TillVAS Till Valley Archaeological Society
TillVAS             Till Valley Archaeological Society

Members' Written Contributions

This is a new section to allow members to contribute short articles, poetry and relevant photographs of an historical or archaeological nature.


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Archaeological Drawing with John Davies


Recently eight enthusiastic participants, some more experienced than others, took part in an interesting session on how to record archaeological finds and in particular, make sense of the shape and nature of pot sherds. I had always wondered when reading archaeological reports how the physical appearance of a pot, of which only fragments remain, can suddenly be depicted as a complete and intelligible whole. How do they do this?

Organized by Jenny Cant, we spent two hours in Etal Village Hall under the benevolent and expert tutelage of John Davies. After a short demonstration, he supplied instruction sheets and simple equipment and on we went. The appearance of a set square (part of the equipment) momentarily threw me. Was I in for two hours of acute intellectual embarrassment? I needn’t have worried. The two hours passed swiftly and absorbingly as the mysteries were revealed. I had to ditch any pre-conceived ideas of putting an image on paper. There were rules to be followed even to the extent of how to record how the light falls on the object, the shape of which one is re-imaging, and how the light/shading is depicted. Altogether it was a useful and quite fascinating session for which thanks are due to John and Jenny.


Gwen Chessell



Dr Ian Kille - Northumbrian Earth


TillVAS, of necessity, migrated to the Cheviot Centre in Wooler for our very well attended monthly meeting on Wednesday 7th February, and welcomed Dr. Ian Kille of Northumbrian Earth who gave a fascinating and often amusing lecture, describing the geology of Northumberland and the connection with archaeology.


This was a most comprehensive lecture with Ian explaining the prehistory of planet earth and the structure of the earth’s mass – the hot central core, surrounded by the protective magnetic field, which is vital for all forms of life – the convection process and the crust.   There is a relationship between archaeology and geology – history and prehistory, as described by James Hutton, the Scottish Geologist and father of Modern Geology, who stated “no vestige of a beginning and no prospect of an end”.


Many millions of years ago when the continental drift caused the ancient continents of Laurasia and Gondwana to merge, the fantastic rock formations we see today were created.

The Whin Sill, evident at Hadrian’s Wall, Holy Island, Cullernose Point, Bamburgh and High Force is the result of this.  The Cheviot Range , a prime area, is part of the first union of England and Scotland, Cheviot itself being a massive volcano, with the surrounding hills subsequent lava cones.   Lindisfarne has different formations and it is therefore necessary to look at the context, the materials and the preservation of each deposit.


Usually the oldest deposits are at the bottom and the most recent at the top, but due to the subsequent upheavals and drift, the earth’s crust has buckled and rotated.   Evidence of this can be found on the Northumberland coastline, both north and south of the River Tweed, at Siccar Point, Cocklawburn, Burnmouth and north of Eyemouth, where deep sea fossils; corals, plants and insects, can be found, high above present day sea level and all much larger than the present day, because of higher oxygen levels prevalent at the time.  There is also evidence of recurring climatic conditions, with bands of silt/sand below rock formations.  Deltas can give much information, the rivers carrying down quantities of silt from many miles away – the Mississippi Delta is a prime example.


The Milfield Plain is a large glacial deposit and more henges are found in this area than around Stonehenge, evidence of very early human occupation.   A visit to Nepal was mentioned, where a glacier had melted and only rubble remained due to the erosive action of the ice.   The unusual preservation of artifacts found at Vindolanda is mainly due to the acidity of the soil.


All stone buildings originated in geology which has simply been exploited by humans and there are many types of stone, some easier to work that others, leading to Industrial Archaeology, eg. – Scremerston coal, iron and lime kilns and their associated industries.

Ceramic artifacts – eg.  pottery, axe heads, flints etc. were often transported great distances, and the enigmatic cup & ring stones appear in various places.


The geology uncovered at the Lindisfarne Dig in 2017 was fascinating.   The ripple effect was clearly seen on foundation stones in the Chapel and the Whin Sill was exposed in the bottom of one of the trenches.   There was also evidence of a very brilliant white sandstone which had discoloured over time and work is ongoing to discover the source.


The landscape in the area around the Flodden battlefield gives clues to outcome of battle in 1513.   A fault line along the base of Branxton Hill produced a series of springs, which caused the boggy conditions encountered by the Scottish army.    A group of Young Archaeologists took core samples from this area and found nothing but mud.


During a short 45mins. some millions of years were covered very briefly, but there is little doubt that much more information about Northumbrian Earth will be discovered in the future.    Dr. Kille mentioned that his “Geology Walks” will be returning later this year.


The next TillVAS meeting will be on Wednesday, March 7th, at 7.30pm at either Crookham Village Hall or the Cheviot Centre in Wooler, when Dr. Chris Fowler will speak on “Bronze Age Burial Practices in NE England and SE Scotland”.   Members Free, Visitors £4.







The Lindisfarne Peregrini excavation on The Heugh at Lindisfarne attracted my attention, but because of holidays and important work near home, was unable to go until the site was about to close down.   However, on a nice sunny Saturday I went for a preliminary look, to find there a number of TillVAS members and friends all very busy amongst the foundation stones of the chapel  under the direction of Richard Carlton and Paul Frodsham the archaeologists.   While watching, my trowelling hand began to itch, and after taking a few photos, resolved at least help to clear up.

The following Tuesday after some rather poor weather my friend Heather & I duly set off at the appointed time (the tides restrict access to the island somewhat) but on arriving found the site unworkable and we returned home.   I did eventually get some working days,  trowelling at the east end in case there were signs of burials and re-laying some of the turfs (and there were turfs & TURFS).   There were stones to move, the most worked stones were photographed and kept to one side for further examination.   These were BIG stones, sometimes only one filled the barrow and made wheeling a bit uncertain.

The numbers of volunteers had dwindled at this late stage, as the excavation should have been closed by this time, but there was always a few of us to keep the work going.    There usually had to be somebody on Public Relations duty as the foundations of the chapel were still exposed and the visitors passing by on the footpath had innumerable questions, were most interested, and listened attentively to explanations.   There were quite a few visitors from  abroad, holidaying in Edinburgh, Bamburgh and elsewhere, who had seen reports in the media and wanted to see for themselves.    

Then it was backfilling time, but arrangements had been made for a digger to shift the huge piles of soil and stones.   Everyone likes diggers, both at the beginning and the end of digs!

Firstly though, the foundations were covered with a black sheet which tended to blow away  unless held down with boots, to prevent damage by stones which were carefully placed.   Then the soil was gradually moved from the heaps  and carefully spread.   Eventually all was in place, the remainder of the turfs built into low banks to mark the outlines of the chapel, or spread on the interior to hopefully grow back into the grassy cliff top.

Most of the time here, the singing of the seals was quite audible and every day a little pied wagtail worked alongside us, gobbling up anything edible.   The swallows swooped below us under the cliff and there were boats of various kinds, a beautiful yacht one day, and one morning when we arrived, some unfortunate had run aground on a sand bank and the boat sat high and dry waiting for the next tide.

On the last day, the rain returned and it was waterproofs again, but we were finished by lunch time, although we had to wait for the tide to turn before we could leave the island.

I will go back if the site is reopened in the future (and if I’m spared!).  Once a digger, always a digger.

Maureen Charlton.


A Mysterious Stone in Lennel Kirk

The kirkyard has come to life, it has lost its solitude. The living have intruded on the dead, but now the dead are no longer so anonymous. Tenacious and empathetic men have recorded the memorials and those who left the living world so long ago have been brought back from obscurity and into the present.

Lennel Kirk is naked now, stripped bare. The vegetation which clothed and softened the starkness of the ruins has been pulled away from the walls. The rank plants and tumbled stones that covered the earth floor, raised up over time, were shovelled away from within the roofless interior by willing hands before a small mechanical digger arrived to assist the process. Mattocks and shovels followed, probing tools searching the kirk for its secrets. The human excavators set to work with questing curiosity and excitement, biting into the bare earth, the surface accumulated over the last two hundred years of lonely neglect. The heavy work of moving rubble into wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow and trundling it away to be tipped against the surrounding kirkyard wall, failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the eager toilers. Interesting carved, and worked stone came to light, to be carefully stored for future reference and detailed study. Some of these were beautiful­–ecclesiastical treasures that honoured God, graced the interior and had given pleasure to those vanished congregations.

From above, one stone in particular manifested itself as a simple oblong object set flush with the surrounding earth. The diggers gazed down on it; was it a part of a floor? Was it part of something else? It wasn’t until the remorseless, unremitting scrapes of trowel and shovel uncovered it fully that its true external nature was apparent. A worked rectangular block of stone with, carved on its side, the image of a skull. On either side of the skull were crossed bones and some carvings, perhaps representing masons’ or workmen’s tools. The stone was set into the internal face of the north chancel wall, supported on either side by two carved corbels. But what was its meaning? What did it represent? Who was it for? Was it a lintel supporting a vanished door that had been, perhaps, an entrance to a vaulted tomb? Had it come from somewhere else? What stories were locked within its mute, inanimate existence?

Certain to say, though, that the touch of many hands hints at some shadowy emanations locked within the stone and evident to imagination; echoes from all those who were involved in bringing that object into useful life. To begin with someone had commissioned it, then came the quarryman who laboured with the pick to force it, in its raw undressed state, out of the bedrock where it had lain for aeons. Next came the carter who, with his horse, drove it away to be worked before it reached the hands of another worker, a mason who tooled the stone according to instructions from the builder or architect. Finally the labourers who placed it in the spot from which, however many centuries later, it was at last uncovered by the next workers in its story, the excavators. It is not the end of its history though as others puzzle over its purpose and meaning. It may seem just a stone, but it holds within it all those unknown lives, their hopes and fears and, in the end, as promised to all of us, the knowledge of certain death.

Copyright © Gwen Chessell, November 2016

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Please see the current newsletter for information on other talks held locally.



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.