Excavating the CA archive: Nottinghamshire

5 mins read

Joe Flatman explores half a century of reports from the past.

A selection of articles mentioned by Joe Flatman in this month’s column below can be accessed for free for one month via Exact Editions, from 3 November. Use the links within the text to jump to the individual articles, or click on the covers below. Print subscribers can add digital access to their account for just £12 a year – this includes everything from the last 50 years, right back to Issue 1! Call our dedicated subscriptions team on 020 8819 5580, quoting DIGI381, to add digital access to your account, or click here for more information.

After touring south-east England over the last few months, then taking a diversion into the world of ship archaeology, I will now be turning my eyes to the East Midlands in my next few columns, examining CA’s coverage of first Nottinghamshire, then Lincolnshire, and finally Leicestershire. By way of an introduction, I note that I explored one of the oldest and most important archaeological sites partly in Nottinghamshire in a previous edition of the magazine, when I mentioned Creswell Crags during my tour of Derbyshire in CA 369 (December 2020). Creswell is an extraordinary archaeological site that is cared for by a great team, and I cannot recommend a visit there highly enough.


Moving back in time to the early history of Current Archaeology, issue 26 (May 1971) featured the Trent Valley Archaeological Project (which spanned more than just the Trent in Nottinghamshire). This was one of several landscape surveys undertaken across the UK at this time in response to a rapid growth in mineral extraction. Such work was undertaken long before ‘polluter pays’ principles were even a glint in future archaeologists’ eyes, and when, instead, volunteer workforces had to be deployed to rescue what data they could. As the report outlines, an immense quantity of evidence was collected over a three-year period from fieldwalking, survey and excavation, and aerial photography, feeding into the early origins of what became Sites and Monuments Records (SMRs – later, Historic Environment Records, HERs) for these counties.

CA 74 (November 1980) returned to the Trent in the first of three reports featuring the work of another redoubtable ‘amateur’ archaeologist of this time and place: a former GP named Christopher Salisbury, who lived in Nottingham and led a range of fieldwork along the river that won him the Pitt Rivers Award (now part of the British Archaeology Awards) in 1994. CA 74 focused on Salisbury’s work at Colwick near Nottingham, where careful examination of over 50 acres (20ha) of floodplain revealed phases of Saxon, Norman, and Tudor fishing weirs. CA 140 and 145 (November 1994 and November 1995) later reported on spectacular medieval finds made by Salisbury at Hemington Fields in nearby Leicestershire, which I will return to in a future column.

In more recent years, commercial archaeological fieldwork along the Trent has identified many more such sites and finds. The groundwork – practical and philosophical alike – of projects like the Trent Valley Project led in due course to changes in both politics and policies, so, by CA 123 (February 1991), PPG 16: Archaeology and Planning was newly in place (it had come into force in November 1990), the first of many iterations of planning policy that required the paid-for investigation of archaeological sites in the UK in advance of development. CA 123 reported on recent excavations at Gamston, on the eastern outskirts of Nottingham, where Trent & Peak Archaeology uncovered traces of an extensive Iron Age settlement, including the remains of a rectilinear system of fields and trackways. CA 210 (July 2007) returned to the Trent (and to Trent & Peak Archaeology), reporting on finds made in advance of an expanding quarry at Girton, on the Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire border, north of Newark. The team there uncovered a stunning sequence of multi-period waterworks, complete with unique bark-lined wells. Radiocarbon dates from these features spanned the late Neolithic to the middle Iron Age, with several tightly grouped in the Late Bronze Age.


Current Archaeology’s coverage of Roman Nottinghamshire is a bit of a mixed bag, although not without its ‘goodies’. CA 85 (December 1982), for example, featured fieldwork at Dunston’s Clump, a Romano-British farmstead at Babworth, near Retford. Work there was initiated as part of an evolution of the Trent Valley Archaeological [Research] Project, when different soil colours were identified because of a new, deeper ploughing regime initiated by the local farmer. Two 1st-century AD farming enclosures were identified.

A very different site, discovered under very different circumstances, featured in CA 151 and 172 (February 1997 and February 2001) at Scaftworth, on the Nottinghamshire/South Yorkshire border. There, a Roman road was discovered during the straightening of a stretch of the River Idle. This site was unusual because the road had been laid down on a raft of logs, dragged into position over the boggy ground.

CA 274 (January 2013), meanwhile, returned to ground that was more familiar, but offered unexpected discoveries. While investigating a site near Clifton in the south-western suburbs of Nottingham, Wessex Archaeology found evidence of a late Iron Age/early Romano-British farmstead, as well as the remains of two of its residents. Possibly containing different generations of the same family, the graves demonstrate how funerary customs changed in the centuries separating their occupants’ lives. The older of the two burials, dating from the 1st century BC, was discovered within an enclosure associated with the earliest phase of occupation on the site. Within the entrance of another, later enclosure, the team found a second truncated grave, containing the lower half of a young woman buried about 300 years later.


A fantastic feature from the magazine’s coverage of medieval Nottinghamshire came in CA 358 (January 2020), when editor Carly Hilts visited the University of Nottingham Museum’s exhibition of medieval ‘face pots’ made in and around the city between the 12th and 15th centuries. These provide a fascinating and unusual insight into medieval lives, livelihoods, and above all their sense of humour – a characteristic that can be hard to ascertain from more conventional evidence. Meanwhile, CA 337 (April 2018) had previously explored a different aspect of life – and death – in medieval Nottingham, when it reported on the re-examination of burials in the city, including mass burials from the late medieval period.

To end on a cheerier note, it would be remiss of me not to mention CA’s coverage of Nottingham’s famous caves over the years. CA 69 (November 1979) first reported on these, and CA 260 (November 2011) followed up decades later. After countless ‘antiquarian’ investigations, formalised archaeological interest in the caves began in 1968 in response to the redevelopment of the city centre, especially the construction of the Broadmarsh shopping centre. Issue 69 outlined fieldwork at this time led by the Nottingham Historical Arts Society. Returning 30 years later, CA 260 examined the recent survey work by Trent & Peak Archaeology, who undertook a comprehensive 3D laser-scanning project of the caves funded by a number of partners. This provided the first accurate map of the extensive cave network underlying the city, enabling their interconnected significance to be appreciated fully, and their stability and condition to be better monitored for future generations.

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About the author
Joe Flatman completed a PhD in medieval archaeology at the University of Southampton in 2003, and since then has held positions in universities, and local and most recently –central government. Since March 2019, he has been a Consultancy Manager in the National Trust’s London and South-East Region, leading a team working on Trust sites across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. You can follow him on Twitter @joeflatman.

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