TillVAS Till Valley Archaeological Society
TillVAS             Till Valley Archaeological Society

Reports on Events

                                              Iron Age Day


Following two years of successful digging at the Iron Age enclosure on Mardon farm, TillVAS held a special event at Etal Village Hall earlier this summer. This was a completely free event, giving opportunities to share what we had learned about the Iron Age and engage the community with their local culture and heritage. Early crafts and skills were demonstrated and visitors were allowed some hands-on experience of what life might have been like for those living at Mardon. We were pleased to welcome visitors of all ages who joined in enthusiastically with the activities, displays and demonstrations offered.


Building a replica Iron Age roundhouse proved one of our most popular activities and thanks go to Jane Miller and her team of helpers and young archaeologists for a splendid demonstration of what can be achieved by willow, straw and team work.


Bread making was another popular activity and must have been successful as barely a crumb was left afterwards. Replica Iron Age artefacts were displayed by costumed re-enactors and the real finds on display were very popular.

A loom and spindles were available for visitors to try weaving and spinning. There was a good supply of charcoal and ochre to make pictures of animals around in the Iron Age and a steady queue of children made replica beads. Dressing-up outfits were available for the braver visitors, including a roman soldier or two. A special thanks go to Byr Reeds for all her hard work and Peregrini for lending their dressing up box.


Another great success was pottery making where both children and adults could make small pots using locally sourced clay. The results were very good, some even being decorated using sticks and feathers. Other dried pots, made on a pottery course earlier in the year, were fired in an adjoining field using Iron Age technology.


We were blessed with fine weather and had between 250 and 300 visitors on the day. It was gratifying that a number of people asked whether we would do it again next year.  The answer is yes, we would like to do another similar event linked to future excavation and research, but perhaps in two years time when we might be looking at a different era of history.


Many thanks go to Ford and Etal Estates, who were very supportive of our event and thanks also go to Mattia at the Black Bull who provided a simple light meal using ingredients available at the time. Lastly thanks to Richard at the Lavender tearooms for allowing us generous access to the hall to prepare for the day.

Alex Sotheran -  The Nightingale Project


Before the talk by Alex Sotheran on Wednesday 6th February, TillVAS Members and Friends took a few moments to remember Tom Turnbull of Branxton and Gerald Tait Coldstream, both highly regarded members who sadly passed away recently.


Alex began by explaining that he was part of the Defence Infrastructure Organisation who play a vital role supporting the many different aspects of the M.O.D., including the repair and maintenance of the training grounds, buildings and environment and more recently the rehabilitation of injured servicemen by introducing them to archaeology.   The training grounds which cover many thousands of acres, are scattered throughout the UK and contain a wealth of archaeology, from the prehistoric to more recent times and the remit of the four archaeologists currently employed is to maintain the historic environment and support those who work and visit.


Among the main sites in the UK are Portsmouth, Catterick, Fort George, Otterburn and Salisbury Plain and as they were established many years ago, have not been affected by modern agriculture or urbanisation.  Working mainly in the north of England, Alex has first-hand knowledge of the Warcop area near Catterick, Otterburn, Kirkcudbright and Spadeadam, and it is not unusual to find cup and ring stones, hillforts, medieval ridge and furrow and a deserted medieval village quite close to military installations.  In the Warcop area are the remains of the Skeldale Mines, which were severely damaged in the floods of 2008.   These have now been conserved using the veterans from Operation Nightingale with interpretation boards for the public.  During the work a stone carved with a Pictish dragon was found in a stream and also in the area a Viking house and prehistoric hut circle.   Accidents can happen and the Military has been warned off the Deserted Medieval Village and Kings Fish Ponds!!


Spadeadam in Cumbria is unusual as although only fifty years old it is now a scheduled monument.  There are many sheilings; the sites of medieval summer grazings in the vicinity; but is also the home of Blue Streak, the first intercontinental missile.


In Kirkcudbright where the film “Wickerman” was made, are cup & ring stones, medieval ridge and furrow and a hillfort at Doon Hill which incorporates a hidden tank firing platform from the 1950’s - now scheduled, as well as the remains of medieval churches and manor house with accompanying ridge and furrow. 


Otterburn is the largest training camp in the north where 1917 WW1 trenches were excavated  in 2006, again using the veterans, which uncovered the wooden duck boards and post holes which supported the breastworks.   WW2 Observation posts still remain, with a mock-up Afghan village, which looks from a distance not unlike the Roman marching camps found along Dere Street, and in a remote corner, the shrine to Coccidius, a Roman War God, close by a spring in a landscape almost unchanged since Roman times.



The huge white balls of Fylingdale Early Warning System were once a familiar sight and we were shown images of their construction.  These have now been replaced by more sophisticated equipment, but the cost of scheduling the originals was prohibitive.  On the same stretch of moorland not far away, are ancient stone crosses! 


St.Kilda is an R.A.F. Radar Tracking Station and is also part of the D.I.O.   Overseen by the National Trust for Scotland, Alex worked there recently with GUARD from Glasgow University, when old accommodation blocks were demolished prior to rebuilding, and it was the first opportunity for any excavation on the island.   Deserted in the 1930’s after the population became unsupportable, any interference with the ethnology of the island is forbidden and the remains of the village, the cleets for storage, the St. Kilda Wren and St. Kilda Field Mouse are unique to the island.


As previously explained, Operation Nightingale supports servicemen injured in battle, often by IED in Afghanistan.   Many of them have worked on Barrow Clump on Salisbury Plain at a Saxon burial mound damaged by badgers.   One completely novice digger unearthed a Saxon skeleton complete with sword, spear and shield boss, items now in the British Museum – I wish!


Barry Buddon near Dundee, is a WW1 trench complex similar to that at Otterburn, excavated by a team of Operation Nightingale volunteers and professionals from Wessex Archaeology and thought to be possibly a model of the Hindenburg Line.   This was a unique site for the veterans as a quantity of spent shells dated to 1911 were found.  Obviously from  WW2, mess plates dated 1940/1943 were found, together with an army shovel and the “Barry Buddon Hoard” of rusty food tins!


Breaking Ground Heritage is part of Operation Nightingale and a group of volunteers has recently worked at the WW1 battlefield at Bullecourt on the Hindenburg Line; a disaster for the Australian Imperial Force;  excavating the remains of a tank destroyed in the battle.   At Alex’ request, in lieu of any expenses, a donation was made to Breaking Ground Heritage.


TillVAS will next meet on Wednesday 6th March, 7.30 pm in Crookham Village Hall, when Dr. Chris Fowler will speak on “Bronze Age Burials in NE England and SE Scotland”.   All welcome.   Members Free, visitors £4.

Report by Maureen Charlton on the final event of the Flodden 500 Project

Etal Village Hall was the venue on Saturday 3rd December for the final meeting of those involved in the Flodden 500 Project.   There were many familiar faces from the last four years, all listening attentively to the experts who have worked on the project since the beginning.   Missing was the familiar face of Chris Burgess, the original Director of the project who was unable to be there.


We heard from Richard Carlton who continued the programme of excavations at various site across the border, and in conjunction with David Caldwell traced the Scottish “Routes to Flodden”.   John Nolan described the excavation work on Flodden Hill and the surrounding area and Jenny Vaughan displayed and explained some of the various finds - the culmination of many hours of work, both cleaning and cataloguing – with a very little help? from inexperienced volunteers!


Linda Bankier from Berwick Record Office described her work with documentary research and the recruitment of the volunteers for the transcription of these, many of which had not previously been seen or associated with Flodden and a veritable ‘goldmine’ of information.


After a sumptuous buffet lunch provided by Richard and Victoria Baker from the Lavender Tearooms across the road, we were asked amongst other things, what we had most enjoyed during the project and what we considered remained to be done.  High on the lists were the identification of the actual site of the battle and the finding and recording of the burial pits, which although reported more than once during the last 200 years, had never been actually identified.   This was one of the original objectives – to find, record and register these as “War Graves”.   The Scottish army who fought at Flodden did so out of loyalty to their Clan, their King and national pride.   They died only five miles from their homeland and to misquote from “The Soldier” by Rupert Brooke, 1887-1918 – “There is a corner in another land which is forever Scotland”.


Many friends were made during the Flodden 500 Project from all over Northumberland and  the Borders resulting in a network of contacts willing to help in many different ways to promote the history of this northern county which many southerners consider to be in Scotland anyway!

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TillVAS webinars


We are returning to our zoom talks for the winter moneths. Our next webinar will be on Wednesday 3rd February.

Our speaker will be

Emily Freeman from the National Museum of Scotland  talking about

Treasure Trove.


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.

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