TillVAS Till Valley Archaeological Society
TillVAS             Till Valley Archaeological Society

Patron: Rt. Hon. Lord Joicey                                             www.tillvas.com                                       

Hon. President   : Dr. Chris Burgess                                


Latest Newsletter December 2020

Our Next (Virtual) Meeting


2nd December on Zoom - Link below


Jessica Lowther from AOC: Monks and the manor: recent excavations from the Whiteadder project. This photo, taken at what must have been a very cold dig in the Lammermuirs in Februarythis year, shows volunteers excavating a possible medieval sheepcote in the valley of the Bothwell Water,which may have belonged to the monks of Kelso Abbey. Jessica Lowther is an archaeologist from AOC Archaeology. They led the archaeology in the Whiteadder: Historic Heart of the Lammermuirsproject, in which some TillVAS members took part. She will talk about recent results and research from this Bothwell Water dig and also from excavations at a lost 12thcentury East Lothian castle at Morhamnear Haddington.

Register in advance for this webinar:




This year we have decided to run an extra pre-Christmas event, a Zoom webinar to show you what we have been getting up to at Ford Forge, including some of the exciting discoveries we have made. Ray Clarke will present Ford Forge: more questions than answers, a slide show with commentary on the mysteries we need to solve.

We had little idea of just how rich in historical associations Ford Forge would prove to be: a joinery workshop with a sawpit; a fulling (cloth) mill with a dye house; a forge, a Baptist chapel...and more. We also had little idea of the rich array of objects left behind when the building became disused in the 1980s: objects ranging in size from hand tools with owner’s initials to a large boiler from the early Industrial Revolution. For every question answered, five more have arisen.

You will need to register in advance by using this link:




More information will then be sent to you.


Although we cannot meet, during this talk, some of us may be raising a seasonal glass and hoping that 2021 will prove a better and happier year than 2020 has been, with an eventual return to normality, or at least something close to it. Please feel free to join us.






Within an hour of sending out the November Newsletter, I received an email from Keith Elliott suggesting that this mystery object is part of a Giant’s Stride. Many thanks Keith for this identification:without your encyclopaedic knowledge we’d still be puzzling over it. And many thanks also to our Membership Secretary Val Glasswho brought the object to TillVAS’s attentionand has written the piecebelow that explains what it is.



The first we knew of this object was a photograph with message requesting identification, posted on a local village Facebook page. The finder had dug it up in the garden of her house, formerly a school. We investigated, but the object was not known to any of the museums contacted. Our guesses were mainly of the maypole or even hay polevariety. The Giant’s Stride was once found in many a children’s playground, those in parks and schools included. Invented in the mid-1800s it consisted of a central upstanding pole with a rotating wrought iron finial at the top, from which hung chains suspendingropes. Children would hold on to a rope and run around the pole as fast as they could so that the equipment lifted them off their feet and spun them around in the air!

There is a wonderful surviving example of a central pole from Townfield School in Hunstanworth, Consett, County Durham which has been listed by Historic England asGrade II for its rarity and socio-historic interest.https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1229910. The Townfield School example was gifted in 1866 by the local vicar, according to the School Log Book:After the vicar’s wife had presented to the girls some skipping ropes for general use during playtime, Dr Simons proposed and gave orders for the erection of a “Giant’s Stride” for the boys. A “Giant’s Stride” was a piece of playground apparatus in the form of a pole with ropes attached for taking big swinging leaps.Girls certainly did play on them: one was installed in the gymnasium in late Victorian times at North London Collegiate School,which promoted “free and unchecked physical activity as a way of developing graceful and flowing movements”.They grew in popularity and couldbefound in manydifferentcountries especiallyintheUKand USA.Numerous reports of children receiving cut lips, split heads and bloody grazes can be found in newspapers of the day and on the internet. Sometimes the accidents were tragic:A GIANT STRIDE in the playground of Fernhurst Board School near Haslemere, Surrey, collapsed while some girls were swinging upon it on Friday. One of the girls Ada Rozier, was killed while two others were severely injured. It was stated at the inquest on Saturday that the Giant Stride was made from a dead or dying tree and that dry rot had set in from the centre outwards. (Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald -Saturday 18 May 1901)Although they were much enjoyed by children, they were not always popular with adults however. Officials at one council meeting made the following comments:When the irons are released they clash and make a terrible noise.The rope will soon be cut through. It really wants the iron standard wrapping in rope.The children will break them.The strides are good exercise for the children who love them.But they are a bally nuisance. The noise can be heard every minute. After some discussion it was agreed the Surveyor would do what he could to abate the noise. (Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald -Saturday 18 March 1933)Eventuallythey werebanned by many localcouncils as they were considered too dangerous. The poleat Hunstanworthis oneofthe fewwhichsurvived. When the school closed it remained in the playground after the school was converted into a private house.“Giant’s Strides”lingeredonfor some years, with modifications, and youmayrecognise themas theWitch’sHat” still common in the 1970sbut probably disappeared for ever by 2020.

With acknowledgments to The British Newspaper Archive.

Valerie Glass2020





Many thanks to all those members (now well over the 41we needed for our quorum) who have returned their voting forms for the 2020 AGM. Anyone who has not yet voted may still do so if they wish until Wednesday 2ndDecember.




MardonHill is about a mile north-west of Flodden Hill with its Iron Age Hill fort on top. As part of the Branxton and Crookham Village Atlas project, and under the direction of Richard Carlton of The Archaeological Practice, TillVAS conducted digs at an Iron Age site on Mardon Hill in 2017 and 2018. When we left the site in 2018,we felt we had unfinished business and still hope to return. These first two seasons have provided evidence for domestic occupation in roundhouses with an adjacent stockyard and stock enclosures,all within a defensible enclosure. Agricultural activities may have included sheep and cattle husbandry, grain cultivation and milling, wool processing and pottery-making. The original intention was to submit material for carbon 14 datingonce the excavations had been completed. In the event we decided to obtain dates on the material we already had available. Nine samples were sent off to Durham University and we have now received the results from eight of them. (One sample failed and is being resubmitted).Dates obtained range from the mid-2ndCentury BC to the late 1st centuryAD. This puts the site firmly in the late Iron Age. The dates obtained from the TillVASdigs at the Iron Age fort on Flodden Hill span a slightly wider but similar period. As Richard Carlton says in his report, there is very limited material studied in North Northumberland for these kinds of lower level sites and this period and we hope that these dates will improve our chances of getting funding for a further season to help resolve some of the outstanding questions


December 2020 Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Sunday 13th to Friday 18th December at 6pm. The Rhind Lectures 2020.Dr Alison Sheridan, recently retired as Principal Archaeological Research Curator in National Museums Scotland,will deliver this year’s lectures on Neolithic Scotland: the Big Picture and Detailed Narratives in 2020.From Sunday to Thursday the lectures will be made available on YouTube at 6pm and can then be viewed at any time. The lecture on Friday 18th December will be on Zoom followed by a live Q&A. The lecture will be posted on YouTube at 8pm, but if you want to participate in the Q&A you will need to register. See further details and booking information at https://www.socantscot.org/event/rhind-lectures-2020/.

For anyone interested in Neolithic Scotland, these lectures should be a treat.

January 2021TillVAS Wednesday 8thJanuaryat 7.30 pm Webinar via ZoomDr. John DentWill talk on Excavations at Garton Wetwang in Yorkshire for comparisons with Mardon

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We are looking forward to our next webinar  on 2nd December. AOC  who led the 'The Whiteader Project' will offer a talk entitled Monks and the manor

See right

Ford Forge

Join us on the 16th December to hear the story so far- see right

Ancrum Old Bridge Project

Thank you to Geoff Parkhouse for sending this link about this very successful project. We are hopng Geoff will give a talk to TillVAS sometime in the new year.




Aspects of Buildings & Monuments: Branxton, Crookham, Etal, Ford

by Antony Chessell & Gwen Chessell. Price £10 pbk 214pp.

Foreword by Rt. Hon. Lord Joicey

ISBN 978-0-244-75069-5


More information about this second publication by TillVAS can be seen on the Publications 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, 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.

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 two publications by Antony Chessell and Gwen Chessell; Breamish and Till: From Source to Tweed  and Aspects of Buildings and Monuments: Branxton, Crookham, Etal, Ford   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 and Aspects of Buildings and Monuments: Branxton, Crookham, Etal, Ford , both written by Antony Chessell and Gwen Chessell, 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.