TillVAS Till Valley Archaeological Society
TillVAS             Till Valley Archaeological Society

Branxton & Crookham Village Atlas Project

A two and a half years project which started in March 2015 and which ends in September 2017.


Director: Richard Carlton (richard.carlton@newcastle.ac.uk)


Project Manager: Mike Keating (Tel. 01890 820599)

An overview of The Mardon Dig of 2017


The first formal meeting of the Village Atlas Archaeology group took place in June 2015 and one of the stated aims in that meeting was to have an excavation. Thanks to the Flodden 500 project and its director Chris Burgess, TillVAS was well equipped in terms of resources, volunteer experience and enthusiasm so the search for a suitable site began. During 2016 members of the group studied maps and lidar plans and these together with expert and local knowledge suggested there might be a suitable site at Mardon Farm where ‘a possible Iron Age enclosure has been noted here in aerial photography of the area’ (keys to the past).


Negotiations to dig at Mardon began in earnest early in 2017. Director Richard Carlton and Geophysicist David Astbury explained that the site might have been ploughed out during the last 250 years of cultivation but with the owners permission it was agreed that a survey be carried out in March 2017. The results were a little disappointing but encouraging enough to go ahead with the excavation and by May 2017 dates had been set and preparations begun.


George Farr granted access to the field in the window between harvesting the oil seed rape and sowing the winter wheat so the dig was set to take place between 31st August and 9th September 2017.


Organising a dig is a complex business and it was important to get the arrangements right, especially as this was the first full scale excavation run by TillVAS. Again, using our experience of Flodden digs and Village Atlas test pitting in 2016, lists were made, Health and Safety sheets written and volunteers requested. The paperwork which went on behind the scenes was considerable and deserves special recognition! Practical considerations were paramount – toilets, parking, road safety – and of course The Raising Of The Tent to keep equipment safe and people dry. It was originally agreed to allow 15 volunteers per day but people were generous with their time and occasionally up to 17 appeared. We were very lucky in that only occasionally did the tent become a shelter and we only lost half a day due to rain.


Several days before the dig, volunteers were already preparing and erecting road signs, collecting equipment, siting the toilet, directing the digger and making sure sign-in sheets, H&S sheets etc etc were in place.  The tent was erected in yet another interesting configuration (there have been many) by the willing helpers and it remained standing for the duration of the dig despite some very high winds. Thanks to all of this organisation, volunteers arrived on a sunny 31st of August to a sight for sore eyes – a huge area, clear of turf and everything in place ready to begin. There was a day of tidying edges, neatening corners and cleaning surfaces but very soon it was easy to see the dark outlines of a large horseshoe shaped ditch and other smaller curved ditches ready for proper excavation.


In the very first couple of days pieces of iron-age pottery were appearing along with a few lithics and everyone felt the excitement which comes with the knowledge that Mardon Farm was a really worthwhile place to dig. Richard Carlton chose several areas for closer excavation, one of which was one end of the arm of the big horseshoe ditch. The hole became very deep and very muddy and those of us scraping back the rest of the site were grateful not to be involved! Others were excavating the curve in the middle of the big horseshoe and they too quickly ended up in mud. It was however clear that there were fresh water springs on the site which might have made living conditions more acceptable.


Other volunteers were tasked with exploring an area of ‘hard standing’ – large flattish stones which could have been a floor for animal housing. It was thought too poor quality for human habitation. This standing was surrounded by cobbling and they were a few minor grumbles about how difficult this was to clean back when the sun and wind dried the stones so quickly, leaving a mess of ‘crumbs’. However careful use of brushes saved the day and we exposed some large areas of these small stones.


One of the curved lines of dark soil was relatively narrow and Marc, one of the archaeology supervisors, believed it might have been a drip trench where water had run off the roof of an early building. Some pieces of pottery from this trench were of a substantial size and James, also one of our archaeologist supervisors, spotted a thumbprint in the clay. This contact with the past is always special and we became even more aware that this had been a place where people lived and worked and where there was a story to tell. There were also marks of post holes and other ‘shadows’ such as a possible hearth full of large stones, the different colours of which were possibly caused by burning.


As the dig was coming to a close, Richard brought in some of his workforce to investigate the other end of the horseshoe. By then it was easy to see the entrance to the enclosure with a possible posthole for the gate support to one side which might have enabled stock to be gathered and protected within. Again the ditch was deep and very muddy, almost 2 metres deep in fact. It quickly became the focus of the last day as some very exciting objects appeared such animal bones and plant material. There was even a luckless beetle who had perhaps been going about his beetle business when he was trapped by the mud many years ago and who has now become ‘a find’. The conditions in this trench were very wet and full of sticky grey/black mud but these are the finds, along with soil samples, which may give us the best information about the people on the hill.


The volunteer numbers at Mardon were very good and it was a chance to see old friends who had joined us at Flodden Hill in previous years. We even had a few visitors who braved the walk up the hill, (which had also become muddy), to see what we were doing. There was general agreement that the dig had been a success, not only in its organisation but in terms of the discoveries which were made. Even when the toilet cubicle failed to comply with a request to flush, it was repaired very quickly. On the last day when things were taken down and made ready for return to the store, volunteers continued to offer support and so proved the old adage that many hands made light work.


Running the dig was a learning curve for everyone and all members of the Archaeology group contributed, from taking photographs to keeping everyone informed by email to ferrying equipment but special mention must be made of our coordinator Heather Pentland who managed to hold all the threads together and made it happen. This years dig was part of the Village Atlas project but we look forward to doing this all over again next year under the umbrella of TillVAS and to this end we are already looking into possible sites.


Heather Waldron

First time at a Dig by Sue Branson


I’ve seen Time Watch and programmes with Alice Roberts and Neil Oliver and thought I wouldn’t mind a go at some digging up the past. So, when TillVAS announced a dig at Mardon and as I live in one of the farm cottages at Mardon I thought now is my chance.

I turned up on the first day and was a bit surprised to find I was the only person who had never been to a dig before but the people there seemed friendly and I was wasn’t bothered if all I did was move soil away. As the top soil had already been removed by a digger we were shown the area we were going to dig by the archaeologist in charge and told where to start. I was a bit surprised that as a new person I didn’t get some sort of introduction and explanation of what to do and why, but when I pointed out I was new I was told I would soon pick it up.

The first day was really what I expected as we had to tidy up the sides of the trenches and I have to admit it was a lot harder than I thought. I did feel a little bit “in the way” at times as everyone else appeared so experienced. For example, I was not aware that at break time we were supposed to put shovels and trowels under buckets for safety reasons and didn’t do this at the first break. Also, plastic trays were placed round the dig and I didn’t know what these were for until I saw someone putting items in them for the archaeologist to check. This did worry me as I was concerned I may miss something that could be important.

Toward the end of the first day the trenches sides had been straightened and were then told to start scraping the top soil of the trenches away to get down to the “hard” layer. This was time consuming but I did feel I was actually contributing to the dig. It was hard work and I was ready for the afternoon break. However, when the break was called I committed the sin of walking over the area I had already cleared. Apparently, this is not done and I could see why but wished I had been told this earlier.

The scraping took a few days and I had to miss the last day of this due to other commitments. The day I returned was my last day at the dig and this I thought was the best of all. Various areas had been identified the day before to be uncovered further. As I said I didn’t know what to do I was put with an extremely helpful experienced digger who not only showed me what to do but explained why we were doing it and told me if I was doing something right. I really felt I was contributing and learning at the same time. He also took me round the whole dig and showed me what other people were doing and explained what they were looking for.

Overall this was definitely a new experience and very much a “learning curve”. At times it did seem a bit boring and was much harder work than I was expecting but I feel I did learn something. I also think I probably had misconceptions about the type of work involved and like everyone I would like to have found something, even it was just a bit of flint.

A few weeks after the dig we met up to wash the finds and catalogue them. Firstly, we took the finds from a particular section that had already been “bagged” and washed all the dirt off.  This time I asked to work with someone and after being shown what to do I was soon given my own bowl and toothbrush which was quite exciting. Once all the finds had been washed and dried we took the finds from each bag and listed them as to “type” and measurement. This I found very interesting as we worked in teams and it was a chance to really look at what had been found what gave me some idea of what sort of things to look for.

Finally – would I go again? Probably, I think on a second dig I would have no preconceptions and would be aware of the work involved. I would know what to do at break times and what order the work took place. I think I would still like to work with someone experienced and hopefully next time I may find something so I could feel the hard work was all worthwhile.


A visit to Mardon Dig


I had heard about the Mardon Dig and several previous digs by Tillvas but never felt fit enough to become involved. This dig had been talked about for over a year but just having had a kidney transplant and still being sore, again most of the discussion had passed me by.

An open day at the dig in September was mentioned and for anybody to come along and see what was happening. This attracted me, so following instruction I headed through the farm and across the stubble field and the first sign of life was a man hurtling down the slope to a green box w.c. and he pointed up the hill.  The tracks lead up to a car park and a green tent. The dig was about 100 metres in to the field. What a splendid view! No wonder the ancient people chose such a site.

Heather introduced me to the archaeologist Richard, who showed me around the excavated site. Post holes, pits, gullies, gateways, different stone paved areas, possible fire pits and a large building were all identifiable, which gave me a fascination to be involved.

I donned water proof and boots and I was provided with a trowel and bucket. Then introduced to Gordon who was to guide my tentative efforts. I scraped away and gradually a shape appeared which might of been a hearth. Just to my right a couple were excavating two types of paved areas. One of large cobbles and a second of much smaller stones obviously of different periods.

We were then called to have a break for 10 minutes which my back required and we trudged back to the tent for tea and biscuits.

There was much discussion as to what had been identified from small pieces of pottery to what the paved areas might have been. I was also shown many of the items that had been recovered and the very accurately marked map showing the exact position of the findings. Then it was back to scraping with George who gave me quite an insight as to his background and experience. In all I scraped away approximately about a square metre and found the edge of the semicircle  which I found fascinating and wished I could do more.

Later I was informed that from the deep pit hair and bone had been retrieved and is now awaiting funding for radio carbon dating to give a very precise time.

 Perhaps next year for the second dig.

Paul Marshall


Finds washing at Etal Village Hall


Members of TillVAS met to wash and catalogue the finds from the Mardon dig and Branxton test pits. Thanks to a good turn out (and some much needed training from Richard Carlton!) the day was very successful.




A few months ago it was agreed that the Branxton & Crookham Village Atlas needed to involve schoolchildren and Jane Miller, a Committee Member and Education & Outreach Officer at Berwick Museum & Art Gallery agreed to work with the staff and pupils of Hugh Joicey C of E First School at Ford under the “Museums and Archives Northumberland” (Woodhorn) banner.

Discussions with the Head Teacher, Jacqueline Dalrymple resulted in the pupils, aged between 5 and 9 years, creating their own Village Atlas, a whole school project running from Easter to the summer holidays.

Jane has run a number of workshops, including a “Battle of Flodden Workshop” which fitted in with work the children were currently doing, then moved on to more specialised work – looking at Trade Directories, Census Records, old maps and photographs before they took  part in an archaeological excavation at Ford Moss.  The teaching staff also took the children to visit Ford Castle, Ford Church and Heatherslaw Mill.   The children then designed a Village trail, illustrated by photographs and videos.

As a result of their hard work they have been awarded Heritage Hero Awards by Archaeology Scotland, the first school in England to receive the awards.

On Tuesday 18th July, Richard Carlton, Director of the Branxton and Crookham Village Atlas Project, Mike Keating Project Manager, Heather  Pentland and myself attended the morning Assembly at Ford School, when Mike presented Certificates to all the pupils before a number of proud parents.   The work they had done was outstanding, particularly the art work and verses written and read out by several of the children, the photographs and videos.   They were obviously delighted to receive their Certificates and I have no doubt that they will have pride of place on many walls.

Our thanks go to Head Teacher Jacqueline Dalrymple and her staff for all their help.

Maureen Charlton

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Important 'historical' dates:-

29th April 2015 — The first meeting of the Activity Groups was held in Crookham Village Hall. Three groups were formed, Oral Evidence, Social History and Historic Buildings. An Archaeology Group will be formed later when a site (as well as garden pit sites) has been identified, with many of its members coming from the other groups. In the meantime, the three groups had good initial meetings and each of them elected representatives for organising the group and for attending the overall Steering Committee. (Update-Archaeology Group now formed)

13th May 2015— The Village Walk around Crookham started from Crookham Village Hall at 6.30pm, after refreshments and a chance to look at the displays of photographs and documents relating to Crookham. It was a fine evening and we looked at buildings and heard stories about them from one end of the village to the other, with the occasional worthwhile deviation down side turnings! It was a good startand gave much food for thought to members of all three of the Activity Groups.

14th May 2015— The Village Walk around Branxton started from Branxton Village Hall at 6.30pm at Branxton Village Hall. The arrangements were similar to the above and the interest shown by Branxton residents matched that shown by Crookham residents the evening before.


10th June 2015— Inaugural meeting of the Archaeology Group at 4pm in Crookham Village Hall.

11th June 2015— Talk by Ian Roberts, a training session for the Social History Group and Historic Buildings Group from 10am until 12 noon in Crookham Village Hall.

22nd June 2015— Talk by the Director, Richard Carlton, a training session for the Historic Buildings Group from 10am until 12 noon in Crookham Village Hall.

29th June 2015— Meeting of the Historic Buildings Group to examine maps and plans of farms and buildings in the two villages and to consider the allocation of researchers to buildings.

Thursday, 23rd July 2015 — A meeting of the Archaeology Group, in Crookham Village Hall.

Thursday, 23rd July 2015 — A meeting of the Oral History Group, in Crookham Village Hall.

29th to 31st August 2015— Excavation of garden test pits at Branxton & Crookham.

7th September 2015— Steering Committee meeting at 6.30pm in Crookham Village Hall.

10th December 2015— Steering Committee meeting at 6.30pm in Crookham Village Hall.

12th January 2016 — 'Update' meeting for Steering Committee and Archaeology Group at 2.00pm in Crookham Village Hall.

5th February 2016 — A meeting of the Social History Group at 2.00pm in Crookham Village Hall.

25th February 2016 — A meeting of the Archaeology Group at 10.30am im Crookham Village Hall.

27th February 2016—A 'drop-in' meeting for a look at the TillVAS archives at 2.00pm in Crookham Village Hall.

8th March 2016—A meeting of the Oral History Group at 10.00am in Crookham Village Hall.

8th March 2016—A meeting of the Archaeology Group at 11.00am in Crookham Village Hall.

8th March 2016—A meeting of the Historic Buildings Group at 2.00pm in Crookham Village Hall.

2nd April 2016—A meeting of the Archaeology Group at 2.00pm in Crookham Village Hall.

15th April 2016—A meeting of the Social History Group at 2.00pm in Crookham Village Hall.

25th April 2016—A meeting of the Steering Committee at 10.30am in Crookham Village Hall.

12th July 2016—A meeting of the Historic Buildings Group at 2.00pm in Crookham Village Hall.

27th July 2016—A meeting of the Steering Committee at 2.00pm in Crookham Village Hall.

28th September 2016—A meeting of the Steering Committee at 10.00am in Crookham Village Hall.

2nd October 2016—'Branxton Day'. A lunch in Branxton Village Hall followed at 2.00pm by a walk around the village with Peter Ryder. Display of local history photos and documents.

14th October 2016—A meeting of the Social History Group at 2.00pm in Crookham Village Hall.

25th October 2016—A meeting of the Historic Buildings Group at 2.00pm in Crookham Village Hall.

5th November 2016—'Crookham Day'. A walk around the village with Peter Ryder at 11.00am followed by 'soup n' roll' in Crookham Village Hall. Display of local history photos and documents including work by the Historic Buildings Group.

22nd November 2016—A meeting of the Archaeology Group at 10.00am in Crookham Village Hall.

14th December 2016—A meeting of the Steering Committee at 10.00am in Crookham Village Hall.

6th February 2017—A meeting of the Historic Buildings Group at 2.00pm in the Lavender Tearooms, Etal.

6th February 2017—A meeting of the Archaeology Group at 3.00pm in the Lavender Tearooms, Etal.

10th February 2017—A meeting of the Social History Group at 2.30pm in Crookham Village Hall.

14th February  - A meeting of the Archaeology group in Etal.


20th February -  Meeting with Richard Carlton to discuss finds from the test pits and plan geophys study of Mardon.

8th March 2017—A meeting of the Steering Group at 10.00am in Crookham Village Hall.

19th March - Meeting of archaeology group at the store to wash finds.

20th March 2017—A meeting of the Archaeology Group at 10.30am in Crookham Village Hall followed by a site inspection on Mardon Farm.

10th April 2017 - Historic Buildings Group—A meeting of the Historic Buildings Group at 10.00amon  in Crookham Village Hall.

13th May 2017 - A meeting of the Social History group.

15th May 2017 - A meeting of the Archaeology group at Crookham Village Hall to plan the Mardon dig.

3rd July 2017 - A meeting of the Historic buildings Group at 10am in Crookham Village Hall

17th July 2017 - A meeting of the Archaeology group to plan the Mardon dig, finalise volunteer information and look at Health and Safety.

14th August 2017 - A meeting of the Archaeology Group in Crookham Village Hall

18th September - A meeting of the Archaeology Group in Crookham Village Hall.

9th October 2017 - A meeting of the Historic buildings Group at 10am in Crookham Village Hall.

8th November 2017 - A meeting of the Archaeology Group in Crookham Village Hall

14th Novemebr 2017 - A meeting of the Steering Group at Crookham Village Hall

7th December 2017 - A coffee morning at Crookham Village Hall to give feedback on the dig.

17th December 2017 - We round off the year with the results of our dig appeal and coffee morning.  You have raised a magnificent £1060.48 and we would like to offer our sincere thanks for all your support.




8th January 2018 - A meeting of the Archaeology Group in Crookham Village Hall

15th January 2018 - A meeting of the Historic buildings Group at 10am in Crookham Village Hall.

2nd February 2018 - A meeting of the Historic buildings Group at 10am in

Etal Village Hall.

15th February 2018 - A meeting of the Steering Group at 10 am in Etal Village Hall.

15th February 2018 - A meeting of the Archaeology Group at 2pm in Etal Village Hall.

28th February 2018 - A meeting of the Archaeology Group at 11 am in Etal Village Hall.

28th February 2018 - A meeting of the Steering Group at 1.30pm in Etal Village Hall.



The original Village Walks in April and May 2015 provided the trigger for separate meetings to be held of the three Activity Groups, each of which will, in their different ways, encompass the history and development of  the two villages. There will be liaison and exchange of information between the three Groups, co-ordinated by the newly-formed Steering Committee. This committee comprises:

Richard Carlton, Director of the Project

Mike Keating, Project Manager

Val Keating, representing the Oral History Group

Valerie Glass, representing the Social History Group

Antony Chessell, representing the Historic Buildings Group

Heather Pentland, representing the Archaeology Group

Maureen Charlton,TillVAS committee representative

The Branxton & Crookham Village Atlas project was launched at two public meetings held in Branxton and Crookham Village Halls on the evenings of 8th and 9th April. The Society welcomed residents from the two villages as well as other visitors who were interested in the project.


After partaking of wine, tea and coffee and sampling a spread of mouth-watering light refreshments, the audiences heard from the Chairman of TillVAS, Antony Chessell, on the background and concept of the project followed by power-point presentations by the Project Director, Richard Carlton, and the Project Manager, Mike Keating. Richard Carlton described the possible scope of the project, illustrated by examples from other village atlases. Mike Keating gave a run-down of how this project might progress under the different activity headings with details of the HLF funding and the 18 month timescale.


This was followed by a Question and Answer session and then the audience were invited to register their interest in one or more of the activity groups shown below. We were pleased that people were willing to sign up under each of the headings and this means that we have a good foundation for the groups. Everyone will be contacted very soon.


More information will be posted here as the project proceeds. The emphasis will be on keeping up the momentum. In the meantime, if anyone who has not already expressed an interest in taking part, but would like to do so, please contact the Project Manager, Mike Keating.

The Activities Groups are:-


1. Oral History.


2. Historic Buildings.


3. Social History.


4. Archaeology.

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© TillVAS


Tickets for James IV mmorial lecture now on sale.

7th October Coldstream Community Centre 2.30

Dr Alex Hildred




Tickets £6 - available from Maureen



Dates for the dig at Mardon


The dig to revisit our iron age site on Mardon farm will run from 25th August to 5th September.

For details please visit the archaeology page.

Crookham Church

On Sunday 19th August there will be an "85th Birthday Garden Party" at Crookham URC, beginning with a 1930's style tea at 3pm, organised by the Rev. Mary Taylor.  This will be followed at 4pm by a talk by Mike Keating on "The First Church at Crookham" and at 4.40pm, a talk by Antony Chessell on "The Modern Church at Crookham".   Both talks are based on information collected by TillVAS for the "Branxton and Crookham Village Atlas Project."   There is also the "Flodden Peace Garden" to wander around.
All are welcome.   There is no charge for this event, but donations towards to the upkeep of the Church will be most welcome.

Kirknewton Sheepdog Trials and Heritage Open Day

Sunday 19th August

Local History Displays and films:

Special showing of ‘Night of Years’ 

(The story of Josephine Butler)

Find out about Bob Fraser, farm improvements, the Bondager farming system and visit St Gregory’s Church.

(  service at 11 a.m. )

 Free entry.

Light Refreshments          Northumbrian Pipers

Visit the Trials to see the dogs in action.

Dog trials from 9a.m.    Heritage Day 10 -4



Richard Carlton will be giving a talk on the 2018 Holystone Roman Road Dig on Wednesday 22 August at 7:30pm in Holystone Church.  All welcome.

Bowsden History Group - A Tale of Two Mills. (Spindleston and Waren) 3rd Sept 2018 7.30 Bowsden Village Hall.

The next TillVAS talk is on Weds. 5th September at 7.30pm in Crookham Village Hall when Dr Brian Moffat  from Edinburgh will tell us about ‘Medieval Medicine and its use in the present day’.

The report for Mardon has now been completed. See the Archaeology section for more details. HLF has awarded a grant to TillVAS for further work in autumn  2018.


Many thanks to all who attended our AGM and talk where Dr Richard Carlton gave a very good account of the Mardon Dig. For more details see 'reports on events'

Data Protection - please see the new TillVAS policy statement on the membership page


The Society has an extensive collection of documents and photographs held in its secure archives. These are invaluable for members wishing to study the local history of the area or wishing to gather information for e.g. the  Village Atlas Project. Please click on the tag above to see the catalogues. Anyone wishing to access the archives should contact the Society's Archivist, Maureen Charlton or the Assistant Archivist, Julia Day.


Please see a new section on the website—click on the appropriate tab above.  Please let us have your thoughts, in prose or in verse.


There are some important meetings of the Activity Groups scheduled over the next few months. Please click on the appropriate tag above, which will take you to the Village Atlas page and give you all the dates, times and places of the meetings.


Please click on the Latest Newsletter page to see information for the current month.


Click on Reports on Events, above, for detailed accounts and press reports.


The Society operates a bookstall at all its meetings.

Items for sale include:-

1. The Society's first publication Breamish and Till: From Source to Tweed at £10 per copy and

2. Vivian Wilcock's Andrew Todd 1844-1908 ( with research input by TillVAS members) at £5 per copy.

See the Publications page for more about these books. Copies of Breamish and Till are also available in Cornhill Village Shop and the Lavender Tea Rooms and Village Shop in Etal.


There are also archaeological books and journals for sale. Net proceeds of sale go to TillVAS funds.