please clarify to us in what way you expect just 4 members of staff to produce higher quality research?
We are aware that mention has been made of reducing the staff:student ratio within the archaeology department in line with other departments within SALC, however we understand that to achieve this would only require the loss of 1.5 members of staff, not 4. Could you please clarify the situation regarding the current staff:student ratios across SALC and the proposed ratio within Archaeology?
Regarding the financial stability of the University, we fundamentally disagree with the notion that the University should be run as a business, and note that the University posted a £59.7 million surplus for the year 2015-16, had reserves totaling almost £1.5bn, of which £430m was cash. We find it difficult to understand how cutting 4 academic posts will make a significant impact regarding financial stability when such enormous sums of money are already held in reserve. What we do understand though, is the disproportionate effect this will have on an already small department, and on the individuals and families who will find themselves without an income.
The M2020 vision directly and unfairly targets Archaeology staff, and these cuts would cause irreparable damage to our department. The decision by the University not to implement it’s own recommendations from the department’s 2016 review is unjustifiable. The review concluded positively with respect to the department, and suggested a number of actions to further strengthen the department’s position. To then decide to halve the number of staff, more than any other department in SALC, indicates an underlying bias against the department which must be explained to staff and students.
We chose to study at Manchester for many reasons; most significant was the unrivalled expertise and unwavering support of our supervisory staff, coupled with the enthusiasm and vibrancy of the Archaeology department’s research environment. The cuts will leave us with inadequate supervision that will no doubt have a severe effect on our research experience, the quality of our work, and ultimately our career opportunities. The threat to our staff undermines the foundations of our shared identity and affects the prestige of the University of Manchester on an international level. We therefore implore you to reconsider these unjustifiable measures.
We look forward to hearing from you regarding our specific concerns shortly.
The submerged landscapes project was initially planned as a 3 month research sabbatical, but the surprising success of analysing old data, and the enthusiasm and interest from academics, government agencies and the local Traditional Owner groups meant that work on the project continued for over 18 months. In order to maintain interest, and keep people updated on what was a ground-breaking project in Australia, I wrote a number of short updates for the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA) Newsletter.
Unfortunately these Newsletters haven’t yet been transferred to the new AIMA website but thanks to the publications team at AIMA these updates are now available online via my academia.edu page. The first dates from 2007 and provides an introduction to the project. The second is a halfway point update from 2008. The final one from 2009 provides a summary of the results, including background on the animation, the pollen diagram and radiocarbon date created as a spin off for the project, and a brief discussion on the validity of the methodology and it’s potential for use elsewhere in Australia. I hope they are of interest for those looking for references from this project whilst I try to find some time to finish the journal publication.
Just to get you in the mood, here is one of the 19th century images that helped inform and inspire our animation.
The following information was formerly hosted online by Heritage Victoria, Department of Planning and Community Development, but is no longer available. The information has been slightly edited for clarity.
The Submerged Landscapes of Port Phillip Bay project used published sources, and previously collected raw data to investigate the potential for the survival of ancient land surfaces beneath modern marine sediment and sea water in Port Phillip Bay. Based on sub-bottom profiler data, pollen data, archaeological and historical evidence it was possible to reconstruct the drowned landscape and ancient environment of Port Phillip Bay area around 10,000 years ago, before the Bay was flooded by rising sea levels. This project was the first of its kind in Australia, and demonstrated the value of this multi-disciplinary approach to investigating submerged ancient landscapes in Australian environments.
The landscape reconstruction aimed to provide an idea of what the ancient landscape might have looked like, and uses topographic information from the seismic data and vegetation information from pollen data. The activities of the people represented are based on a combination of archaeological information and historical illustrations.
The research was funded by Heritage Victoria through Victoria’s Heritage Strategy.
How do we know the Bay was dry land?
Since the earliest occupation of Australia, around 60,000BP (Flood 1994: 1), global changes in climate have had dramatic effects on sea levels, exposing and covering vast areas of land. Periods of intense cold (Ice Ages) have frozen sea water in glaciers and ice sheets, resulting in sea levels dropping up to 150m below present levels (Chappell et al 1996).
The last time the sea level dropped on this scale was at the peak of the last Ice Age around 20,000 years ago. It is estimated that Tasmania and the Bass Strait islands was joined to mainland Australia until around 14,000 years ago, when the sea level was approximately 50m below present levels (Lambeck & Chappell 2001). Using current seabed depths as a guide, it is thought that the coastline 14,000 years ago might have been about 7km south of Point Nepean, with the Yarra River running through the area now known as Port Phillip Bay. The area beyond Port Phillip Heads may have been like a river delta, as the freshwater ran southwards to meet the sea, but the effect that the narrow gorge at the Heads had on the water flow is uncertain. It is possible that a waterfall could have formed due to the height difference between the Bay and the land beyond the Heads. Without the assessment of additional geological data from this area, it is not possible to draw definite conclusions. It is estimated that Port Phillip Bay was flooded by rising sea levels around 8000 years ago (Holdgate et al 2001).
How do we know what the landscape was like?
Sub-bottom profile data provide a image like a slice (profile) through the seabed, and show us the layers of sediment beneath the sea. Data from Port Phillip Bay shows river valleys and later accumulation of sediments through time. Figure 1 shows one of the profiles through Port Phillip Bay where large valleys are visible, but now filled in with sediments.
By combining position and depth information from a number of profiles, a 3D model was created, shown in Figure 2, which provides an idea of what the topography would have been like prior to flooding. The sub-bottom profile survey lines are approximately 2-3km apart, making this model very rough, but figure 2 does suggest that the Bay area was generally low lying, with large shallow valleys up to 3km wide running through it in the northern part, and around 6 narrower, deeper valleys in the southern part.
The channels could not be traced any further south due to the type of seabed sediments, which prevented deeper penetration by the sub bottom profiler. It is thought that the smaller channels re-joined into one large channel, then flowed out through Port Phillip Heads in a deep channel or waterfall (Holdgate 1981: 128).
How do we know what trees & plants were here?
Generalisations about vegetation at the end of the last Ice Age suggest a thin and broken band of woodland along the eastern and south-eastern coast Australia, whilst the Bass Strait Islands were dominated by open scrub and heath, with some forested areas (D’Costa & Kershaw 1997). It has been suggested that the windy and dry climatic conditions of the period may have reduced woodlands to localised favourable sites, such as river valleys, and that grass and scrub covered much of the eastern coast (Adams & Faure 1997).
The vegetation reconstruction in this animation is based on pollen information collected from buried sediments in Port Phillip Bay. Sediments recovered within core samples contained pollen from ancient trees and plants. The pollen of each plant and tree type is unique and can be seen under a microscope, allowing the identification of plant and tree species that were alive in the area in the past.
Sediment and pollen from the top of the core is the most recent, whilst the sediment and pollen from the bottom of the core is the oldest. Core 7D, collected by Guy Holdgate in 1971 from the central part of Port Phillip Bay, was re-analysed and a new dates obtained. An oyster shell from 1.5m down core 7D was dated by radiocarbon to 6273 ± 36 BP (Wk-23494). The pollen from the lowest sample (3.75m) produced evidence of Sheoaks (Casuarinaceae), daisies (Asteraceae), a small amount of grass (Poaceae), saltbush (Chenopodiaceae) and some fern, moss and liverwort spores (Barbara Wagstaff pers comm.). As the pollen comes from a layer below the radiocarbon dated oyster shell, the pollen must be older than 6273 ± 36 BP.
How do we know that people were here?
Dreamtime stories passed down through the generations tell the stories of the Aboriginal groups who lived, and still live in the Port Phillip Bay area. The stories describe the formation of the landscape, the daily lives, relationships, customs and rituals of the people living here.
Archaeological excavations from around Port Phillip Bay have found evidence of people living in the area continuously from around 32,000 years ago. Sites at Keilor and Pakenham Lakeside provide information about daily life in temporary campsites, with hearths and stone tool working areas. Burials at Green Gully, Brimbank Park and on the Werribee River provide evidence of customs and rituals.
Historical records and traditional crafts can provide an indication of tool kits that might not survive archaeologically, such as basketry.
What are the people in the reconstructed campsite doing (Figure 3)?
It is thought that the climate of the Melbourne area around 10,000 years ago would have been slightly damper and cooler than today. The only direct information we have about how people kept warm in this damper and colder climate are the archaeological remains of hearths, so we have shown one of these at the camp.Historical records and oral history from contemporary Traditional Owner groups, describe the local community using Possum skin cloaks to keep dry and warm, so we have dressed our people in these. In addition, a number of historical drawings and photographs show that different designs of bark huts were used as shelter, but it is possible that shelters could have been roofed with grasses, reeds or rushes or animal hides.
We have depicted people at the camp fishing and with a Kangaroo ready for butchering. This is based on both tools and animal bones that have been found archaeologically, and Aboriginal knowledge of food sources in the Port Phillip Area that has been passed down through the generations.
The animation can be found here on YouTube
The landscape visualisation and animation was created by Janet Saw and Tom Chandler at the Information Technology Unit (ITU) at Monash University. Through the combination of the DEM model and environmental information. It took around 120 hours to create, using four pieces of animation software; Autodesk 3ds Max, Forest Pack Pro 3, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe After Effects. The team converted digital elevation models, that were created using the seismic sub-bottom profile data, into a 3D mesh. Landscape colour, texture and vegetation was then added. The trees were mostly Casaurina and were added using random scattering algorithms. The limited budget did not allow for a full spectrum of accurate vegetation to be created, and therefore alternative, closest match models were used.
Adams J.M. & Faure H. 1997. (eds), QEN members. Review and Atlas of Palaeovegetation: Preliminary land ecosystem maps of the world since the Last Glacial Maximum. Oak Ridge National Laboratory, TN, USA. http://www.esd.ornl.gov/projects/qen/adams1.html
Chappell et al. 1996. Reconciliation of late Quaternary sea levels derived from coral terraces at Huon peninsula with deep sea oxygen isotope records. Earth and Planetary Science Letters. 141: 227-236.
D’Costa, D.D. & Kershaw, P. 1997. An expanded Recent Pollen Database from South-eastern Australia and its Potential for refinement of Palaeoclimatic Estimates. Aust. J. Bot. 45: 583-605.
Flood, J. 1994. Archaeology of the Dreamtime. Marleston, South Australia: J.B. Publishing.
Holdgate, G.R., Thompson, B.R. & Guerin, B. 1981. Late Pleistocene Channels in Port Phillip. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria. 92: 119-130
Holdgate et al. 2001. Marine geology of Port Phillip, Victoria. Australian Journal of Earth Sciences. 48: 429-455.
Lambeck, K. & Chappell, J. 2001. Sea Level Change Through the Last Glacial Cycle. Science. 292: 679-686.
Last week I attended a really interesting session, aimed at postgraduate students, to introduce us to a range of of interdiscipinary archives and institutions relevant to researching the history of London, organised by two Senate House librarans. The day included short introductions to the collections at Senate House Library, the Centre for Metropolitan Studies at the IHR and British History Online.
The day brought a number of archives and sources to my attention that I hadn’t known about, including the Guildhall Library and Bishopsgate Insitute. I am also excited to investigate the colletions of Victorian visitor and walking tour guides that may prove particularly useful in trying to understand the experience and perception of landscape in the pre-embankment period. I also discovered the Talis views of London, which sadly don’t seem to cover Chelsea, probably becuase the area was considered outside of London in the early 1840s when his images and guides were written/drawn.
The Literary London Society were also in attendance, an organisation whose stated aim is to ‘foster interdisciplinary and historically wide ranging research into London literature, in its historical, social and cultural contexts’. The LLS pulls together a wide range of people researching London, but from varied different angles, with varying relationships with London literature, including historical geographers, urban historians alongside the expected English Literature researchers. I have previously looked into the possibility of using contemporary literature to provide some indication of how the pre-Embankment landscape was perceived and experienced at the time, but suspect that becuase the volume of mid-late 19th century literature on London is so huge, scouring it for references specifically to the riverside or Chelsea speifically may be beyond the scope of my PhD. Michelle Allen’s book Cleansing the City (2007) gives an indication of how this might work, using detailed analysis of Dickens’ literature to explore the ‘geographies’ of 19th century London. However, one potential way into yet another discipline that I have no experience in, may be the 2017 Literary London Society conference. I am wondering if a session to discuss riverside landscapes in litereature might provide the opportunity to talk to other people who have more expertise and experience in this area? I will ponder.
We were also given a brief introduction to the Layers of London project, being coordinated by the Centre for Metropolitan Research at the Institute of Historical Research. The project is digitising and georeferencing a number of historic maps of the Barking and Dagenham area, however the project may provide both an unusual source of information, and an interesting output for my research. In addition to traditional map regression type work that the project is doing, they are collecting oral histories, biographies and photographic collections to tell a variety of stories. Of particular interest is the collection of oral histories, biographies, and personal photographs from residents of the Gasgoine Estate, which is due to be demolished and ‘regenerated’. Whilst I haven’t had a look at these archives yet, they might provide a fascinating insight into people’s connections with homes and place within the wider estate, thereby providing a contemporary ethnographic view of the impact and effect of imposed housing demolition and landscape remodeling.
Sarah Milligan from British History Online provided an excellent run through of some key sources available through the BHO website. Sources include the Victoria County Histories, the Survey of London and Old and New London, Volume 5 (1878), which provides fabulous descriptions of the changes that the construction of the Chelsea Embankment brought:
‘At its commencement by Battersea Bridge very little land has been reclaimed from the Thames; but one alteration is worthy of mention—the old awkward way down to the steamboat pier under the archway of a private house has been cleared away, and the pontoon, moored close to the wall, is reached by a bridge resting in an opening in the granite. An old block of houses, too, which stood between this spot and Chelsea Church has been entirely removed. They formed a narrow quaint looking old thoroughfare, called Lombard Street, one part of which was spanned by the upper rooms of an old house. The backs of one side of this thoroughfare overlooked, and here and there overhung, the river; but they have all been cleared away, and the narrow street converted into a broad one, so that one side of it faces the river.’ From <http://www.british-history.ac.uk/old-new-london/vol5/pp50-70>
Leila Kassir gave a fascinating talk discussing the links between writers of London fictional literature and London historiography, and astutely identified that ways in which these writers become implicated in the creation of London’s identity when they write about the city. I felt slightly shamed by the small volume of ‘London Literature’ that I’ve read, but feel inspired to explore more.
The librarians/archivists had kindly brought a number of interesting volumes for us to look at. One of them was titled ‘London on the Thames: Life Above and Below Bridge’ by Angus B. Reach. Whilst the book itself doesn’t have a publication date, the Birkbeck online catalogue suggests 1848. In this lovely little book are a series of descriptions of the river and riverside, including this passage, which provides a lovely evocative description of the Thames at mid-century:
This chapter is merely devoted to a cursory glance at the river in its now-a-days’ condition, and to attempt to convey to the reader’s mind a general notion of the mass of elements, which, when united, produce the Thames.
Let the student, then, conceive an agglomerate mass made up as follows: – mud banks, dead cats, dead dogs, slimy hurdles, coal-barges, grimy wharfs, common sewers, police galleys, dishes of whitebait, coal-heavers, water-side public-houses, penny steam-boats, mudlarks, Jacks in the Water, tiers of colliers, ugly ballast boats, Dutch craft with Kennet eels, Boulogne steamers with railway defaulters, yachts going as far as Erith on a voyage to the East Indies, gents conducting gentesses to the Red House at Battersea; stokers fastening down safety-valves, reading penny newspapers, and drinking beer instead of attending to their work; foreigners in funny hats and coats going to see the Tunnel; touters on all the piers shouting ‘Now then, London Bridge, Thames Tunnel, Lime’us, Shadwell, Greenwich, Blackwall, and Woolwich’; rowing-men in flannel shirts and straw-hats, in training for a match; halfpenny boats, penny boats, two-penny boats, three-penny boats, four-penny boats, five-penny boats, six-penny boats – all puffing, paddling, snortin, blowing- boys in all of them, screaming “move her ahee-id, a turn a sta-arn, ease herrr, stop herrr, back herrr;” imagine all this and a great deal more-tiers of shipping, lines of old tumble-down houses, rigging, chimneys, wharfs, bridges, boats, and everywhere muddy water and restless currents-all moving-all comingling-and all over a canopy of ever-rolling smoke; gather together, we say, all these elements in your minds-eye, and before that eye will be displayed the idea to be conjured up by these magic words “The Thames”.
In 2011 the first Day of Archaeology launched, with a website to give the world a sample of what we archaeologist actually get up to. Although the tellybox may distil our work into a few exciting days of excavation, the reality is a little different. For starters, a huge number of archaeologists do not spend their time excavating, or even recording archaeological sites. Whilst it is always nice to enthuse people about archaeology through new discoveries, it is the view behind the scenes, and out of the field which I think is really wonderful about the Day of Archaeology. The fact that entries come from all over the world adds to the colourful view of what we get up to.
This year I wanted to join in this wonderful celebration of archaeology. The Day of Archaeology was a Friday, a day I am usually on childcare, so I wrote about the day before. It may not be the most exciting entry, and is unlikely to persuade anyone to chose archaeology as a profession, but it will certainly provide a pretty standard view of what archaeology can end up being about! You can read my blog entry for the 2016 Day of Archaeology here. Enjoy!
After my initial visit to the Chelsea foreshore in January, which confirmed that there was interesting archaeological remains to be surveyed, I started planning some dates for a systematic survey. As my site is on the foreshore of a tidal river, it spends more time covered in water than exposed. As such, dates and times for site visits need to be carefully planned. The best times for visits are at ‘Spring tides’, where the gravitational pull of the Moon and Earth are aligned to created the higher high tides and lower low tides. These low Spring tides expose the most area of foreshore, and therefore the most archaeological remains. Spring tides are fortnightly, and the level to which the water drops varies daily, as does the time of the lowest water level. The provision of tide prediction tables makes planning easier. The low tides, however, still only provide around two hours when the foreshore is exposed.
The process of fieldwork planning was made all the more complicated for me, however, because I have a two year old to factor in. We do not live in London, but I am lucky to have family in central London who are willing to look after the toddler whilst I romp along the foreshore. To work around available childcare, my fieldwork needed to be on Friday – Mondays. The combined limitations of Spring tides, daylight, Friday – Monday childcare all conspired to give just four weekends between February and September with suitable tides. In February, a schedule of visits to London every other weekend in April and May seemed completely achievable. In my head, I would spend about three hours each morning doing my survey work, and perhaps a chilled hour over lunch downloading photographs and GPS data, leaving the afternoons free to catch up with family and my boy. Awesome.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
In reality, we returned ‘home’ from surveys at lunchtime tired and hungry, and with hours of work to do downloading GPS survey data and photographs, writing up recording forms and backing everything up. The less said about transfering photos from Macs to PCs the better! On days when my parents were on childcare duty, they went for a nap in the afternoon, having been run to exhaustion by the small one. This meant I had to wait until Small was asleep to download and back up data. On other weekends, my husband was able to join us for a few days, leaving me free in the afternoons to work. Unfortunately in neither scenario did I manage the chilled afternoon I envisaged. Having said this, highlights of my fieldwork so far have included a lovely lunch at the Tea House Theatre with Katie Mills on the first day of fieldwork, a family lunch post survey, with Mum and I still in wellies, at the Butcher and Grill, a picnic in Vauxhall park and ice creams in Battersea Park with Peta Knott, Nathalie Cohen and Eliott Wragg. These moments of calm digesting work and lunch in lovely surroundings have made working in central London a real pleasure. The amazing support my family has given me has made the difference between doing fieldwork or not. Because of their help I have not only been able to physically get onto the foreshore (without taking Small), but I have also been given valuable time to do all the data processing that has ensured every day has been productive.
In conclusion; trying to do fieldwork with a toddler in tow is harder work and more tiring than I thought. Which is also my current feeling about doing a PhD with a toddler.