Sometimes archaeology is the best thing in the world, making a massive impact on peoples' lives. Last week was an overwhelming roller-coaster ride of research, engagement and emotion as we explored the vanished village of Hinkshay. The project took place in Telford Town Park as part of the local authority's Parks for People initiative, and was a co-operative venture between Nexus Heritage and the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.
The excavation took place between 21st and 26th April on the site of 'Double Row', one of three rows of housing built in c.1815 by the Botfield family of ironmasters for their workers at Hinkshay ironworks. 'Double Row', as its name suggests, was a row of back-to-back housing; the other rows were 'Single Row' and 'New Row' (also called Ladies' Row). This photo shows the rows a few years before demolition in 1969. The prominent chimney of the Stirchley ironworks still stands, and Double Row is to the left of the photograph. The edge of the Ever Ready factory (built in the 1950s and itself demolished in 1994) can be seen on the right.
We found part of No.13, and its counterpart to the rear (No.26) together with the communal "brew'us" or wash house which served several houses. The photo below shows the site at a rare quiet moment on Sunday morning. This is a view looking north, with the front wall of the pantry of No.13 in the foreground, the concrete floor of the former wash-house behind it, and the level set up in the living room of No.26.
The project also gave many local people the chance to try their hand at 'doing' archaeology, and we had participants in the dig itself from ages 2 to 70. There were of course the physical remains: fireplaces, floors and walls, and a wide range of artefacts from 19th century ceramics to 20th century electrical fuseboxes. But this was only a small part of the story.
Much more exciting than these physical remains were the memories that we excavated. We were visted by scores of former residents and their relatives, who were extremely excited and enthusiastic about the rediscovery of their 'lost ' village. This extremely close-knit community was relatively isolated, and everyone looked out for eachother. Hundreds of anecdotes about people and events came out, and many former residents - who had not met for over 40 years - were reunited.
The most emotional moment came during a mini-reunion on the Saturday. The photo above shows some of these former residents of the Hinkshay Rows and their families; below are Barbara, Gene and Marion who grew up in the rows.
Over the four open days the dig attracted more than 200 visitors and participants, and was a tremendous success in every aspect. Many thanks to Joanne Ridgeway of Telford and Wrekin Council for enabling us to do this, and to colleagues from Ironbridge: Gillian Whitham and Mel Weatherley and her team from Enginuity. Thanks also to the many people who helped out on the dig - particularly to Brian Savage of the Telford Historical and Archaeological Society, and also to K&M Construction and Freeman plant hire. Hopefully we can come back to Hinkshay again soon and do some more. Meanwhile we shall be putting on an exhibition and post-excavation workshop in the near future.
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