Fieldwork and family

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.


Back of the car packed with survey kit, pushchair and balance bike. All the essentials for fieldwork with a toddler