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Dig Where We Stand


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Archive for August, 2013

‘Archaeologies of the Mind’ at the Dragon Cafe

Anna Sexton20 August 2013

Led by Dr Beverley Butler (Institute of Archaeology, UCL) we have spend three Monday evenings with Mental Fight Club at the Dragon Cafe collaboratively exploring heritage, archives and archaeology in a series of interactive sessions which we called ‘Archaeologies of the Mind’.  The Dragon Cafe is a wonderful initiative that meets in the crypt of St George’s Church opposite Borough tube station every Monday.  It is open to all and has a packed programme of activities and events revolving around the cafe itself.  We were involved as part of the MFC’s ‘Spirit of Southwark’ project and the aim of our evenings was to open up avenues for reflection on aspects of individual and collective heritage with those that gathered.


29 July: Archaeologies of the Mind

Our evenings kicked off with an introduction by Beverley Butler who opened up a series of questions and themes for consideration.  Beverley talked about her own research into aspects of heritage and wellbeing, using her own fieldwork around Jerusalem syndrome as a focal point.   Beverley shared examples of New Jerusalem from Blake’s poetry to the opening ceremony of the 2012 olympic games for the audience to reflect on.  This was followed by a talk by Marion Stone from the Freud Museum that raised some interesting questions around curatorial intervention in representations of the past.  Marion also shared the objects of significance that Freud kept on his desk which can be interpreted in various ways.  Prior to this session, the Dragon Cafe members had been invited to bring their own object of significance to share with the group.  It was fascinating to hear participants speak about the significance and meaning of the objects they had brought with them which ranged from Thames foreshore finds, to an ornamental lighthouse to a personal friend.  We were struck by the depth of the auto analysis that came from those that brought objects.


  5 August: Archives and Recovery

This week focused in on the creation of archives using the mental health recovery archive at the Wellcome Library as a starting point for thinking about how mental health is represented in public histories.  I spoke about the institutional context for creating the recovery archive and the impetus to balance the voice of the mental health professional expert with that of the individual with lived experience.  This was followed by an excellent exploration by Dolly Sen who has contributed to the archive.  Dolly shared her reflections on why she felt the archive was important and how she has represented aspects of her story within the archive.  The discussion with the audience focused on the issue of framing the archive around the theme of ‘recovery’ and the connotations that the label brings with it.  The audience contributed many insights into how they would choose to represent their own stories including the idea of mental health metamorphosis as a non pejorative alternative to recovery.  We also reflected on the role of archivists and how we are moving from passive keepers to social activists.

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12 August: Visions of Archaeology

Our final session fell on Blake’s death day so it was fitting to start the evening with a talk about Blake’s grave by Robin Hatton-Gore.  Following on from this Paul Montgomery (IoA, UCL) introduced ideas around the archaeological imagination focusing on representations of archaeology in literature and popular culture.  Tina then gave a very informative talk that set the archaeological process in context before focusing on the archaeology of St George’s Church itself.  The talks opened up discussion around the concept of standing upon layers of the past and in particular people’s graves; this led into a reflection on the ethics of excavating human remains and of archaeology as a destructive process; as well as a discussion around the feelings and connections people have to places.


The final part of the evening sought to introduce the audience to the collections held by UCL museums through object handling.  Objects from various Museums and Collections, including the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/petrie), the Grant Museum of Zoology (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums/zoology), collections from the Department of Anthropology and finds from the Thames foreshore from the Thames Discovery Programme (http://www.thamesdiscovery.org/) were brought in for participants to handle and discuss with us, giving people an opportunity to explore their own interpretations of these items and how archaeologists analyse and interpret them.


Opening up discussion and dialogue with the Dragon Cafe audience has been fantastic for the Dig Where We Stand Team and we have learnt a lot from the whole experience.  Our thanks go to Mental Fight Club for welcoming us, and being so open to sharing ideas around heritage with us. Special thanks to Sarah and Declan for co-ordinating and facilitating it all so wonderfully.  Photos and podcasts from the evenings can be found on the dragon cafe website: www.dragoncafe.co.uk

Catch 22’s Becontree Stories Project

Anna Sexton12 August 2013

We have thoroughly enjoyed our involvement with Catch 22’s ‘Becontree Stories’ project; where a group of young people have used the collections at Valence House to explore the history of the Becontree Estate in preparation for meeting and filming older Becontree residents about their lives, connections, stories and experiences of living in the area.

On 29 July, Anna Sexton spent time with the group using the archive collections held by the Local Studies and Archives Centre at Valence House following on from an introduction to the history of the estate from the borough Archivist Tahlia Coombs.  The young people were encouraged to find documents that they found interesting, surprising or inspiring or that helped them understand more about the history of the area.



Hearing the feedback from the group on what they had found out from the archives was the best part.  Some had looked at memoirs and reminiscences already in the archives and picked out funny or surprising stories from them.  Others had used parts of the council archive to look at the early history of the area.  Others had focused on particular buildings that had resonated with them personally and that they hoped the older residents might have memories of.

On 31 July, Anna went back to talk to the group about oral history interviewing – this tied in with film training that had been delivered to the young people the day before by another project partner.  The young people paired up with each other to get some practice on good interviewing techniques using positive body language and open questions.  Feedback from the group was that it was good to find out more about other people in the group as well as practice technique which came naturally once the conversations started.

Tina also visited Valence House on the 31st to observe and photograph the reminiscences of the older participants and the pairing up of younger interviewers and older interviewees. Tina says:

The morning started with participants offering key words they associate with Becontree, followed by each of the older participants giving a brief background to themselves, often with the aid of photographs or objects they felt captured an aspect of their life on the Estate and in the Dagenham area. It was truly wonderful to hear such fascinating stories of the War, work and domestic and family life in the area in the 1930s-1980s, and to see participants discussing all of these together, prompting long-forgotten memories. After a break (with delicious carrot cake made by Ioannis), the younger participants met those they would interview. The room was full of chatter, and this again was great to see. Before we finished for lunch, the younger participants were asked again what words they would associate with Becontree and Dagenham after talking with their interviewees: many now said ‘pride,’ ‘community spirit’ and ‘friendliness,’ showing how different peoples’ histories can make you think differently and more positively about the place you live in. Ioannis, Catch-22 volunteers and Tahlia at Valence House are all to be congratulated on such a fantastic morning, and I would like to thank both the younger and older participants for such and enjoyable morning!

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All in all – being involved with Becontree Stories has been a very rewarding experience for us as a team.  For more information on this project check out their ‘Becontree Stories’ facebook page and the website at www.storiesofbecontree.com.

Digging Grove Park & East Finchley

Tina Paphitis2 August 2013

We had a busy week of digging from Monday 8th July to Sunday 14th July, with excavations taking place at opposite ends of London. During the week, Gabriel, Sarah and Tina opened a trench in the garden of the Ringway Centre in Grove Park to teach local Primary School children about archaeology and get them digging! They also learnt about processing and drawing finds, and went on a nature walk with Earnie and Stephen.

We also dug a few test pits in the woods. Our aims were to understand a little bit more about the land around the Centre, and we found lots of domestic and gardening detritus in the test pits, including bits of clay smoking pipes, pottery, a metal bucket and ceramic building material. The schoolchildren were fantastic and worked extremely hard in the main trench, which was mostly formed of clay: lots of clay + hot sun = difficult digging! Here, we found more clay pipe and pottery, a marble and a few bullet shells, but the vast amount of clay we had suggests this was mainly a landscaped area to create a garden. We also had a visit from the Mayor of


We are very grateful to three Institute of Archaeology graduate students for their hard work helping with digging and teaching at Grove Park: Paul (MA Public Archaeology), Lewis (MA Public Archaeology) and Alex (MA Archaeology). We couldn’t have done it without them! We also had three second-year undergraduate students from Birkbeck University helping us out during the week with test-pitting.Lewisham!

We all had a great time at Grove Park, and would like to thank Stephen for his hospitality and all the wonderful schoolchildren we met! At the end of the week, Sarah and Tina took the tools from South London to North, ready for the Big Dig Weekend at East Finchley.

Sarah joined the East Finchley Community Trust for the East Finchley Big Dig on 13th July.  The launch had attracted 3 groups of participants and a number of other test pits were opened by Roger Chapman from East Finchley Community Trust.  Excavation was tough, as the weather was very hot.  Sarah worked with Hendon and District Archaeological Society on a geophysical survey of part of the Martin School playing field. This was added to the data from previous surveys, with hopes of finding out more about the mystery structure found on the school dig days. More on this soon!