Over the years, the CBA South Midlands group has enjoyed a wide range of archaeological trips, visits, conferences and
activities. Some recent events include:
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Walking tour of the Dunstable Downs and Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, Bedfordshire (September 2012)
Lying only just beyond the urban sprawl of Dunstable and Luton, the breathtaking scenery of the Dunstable Downs is cared
for by the National Trust. While many people use the Downs for walking, flying kites and many other activities, few visitors
realise the depth of the landscape’s archaeological heritage. The people who came along on this walking tour, led by
Jeremy Oetgen and Wes Keir of Albion Archaeology, found out about some of the landscape’s 4,000 years or more of history.
The tour focussed on work carried out by Albion in 2007—8 ahead of the
Trust’s installation of a new path along the Downs. While many people are
familiar with the Five Knolls barrow cemetery, few see the many hollow-
ways that lead up the hill from Dunstable, which may have formed part of
the prehistoric Icknield Way. We were also shown two pillow mounds,
created by medieval rabbit-farmers, as well as more recent remains taking us up to World War II. The day was rounded off
with a walk along the course of the Icknied Way to the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral, an early 20th-century arboreal creation
inspired by Liverpool Cathedral.
Council for British Archaeology — South Midlands Group: Archaeology for all
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Visit to Nassington Prebendal Manor and Tithe Barn Museum, Northamptonshire (June 2012)
In a joint event with CBA East Midlands, we visited the medieval Prebendal Manor with its stunning recreated gardens at
Nassington, Northamptonshire. The manor’s owner, Jane Baile, started the day by taking us on a tour of the village,
before providing us with lunch back at the museum.
We split into two groups in the afternoon for a tour of the house and the garden. Jane led us round
the house, which is Grade I listed and is the oldest surviving dwelling in the county — it was great to
hear about the house’s history from someone who knows it so intimately, having restored much of it.
The fascinating tour of the gardens was led by Mike Brown, their designer, who also showed us round
the 16th-century dovecot. To round off the day, we crossed over the road to look round the Anglo-
Saxon church that lies opposite, which boasts a collection of medieval wall paintings among its many
Exploring the Church of St Mary
and All Saints with its medieval
Mike Brown explains the layout
of the recreated medieval
Bedfordshire Archaeological Review, Toddington, Bedfordshire (April 2013)
Our first conference at Toddington for nearly a decade was one of our best attended, with 80 people turning up to hear
the latest news about archaeology in Bedfordshire. Carenza Lewis started proceedings with a talk about her work with
community archaeology groups across East Anglia, after which nine other speakers talked about a mixture of commercial
excavations and volunteer-led research projects. The subjects we heard about included a Beaker burial near Bedford,
test-pitting along Watling Street, and the imminent publication of the 1970s excavation at Grove Priory, Leighton Buzzard.
As well as the talks, there were also display boards and book stalls
to browse during breaks. The Angel pub in Toddington provided a
sumptuous buffet lunch — and sunshine was laid on all day for free!
Watch out for details of the next Bedfordshire Archaeological Review,
scheduled for May 2014.
Tour of Piddington Roman villa and museum, Northamptonshire (September 2013)
34 years of excavation have revealed a complex multi-period site at Piddington, from Mesolithic hunters to the Roman
army. The site is best known for its Roman villa, excavated by the Upper Nene Archaeological Society, while current
excavations are focusing on a large earlier building. In 2014, the society aims to explore a building that might be the bath
house of a Roman fort.
The site’s director Roy Friendship-Taylor led a tour of the site,
in which he showed us the results of the 2013 excavation
season and explained how they related to what had been
found previously. After that, we were guided round the site’s
award-winning museum, housed in a former chapel that UNAS
bought in 1992. We saw artefacts from all across the Roman
empire, and heard from Roy about some of the more exciting
objects that have been found at Piddington.
Excavation carries on at Piddington every year, with a 4 week dig each August, while the museum is open on Sunday
afternoons and by appointment. See www.unas.org.uk for further information.