An Uncanny Coincidence

Worcestershire Young Archaeologists’ Club were awarded nearly £50,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund back in January 2008 for the Northwick Manor Community Heritage Project, to engage and inspire people of the North

Stamford Ware sherd found at Bevere

 Worcester area through the historic environment of Northwick and Bevere. An early excavation at Bevere carried out in the 1950s by the Severn Valley Pottery Group has benefited from further examination as part of this project. 

 Project leaders were delighted when Worcester City Museum staff approached them to draw attention to an intriguing collection of finds marked ‘Bevere Island’. The collection comprised of 3 boxes of pottery sherds, mostly in bags marked ‘Severn Valley Ware’, and a site notebook – the whole collection was deposited with the museum in the late 1950s. The finds, on closer inspection of the accompanying notebook, related to an excavation undertaken in October – November 1958 on an enclosure site identified from aerial photos.  A particularly uncanny coincidence was that the boxes were collected from museum stores ready for examination exactly 50 years to the day since the excavation was begun! 

 Funding from the Northwick Project has enabled further examination of these finds to try and determine the nature of this site. The location of the excavation was on the east bank of the Severn, in a field almost adjacent to and overlooking Bevere Island, known locally as ‘the Battlefield’. The attribution of this rather suggestive title probably relates to a rather famous incident in the city’s history when, in 1041, the citizens of Worcester fled to Bevere island to escape the wrath of the Anglo-Danish King Hardicanute who sent a force of men to lay waste to the city, after two of his tax collectors were murdered.

Examination of the pottery by Derek Hurst of the Worcestershire Historic Environment and Archaeology Service confirmed that a significant proportion was highly abraded Roman Severn Valley Ware and seemed from the notebook accompanying the collection to have come largely from the bottom of the ditches identified on the aerial survey. This confirmed the suspicion that the crop mark is likely to represent a Romano-British enclosure. A circular crop mark visible in the northeast corner of the enclosure was not examined as part of the 1958 excavation and may provide potential for further study. 

Perhaps just as interesting though, was a small but significant assemblage of medieval pottery. A single small sherd was identified as Stamford ware, an early medieval fabric type normally found within urban contexts and rarely within such a rural setting. Could this have been brought to the site during those five fateful days of 1041?

As is often the case with early archaeological sites, this excavation was never fully reported and it is a particular benefit of Heritage Lottery Funding that early sites can be revisited in this way.  The resulting report will be available via the Northwick Manor Community Heritage Project website at www.wyac.co.uk/northwick.  The project has also funded a programme of Oral History recording, and contact has been made with the director of the Bevere excavation David Shearer, who formerly worked for Worcester City Museum. He remembered the 1958 excavation clearly, recalling heavy rain throughout and pausing for two minutes during excavation in respect of Armistice Day. After cycling home later that day he called the local hospital, where his wife had been admitted, and was congratulated on the birth of his baby daughter. Such is the dedication of an archaeologist, although Mr Shearer did point out that most of the sites the group chose to work on were chosen for their proximity to public houses!

Sheena Payne-Lunn is Historic Environment Record Officer for Worcester City Council, Joint Lead of Worcestershire Young Archaeologists’ Club and Joint Lead of the Northwick Manor Community Heritage Project. Sheena can be contacted at sheena.paynelunn@worcester.gov.uk. This article was first written for the Council of British Archaeology Newsletter, 2010 http://www.britarch.ac.uk/cbawm/

The Bevere Island archive is curated by Worcester City Museums Service. For further information please contact Deborah Fox at museumcollections@worcestershire.gov.uk

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