You are here: Home > News > News Story

HERs Commemorating the Home Front: Suffering from Cheerfulness

HER Forum Summer Meeting, 9th July 2013, Birmingham and Midland Institute, Margaret Street, Birmingham 

(Post presentation questions and comments – in italicised type following each abstract – based on notes taken at the meeting).

Welcome from the Chair: Chris Webster (Somerset County Council)

Over 60 people attended another successful meeting at the Birmingham and Midland Institute with a theme of the impending First World War centenary. The morning heard presentations on English Heritage’s priorities and attitudes to the Home Front, followed by more local thoughts on the extensive and well-documented remains on Cannock Chase and the more ephemeral records in the Hertfordshire HER. In the afternoon, the more diverse contributions covered Cheshire Archaeology Day, the Roman Rural Settlement Project and recent technological improvements to the Wales HER. At the end of the meeting there was discussion of the locations of future meetings as fixing the meeting in Birmingham excluded the same people each time. It was agreed to consider a northern and southern location alternating with Birmingham.

Modern Military Heritage – Defining the Priorities: Wayne Cocroft (English Heritage)

The current round of Ministry of Defence site disposals, base closures and the changes associated with the return of the army from Germany is resulting in a range of challenges to ensure that the physical heritage of the more recent phases of military history are adequately protected and recorded. In part this results from the nature of the defence estates which were, for the most part, closed to public access. In consequence what lies within these sites is largely unknown, although the potential for a wide variety of built and archaeological evidence can be anticipated.

An illustration of this is provided by the site at Turnchapel in Plymouth. Today the visible remains are concrete structures associated with a Royal Marines base. These, however, may well seal the remnants of a dockyard dating back to the 17th century. Elsewhere, scattered across the country, the remodelling of the reserve forces has placed a significant number of drill halls on the property market. Some may meet national selection criteria for designation, while others may be viewed as suitable candidates for local listing.

A recording initiative is now being put in train to produce a solid body of evidence on which to base the management and study of the most significant disposal sites. This employs a standard recording template composed of two components. The first of these will be used to capture data about the site which will be made accessible through PastScape within a matter of a few months of recording. The second component, meanwhile, will deal with management recommendations.

Giving a broader overview of other aspects of the current situation:

Reviewing the outcomes of the Monuments Protection Programme as it dealt with Cold War sites, around 40 military structures associated with the Cold War are now designated. 30 more are being assessed for possible designation. 

At present from an estimates total of 10,000 there are records for around 2000 aircraft crash sites on English databases (largely from a maritime context). Methodologies for recording aircraft crash sites are being worked on and a volunteer led trial study is underway in Kent.  If you are interested in participating in this project please contact Matthew Reynolds
In the sphere of military communications a small contract will shortly be initiated to assess the survival of First World War wireless stations.

Within the first phase of NHPP a few resources are allocated to further investigations into the First World War. Possible assessment projects currently being considered relate to fieldworks, camps, national factories, military communications and intelligence and air defences (the latter category encompassing anti-aircraft sites, balloon sites, RFC bases and a general review of existing protection).

The possibility of area surveys involving aerial photography - aimed at the creation of integrated management plans - is also being reviewed as are other initiatives involving EH National Collections and the War Memorials Trust.

For further information see -

Question: Information regarding modern military remains will certainly be useful. However, how will this data reach HERs?

Answer: Templates are to be made available to HERs and site data will be accessible through PastScape within 3-4 months. The nature of some of the information, however, means that it can’t be placed in the public domain before it has been checked. The EH National Planning team will be responsible for communicating at the local level.

Comment: Whilst PastScape is in many respects good the relationship between the recording initiative and HERs needs to be a little more ‘joined up’.

Reply: It is intended that input will be provided for the Local Listing process which will involve direct communication with HERs.

Question: Whilst the focus of recording is to be on 20th century remains will any attention be paid to other archaeological sites within the landscapes studied?

Answer: The study will extend beyond the principal complexes into the wider surrounding areas. The templates are able to flag up remains of a complete range of site types from all periods.    

Question: Has the project so far given you any insights into the HER coverage for MoD sites?

Answer: The limited contact made with the MoD HER suggests that its coverage is rather limited.      

Comment (Sarah MacLean EH): The MoD HER is currently using the software system employed by the Welsh HERs (see Chris Martin below).                          

The Physical Legacy of the First World War and its Home Front in the UK, 1914-18: Louise Ennis (Council for British Archaeology)

The Council for British Archaeology has a number of community engagement and capacity building projects in the pipeline where we hope to work with HER teams to raise awareness of their services with community groups and promote good practice. These include building local heritage networks to support advocacy for local authority services.

Our forthcoming First World War project is a great example of this, as it has the potential to reach wider audiences and demonstrate the importance of passing on community research outputs to the national monument records in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

You will probably be familiar with the CBA’sDefence of Britain public engagement project which significantly enhanced data on Second World War sites, and you may also have heard about Bristol University’s pilot,‘The Home Front and its Legacies’,which took place in North East London/Hertfordshire and Staffordshire. These projects haveled to the development of a UK-wide project led by the CBA, which takes a slightly different approach.

We are not looking to recruit an army of volunteers to identify sites. Instead we’re taking a bottom up facilitating approach, where we provide standardised resources to the existing bodies, groups and projects springing up across the UK, some of whom may be new to archaeology.The project encouragesthe recording ofsites associated with the First World War and its Home Front and the publishing of data via local HERsleading to future protection for sites. Ultimately we also aim to present the data as a single public online map and resource.

The CBA isproducing a HER-compatible site recording toolkit and handbook for First World War community projects, working closely with ALGAO and English Heritage’s data standards team, and involving Historic Scotland, Cadw and the Welsh Trusts and the NIEA. The aim is to develop an effective system that enhances your HERwith standards compliant data and enhanced community engagement, without swamping your in-tray!

We are also hoping to work with UK universities to provide practical workshops for community groups via the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Heritage Lottery Fund’s First World War programme. These will demonstrate using the recording kit, applying for HLF funding and how to work with local HER services. We hope you will be able to support the project by using and promoting the toolkit through your community networks and by helping us to deliver a workshop promoting your services in your area.

We would welcome some initial feedback to help us take this forward. Please complete our short survey:

Read more on the project at:

The Home Front: Quantifying the Impact of the First World War on England: Paul Stamper (English Heritage)

The centenary of the First World War, or to those who lived through it the Great War, is almost upon us. As far as is known, all who played an active role in it are dead. Yet its emotional resonance remains; if anything I sense it is deeper now than it was forty years ago when I first quizzed my parents about where my grandfathers had fought.

For most people the war took place overseas: Mesopotamia, the Dardanelles, and of course the Western Front, with the horrors of trench warfare.

Largely forgotten is the enormous impact the war years had on England, as military establishments and training grounds proliferated, as industry turned to war production with 46 million pairs of boots produced for the army - and as the countryside was ploughed up to feed a near-starving population. Around the coast the invasion threat saw the construction of new defences, and the county’s first pillboxes. The first blitz, with Zeppelins bombing the north-west as well as London, saw a response in the form of ack-ack emplacements, and night-fighter squadrons. All have left traces.

Perhaps ironically, this First World War legacy is less well researched than that of the Second World War or the Cold War. For many, as has been said, the war’s impact on England is a story of which they are unaware. The work English Heritage, and many other organisations and individuals, is embarking upon, will go some way to address this.

The First World War in Hertfordshire: Isobel Thompson (Hertfordshire County Council)

The Hertfordshire HER is undertaking a project in co-operation with Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies to develop the record relating to the 1914-18 war. The first step, to review information already on the HER, has been of interest on a number of levels. Military activity in the county during this period, for instance, contains a surprisingly high proportion relating to the RAF and its predecessor the Royal Flying Corps. 

Amongst these are a Second World War airfield which originated as a First World War emergency night landing ground; the site of an anti-aircraft battery in the Lea valley; and the spot in a back garden in Cuffley where the first German airship to be shot down over Britain crashed to earth. This was a significant turning point in the aerial campaign over England, airships until then having appeared invulnerable. There is, needless to say, nothing visible on the ground today to indicate the crash site but it is one of the strengths of HERs that they can record and map that which is no longer there to be seen. A memorial to the event, paid for by readers of the Daily Express and erected beside a nearby road, also has a record.

We have become aware that there would be a great deal to record, if we could find it, but much was ephemeral and short-lived. An example is a pair of Watford munitions factories, contributing mortars, grenades and smoke canisters to the war effort. They do not appear on OS maps but were located, with the assistance of Wayne Cocroft (see above) in the Greycaines industrial estate where one of them had become (being Watford) a printing works.

Other military sites include rifle training ranges; tented camps and practice trenches on Northchurch Common; and mementos of a prisoner of war camp near Bishop’s Stortford. The latter took the form of German names and the date 1918, neatly executed as graffiti at either end of a culvert and evidently ‘signing off’ the efforts of a work detail in repairing the structure. It is clear that there were many examples of both practice trenches and prisoner of war camps in the county; but trenches get infilled, and POWs were given temporary housing in the grounds of large houses, not purpose-built camps. Local records, however, sometimes document which houses were used. They may also record internment camps; larger houses used as temporary military hospitals; and Army remount depots for horses.

Consequences of the war will also be considered. As well as war memorials, in all their variety, post-war movements for the survivors included the earliest council housing, and smallholdings under the banner ‘Land Fit for Heroes’. One such smallholding at Baldock, now a plant nursery, still uses a First World War aircraft hangar re-erected there in the 1920s. 

Some evidence of the First World War in Hertfordshire had been known before the latest work; some revealed during surveys with other aims, some stumbled upon by accident. The current liaison, however, is likely to improve coverage significantly. It has also employed valuable online resources like the ‘Scarlet Finders’ website, detailing military hospitals in Britain during the conflict:

Comment: In the case of tented camps and other, more ephemeral military sites, much evidence can be gleaned from finds. At one such site, in the grounds of a school near Ripon, trial trenching was undertaken. This revealed that much of the material had come across from America. Another tented camp, which yielded circular (and one rectangular) shallow ditched enclosures but no finds, could be identified by the use of imperial measurements.    

ALGAO Local Engagement Group Update – Cheshire Archaeology Day: Moya Watson (Cheshire West and Chester Borough Council)

2013 was the 20th Cheshire Archaeology day with an audience of 300 people and displays from 25 local societies, museums and other heritage groups.
The first Cheshire Archaeology day was held in 1992. Demand for tickets soon outstripped the original venue size so we moved to the larger Northwich Memorial Hall where it was held annually for 17 years until 2008.

After a short break during LGR in 2009 and 2010 we relaunched the day in 2011 at a new venue, the Winsford Lifestyle centre. As we cover the whole of Cheshire, Warrington and Halton we have always held it in a central location and the venue needs a capacity for 400 people with plenty of space for society displays.

All ticket sales are done in advance and we print booking forms and send them out to our mailing list at the end of February. We also send out booking forms and posters to all the libraries and museums

Our tried and tested format is to have four talks on local archaeological work and research and a national guest speaker. The aim is to entertain and inform people about the latest archaeological work that is taking place locally and nationally. The involvement of local societies is crucial as the event is an opportunity to showcase their work, sell publications, make contacts and share ideas.

We don’t charge for having a display and there is always lots of interest so to allow as many displays as possible we limit each group to a single table.
Over the 20 years we have heard from over 100 speakers. As well as hearing about local archaeological discoveries over the years we’ve also seen the national and international context for Cheshire’s archaeology from our guest speakers. The aim of this is to show the audience how Cheshire’s Past is part of a much bigger picture of national and international heritage.

We also use the lunchtime break to demonstrate the HER. This gives people the opportunity to report new sites and also we receive useful feedback from people using the online database.

Delegates packs are provided for the audience, with summaries of the talks and information about the Planning Advisory Service, the HER and leaflets from museums and the PAS. This is a way in which we can provide more detailed information about future events and projects and can remind people how to access our services and the HER and feedback new information back to us.  Evaluation is done by feedback sheet every few years and the results have influenced the format of the day.

A few years ago we began announcing the date for next years at the end of each archaeology day as feedback was that some people liked to book their holidays so as not to miss it, which suggests that our audience appreciate what we do.

To join our postal mailing list for information about Cheshire Archaeology Day, email your details to

Question: Is the date for the event (20th April) decided upon for any particular reason?

Answer: The date was arrived at in order to fit in with other events in Cheshire and to try to ensure that these was an even spread across the calendar. The Easter holiday is avoided. The only clash so far has been with a swimming gala at the chosen venue.

Comment: An event of this type has taken place over the past couple of years in Warwickshire. This was initially linked with the Festival of British Archaeology. However, some of the participant organisations have found this difficult as they want to mark the day with events of their own. Consequently the date has now been moved to October.

Comment (from the HER Officer from Milton Keynes): Having worked on the Cheshire Archaeology Day in 1995, I used the format as the model for a similar event now being staged in Milton Keynes.   

The Roman Rural Settlements Project: Neil Holbrook (Cotswold Archaeology)

The project is a collaborative venture uniting academia and the archaeology ‘industry’. It is supported by the Leverhulme Trust and has funding from English Heritage. English Heritage insisted that sectoral and broader public engagement and participation were built in to the project specification. ALGAO, through Stewart Bryant, has also had a key role in the project design phase.

Looking back about five years, it was then almost impossible to determine the number of archaeological events that had yielded up evidence from the Roman period and, as a fuller picture has emerged it is evident that any guesses made at that stage would have been underestimates. Much material has simply not reached formal publication.

The current project is composed of three elements: The first of these comprised a ‘number crunching’ exercise based on data drawn from the Archaeological Investigations Project (AIP). This synthesis was then tested in trials in four counties – Somerset, Essex, Warwickshire and South and West Yorkshire combined. This demonstrated that much information relating to Roman material unearthed in excavations and evaluations existed only in grey literature form (amongst these being some quite substantial excavations).

It was thus evident that any academic that based their research entirely on traditional publications would have had a partial and significantly skewed viewpoint. More detailed analysis showed that the biggest potential for a corrective project to redress this imbalance lay in the areas of Roman rural land use, small towns and burials. Lesser potential was recognized in religious sites, industry, and villas, as much less work had taken place on these kinds of sites. The major towns of Roman Britain posed a particular problem, and it was decided to evaluate the research value of developer archaeology in these places utilizing a different and higher level methodology..     

Since then the third element of the initiative has begun. This consists of an academic study involving three researchers (funded by the Leverhulme Trust) who will spend three years reading through every publication and top-level grey literature report which appeared over the period 1990-2010 to trawl material relevant to Roman Rural settlement. 

ADS are also partners in the project and, under the supervision of Tim Evans, are compiling record sheets for every Romano-British site with the potential to register a ‘score’ according to certain attributes. These extend down to a level of detail including coins, brooches and plant data. The findings from this so far show that 60% of the team’s input is derived from grey literature and that 40% of these reports are not available as pdfs via the ADS. By far the largest category of this material relates to farms and field systems.

Regional seminars have been held to feed back information to people at the local level whilst nationally English Heritage are creating datasets to enable more nuanced conservation strategies. The evidence also supports the case for strengthening professional practice within specific areas. The handling of scientific data would be one example of this since the study suggests that less than 40% of this is usefully recorded. 

Products of the project will include an interactive website, which will be made available in March 2015. HERs will receive pdfs, the results of the data cleaning exercise and information to be fed into regional research agendas. Other material will be downloadable from the Cotswold Archaeology website.

Question: Is the data being collected using controlled terminologies?

Answer: ADS have employed thesaurus terms.   

Question: Does the ADS database have cross-searching tools?

Answer: An OCR (Optimal Character Recognition) facility should allow interrogation of the later pdfs.

Question: By 2015 the publications trawled will be two years out of date. Will the data carry caveats making this clear?

Answer: Yes, a clear line will be drawn

Comment: It will need to be acknowledged that the database will have a finite lifespan.

Answer: This is true but the initiative still represents a great opportunity. Investigations are in progress to establish whether it would be feasible to extend it into Wales. 

The Welsh Archaeological Trusts, HER Wales, Archwilio and the app . . .: Chris Martin (Clwyd – Powys Archaeological Trust)

Historic Environment Record curation in Wales has been the responsibility of the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts since their creation in the 1970s.  For a number of years each trust managed its own records in its own way starting from traditional paper records based on Don Benson’s Oxfordshire model, and moving into computerization from 1980.  Thereafter variously using combinations of Jo Jefferies English Heritage ‘Version 1’ software, Superfile, Dbase, FastCAD, FoxPro, KeyMap, AutoCAD, Access, and MapInfo to run their HERs. 

By the end of 2004 it was clear that the four Trusts needed to think about new software platforms for the computerized elements of their HERs, and it was felt that the sensible course would be to go forward together and seek a single web based database solution for their HER needs.  Having taken this decision they eventually engaged Oxford ArchDigital, a company spun out from the University of Oxford, to produce the database and discussions began. Although the four records had had similar origins they had diverged considerably over thirty years and trying to make the four sets of data into a single set that actually worked, together with a specification for the new system, took almost a year to achieve.  The finished data set and specification was duly handed over to Oxford ArchDigital who worked on it for a while, producing what looked to be a workable system.  They then went bust, taking the program, the data and the server it sat on into a state of limbo.  The, rather shell-shocked, Trusts had to find another way forward and after yet more discussion lighted on an ‘out of the box’ solution of open source software running on a MySQL database, utilizing phpMyAdmin, and all sitting behind a bespoke front end produced by freelance computer programmer Steve Smith, which from the end of 2007 became WalesHER.  The system continues to develop.

A public access front end was also created for the system, called Archwilio ( This allows users to carry out and download simple text and map based searches of the Welsh HER data over the internet.

In 2012 a chance meeting between Louise Austin of the Dyfed Archaeological Trust and software developers from CEMAS (Centre for Excellence in Mobile Applications and Services) from the University of Glamorgan, led the Trusts into discussions about building a mobile phone app to put the Archwilio data onto Android smart phones.  From the end of June 2013 the app will be available to download from the app store.

Question: Are any details available as to how effectively sites can be cached by the system? Experience in this sphere suggests that caching data relies on a good phone signal. Once this has been achieved, however, data can be stored for 48 hours.

Answer: The GPS element of the system works throughout Wales. The mobile phone signal is generally good in most areas apart from central mid-Wales.

Comment (from member of Gwynedd Arch Trust): Caching data is a matter of some importance in Wales. Algorithms employed by the system allow multiple sites to be cached and presented.

Comment (from member of exeGesIS): This may be similar to the mechanisms employed by a newly developed HBSMR app. The cache formed would be of core data with maps being cached separately.   

Question: How regularly will data be updated?

Answer: This is dependant on how much data is sent in and its quality. The intention is for regular updates.

Question: Is there any plan to make the system accessible using ‘Apple’?

Answer: This would be dependent on additional funding being found.