Thursday, 27 March 2014

What they left behind - the role of archaeology

Keys to the Past homepage

This week we have another guest post, this time on the role of archaeology in the project, written by the Historic Environment Record Officer, Nick Boldrini:

Not to be left out of the centenary commemorations, Durham County Council Archaeology team wanted to get into the act. Site research was started in the summer of 2013 by a project volunteer from Durham University, then as part of the HLF funded project, it was possible to take on a Temporary Assistant Historic Environment Record Officer, to do an audit of World War I records.  

The Historic Environment record (HER) is the County Council's system for recording archaeological sites and remains, to aid management of them through the planning application process, by farmers and other landowners, and also to help interested researchers.

Ben Dyson was appointed to the post, and for 4 months he had the task of researching records on sites through the County, and adding or updating our records.

Ben had the opportunity to look into various different aspects of the war and its impact on County Durham, such as the use of buildings as Volunteer Aid Detachment Hospitals, the creation of airfields and Prisoner of War camps, and the expansion of military camps and facilities, such as rifle ranges. Although this was a wide remit, there was only a limited amount of information easily available, and this work was quickly finished. There is still potential here, though, for further research by volunteers.

The main chunk of work was the addition of records about War memorials. This involved cross referencing our records to those of the North East War memorials Project and the United Kingdom National Inventory of War Memorials, as well as locating them on maps when often the descriptions were a bit vague. Not all could be located, and there is an opportunity for volunteers to help us try and track some of these down.

The HER and Archaeology Team's interest is also slightly different to the other projects mentioned, as we are more interested in the memorial as monuments, rather than in transcribing the lists of names on them. What Ben’s work highlighted, is the variety of memorials that exist. There are the most recognisable, traditional “Cenotaph”types, but also statues, crosses, clock towers, memorial buildings, all as free standing structures, as well as plaques, paintings and organs, for example, within other buildings. It also revealed the memorial dedicated in St JamesChurch, Hunstanworth which commemorates the fact that all those who served from the village returned safely. Known as a Thankful Village, there are only 51 of these villages in the entire United Kingdom.

By having this information in the HER, we can try and manage these memorials during changes in towns and villages, to ensure that the promise that “Their Name Liveth For Evermore”, the phrase found on so many war memorials, is honoured.

Most of the work Ben did is accessible through the online version of the HER, Keys to the Past: or click on the image at the top.

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