LIVE updates! Digging the Dirt at Jenny Brown's Point

Fri, 2017-11-10 09:32
Excavating the Bay at Jenny Brown’s Point

What lies beneath the soggy saltmarsh at the mysterious chimney at Jenny Brown's Point, Silverdale?

This week a team of our very own venturing volunteers have pulled on their wellies, picked up their spades, and hit the sands (well, the rocky bit on the edge of the sands)...

Follow our progress over the next week to see what we uncover! You can also see live tweets and Facebook posts.

Click on each day listed below to find out what has happened so far...

Day 1 Deturf happy

Day 2 Topsoil spoils

Day 3 - to be continued...

Days 4 & 5 Sunny Silverdale

Day 6 Bring in the specialists!

Day 7

Day 8

Day 1 Wednesday 8th November

This fabulous film gives a little taster of what's happening down on site...

MBT JBpt day1 from Karen Pringle on Vimeo.

A crisp sunny morning welcomed the expectant volunteers on day 1 of the excavation at the chimney. The warming sunshine was shimmering off the spectacular estuarine scenery around Jenny Brown’s Point, reflecting the dynamic environment and breathtakingly views.

Whilst the views were appealing and all stopped to take in spectacular vista, the team had something else on their minds- digging the dirt!

Volunteers cutting the first turfs on the site

On the saltmarsh, near the chimney, volunteers, assisted by a team of archaeologists from CITiZAN and Oxford Archaeology North (OAN), could be seen busily cutting through turf, bucketing away spoil and carefully troweling the revealed surface to see what lies beneath...

But why were they there? Morecambe Bay Partnership started investigating the area around at Jenny Brown’s Point began back in 2015, as part of our HLF funded Headlands to Headspace Scheme. The iconic chimney site, which stands on the shore to the east of Jenny Brown’s Point, is a well known landscape in the Bay, but a site that is much debated.  Despite thorough research by volunteers, including documentary research, site surveys and geophysical survey, we still are trying to unravel the mysteries of the site. Is it a late 18th century copper smelter - the preferred and most published interpretation - or could it be a pump house for a mine, a beacon or even a limekiln, some of the other possibilities proposed over the years.

This excavation is opening three small trenches through the soil onto the foundations of a building, which have been revealed as the salt marsh erodes. Historic maps show that this building was once connected to the chimney via a flue and could contain the evidence we need to finally pinpoint the date and purpose of this site.    

Today’s task was getting the site set up, fencing installed to make the area safe and the trenches 'de-turfed’ to enable the layers below to be revealed. An easy job you might think, but some of the turf proved a little stubborn and took a bit of muscle power to get it to move!

A happy volunteer working hard to prepare the site for excavation 

By late morning the trenches were open to revealing the brown earth below. The team will carefully excavate through this layer, collecting any finds, such fragments of glass, pottery, charcoal and metal slag, which might help us to unravel the story of the site. We are also hoping to expose further wall foundations, which may help us work out the extent of the former structure that was located at the site.

Today, the site was also surveyed by Jamie Quartermaine (from OAN), using both aerial photography and a very accurate Global Positioning System (GPS), which will locate the work currently being undertaking to the Ordnance Survey National Grid.

The super team who helped in the first hard day of site preparation and excavation 

Day 2 Thursday 9th November

Following yesterday’s glorious weather and quick progress the team were eager to get back onto site today to start with the excavation in earnest.

Alongside the trench excavations the team are also planning and surveying the remains that have been exposed in recent years around the site as the salt has eroded around the site.

The topsoil in the trenches is being carefully peeled off and various objects have been collected from this layer including nails, small fragments of glass and pottery, metal fitting’s and even a light bulb cathode- we don’t think this layer is very old, perhaps built up around 60 years ago.  Once this layer is removed we will have a better idea of what it is concealing.

Finds from the top layers of soil - fairly modern deposits

As we dig down any walls that are revealed are carefully brushed and recorded, using photographs and hand drawn plans. It is important to record all that is found as we excavate down so we have a record of what has been uncovered at each layer.

So it is still early days and the team are still working hard to remove the brown layer of earth to reveal what lies beneath.

The days on site are currently quite short due to the tides, which cut off access to the site at high tide. As the dig moves into the weekend the time on site will increase and more progress will be made.

A stunning red sunset concluded the end of another busy day- what will we uncover tomorrow? 

Day 3 Friday 9th November

Friday 9th November- a stunning yellow sunrise welcomed in another fine day to continue the excavation at Jenny Brown’s Point. Our luck with the weather continued early morning, however, despite numerous downpours during later morning/the afternoon our team of dedicated and hardy volunteers continued on site throughout the day. 

The majority of excavation work saw the team continue with removal of topsoil and demolition rubble, carefully recording the layers and any objects found as the excavation progressed.

Volunteers take a well deserved break from work on site at Jenny Brown’s Point Photo submitted by and © Claire Asplin

The centre trench, where we believe a hearth/fire pit may once have been located, was very carefully cleaned to reveal sandstone flags, representing the remains of stone capping or a former floor. These flags had been placed over limestone blocks, which appear to be forming a square hearth/fire pit. The team could see burnt deposits contained within this structure, however, the exploration of this burning will be scheduled for later in the excavation.

The two other trenches to the north and south of the centre trench are still revealing deposits of limestone rubble, probably tumble when the structure collapsed centuries ago.

Alongside excavating the team have to photograph, draw and take detailed records of everything that is found. From description of the colour and composition of the soil removed, and any object it contained, to wall dimensions and construction material.

During one of the tea breaks a number of the team went for a walk along the shore, and found the site of a possible mine entrance.

The entrance to a possible mine observered by volunteers on the shore. Photo submitted by and © Claire Asplin

This certainly needs more investigation, including delving through research already undertaken on mining in the area. Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) may also help determine if there was mining activity in this area but revealing depressions in the soil where a shaft may once have been sunk.

Back at the site office a small team have been starting to washing, bagging and cataloguing some of the finds that have been coming out of the upper layers of the trenches. The finds assemblage includes lots of metal fittings, post-medieval pottery and glass- both window and bottle glass. 

Volunteer Andy Brown carefully inspecting a fragment of embossed glass recovered from the excavation. 

These find together with the records obtained from site should help us paint a good picture of the story of the site over time. It is likely that some of these finds will have to be send off for specialist analysis and the iron metalwork, which is heavily corroded. This corrosion builds up around the iron object over time and can obscure the  original for of the feature. These objects will have to be x-rayed to reveal what is inside.   

Despite a drizzly and sometime chilly day, everyone enjoyed them time on site but as the channel filled that was our signal to leave the site safety before the tides rose any higher. 

Thanks to all the volunteers involved so far as well as the team from CITiZAN and Oxford Archaeology North who have been overseeing the excavations. A great job by all.  

Saturday 10th-Sunday 11th November- Sunny Silverdale and Smiles! 

Well what a weekend the team have had in Sunny Silverdale. Crisp mornings turned into sunny afternoons and the longer days on site enabled us to make significant progress with the excavation. And we really did see all the team smile!

We were really fortunate that Nick from the CITiZAN team took to the air with an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) to capture the site from above. This image is giving us a really good idea of the shape, size and scale of the site. We have obtained landowner permission to take this drone survey and liaised with Natural England as the site is very near to Morecambe Bay SSSI where drone surveys require special consent before being flown. If you have a drone always check to see if you require landowner or SSSI consent before commencing work. 

A view from above Trench 1 is closest to the chimney, Trench 2 is the central larger trench and Trench 3 is the trench to the far right. Photo supplied by and © Nick Mason

In trench 1 we appear to be finding the continuation of a flue, which probably would have connected to structures to the east and west (left and right) of this trench. The central section in trench 2 has revealed a recliner feature, a possible hearth with an ashbox below? The possible ashbox is yielding a ?clinker rich deposit, which may help us establish the processes being undertaken at the site. This deposit is being collected for detailed analysis following the excavation.

The team were expecting the possible continuation of walls into trench 3 but the excavation undertaken in this area to date seems to contain demolition rubble where the building that once stood here collapsed. 

Volunteers smiling in the sun as they clear away demolition rubble in Trench 3. Photo submitted by and © Claire Asplin

As a popular coastal walk at low tide (this section of the coast is inaccessible at high tide) we welcomed over 100 visitors to the site who were interested in our work and what we are discovering.

Some of the passers by stopped to chat for a little longer and were so interested in what we were doing they were eager to get involved themselves. One such visitor was Jack, who came back on Sunday and trowelled through beaming smiles on our sunny Silverdale site.

Volunteer Jack who demonstrated super fast trowelling skills

Day 6 Monday 13th November- Bringing in the specialists!

A buzzing atmosphere welcomed the team at project base on a chilly morning, where images of reverberatory furnaces were passed around and the team discussed the possibility of the features uncovered representing the remains of such a structure.

Reverberatory furnaces are used to heat/roast metal ores and it seemed a feasible interpretation for the features we had uncovered at Jenny Brown’s Point.

Morecambe Bay Partnership is working with industrial archaeological consultant David Cranstone who is advising the team during the dig. We sent over images of the aerial remains exposed so far, as well as photographs of the clinker and droplets of slag, which are contained within the ash pit.

A sample of some of the droplets of slag being recovered from the ash pit within Trench 2

Much of the day was spent recording what had been uncovered so that we can start covering up and backfilling the site tomorrow.

By the evening David Cranstone had come back to the team and his current thinking is that it is NOT the working area of a reverberatory furnace. There are a number of options that are being explored at this stage and the size of the structure together with the residues of slag and clinker collected during the excavation. This may assist the team in unravelling the mysteries of the use of the site.    

Day 7

Day 8



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