This is the last week before I start the actual excavating and I think I’ve narrowed down my sites to four. I was originally planning to possibly do up to five but after some very eventful visits last week I realise that this maybe too ambitious. Doing four allows me to dedicate more time to each and therefore hopefully allow me to carry out a more thorough and rigorous investigation.

So my findings after the initial visits have highlighted some surprises already. I can’t help but have expectation when going to a site, as well as a little apprehension that maybe there won’t be anything worth noting. This did happen with a couple. The old orchard at Stapleton’s field was one of these. On arrival I got spooked as I felt sure I could hear people in there, just out of view. I decided to walk around it and approach from the other side so I might stay unseen yet be able to assess the situation more clearly. This definitely got the heart racing as I stalked through the undergrowth as stealth-like as possible (quite a challenge for a clumsy like me!) to discover it was only voices coming from the allotments further down. Overall the site was disappointingly tidy and void of much evidence (a part from a child’s trainer under the hedge and two identical tape measures – it doesn’t take much to get a hint of something mysterious even in the smallest of finds) but anyway I came away (almost) decided that this was unfortunately not a site I was going to take further.

The next visit I made was to Norton Common and the Pudding Basin. I was hopeful after a disappointing start to the day that this site wouldn’t leave me short of a crisp packet or 50, but low and behold again surprisingly void of many surface finds. I was starting to feel that there was a conspiracy going on and actually someone has been going round stealing my finds before I could get there. I guess this is a rare moment…disappointment and let down at not finding more of other peoples rubbish!

So I went away and thought about this dilemma and resolved to go with it. I could stick with Norton Common as one of my sites, even if there is a phantom rubbish snatcher. (I bet its those Friends of Norton Common doing good things again.) I know this place is used, there were scorched patches of earth from fires and well worn areas of clearings. Maybe these inhabitants are just very conscientious and like to take their artefacts with them.

By day three of site visits though I wasn’t struggling with this same problem. Off I went to the underpass under the A1(m) on the Greenway route and was presented with my biggest find to date; a burnt out Escort Van located right in the middle of the bridge. I had chosen this site for its graffiti (which was plentiful) and wasn’t expecting much else here. I took a stack of photos and noted its location and condition. I expect this will be the last time I see it. Crisp packets and condom wrappers tend to stay around… burnt out vans are a little more conspicuous. I think I can conclude that this is where the bad boys come. The graffiti is absolutely fascinating and crude and I guess quite typical, but I’m so excited about studying it and analysing all the data I will be collecting from this place.

…read the full post on my project website: www.hiddenlandscapesproject.wordpress.com/2012/09/…


It’s been all about Field Surveying this week. I spent a fair amount of time in the studio researching what and how I might record my first official visits and also getting as much information from internet searching as possible about each site. Mostly there isn’t much, which I guess shouldn’t surprise me. Most of the places aren’t even really places at all (that is, of course why I’m looking at them), they are clumps of trees, overgrown areas of wasteland, the disregarded edges that blend into the background of everyday life. But there was some stuff, mainly on Norton Common – that is a place of course, a nature reserve and a place indeed worthy of friends (Friends of Norton Common) to preserve and promote. So, I’m wondering now is it an Edgeland at all? Sitting right in the centre of Letchworth, it is definitely a different kind of site to the others I’m considering, but although it’s managed, tended to, tidied and valued as a special site of Letchworth I’m sure it cannot help but provide a hiding place for the outsiders too. Although its main pathways are beautifully mowed, open and signposted, enter into any number of the little desire pathways and you’re entering a definite kind of wilderness, isolated, dark and hidden.

So I managed three site visits this week. One more thorough site survey and two just popping by to see what’s there. The more thorough visit was to The Boffy. This place is a constant fascination to me and this visit only added further to the alluring obscurity of it. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the back of the Grange Estate, a hill separates it from the town, therefore it sits silently out of view. Even in view you can’t really see it. It is just trees by a field. However it contains all sorts of strange features. It is marked on the OS map ‘Norton Well’ and there is a Well; a pool of water and a trickle that winds its way in to the Pix Brook (that actually comes from Norton Common). It’s hard work getting to the Well though. From my childhood days I do not recall it being half as overgrown and such a fight to get close to. I fought my way through fallen branches, found myself caught and scratched by brambles and nearly lost a leg down a series of enormous rabbit holes! The Well is surrounded by an incredibly steep bank and for fear I would never get out again, I resigned myself to perching on a tree root and observing from the top. (I’m sure no one has ventured down there for many years). The rest of The Boffy however, for it is a huge place overall, is littered with all kinds of ‘evidence‘ and artefacts, some mundane and some much more puzzling.

I attempted to draw a basic map of the layout. This was a task indeed, as moving through it is incredibly disorientating. Not only am I having to wind my way through the thick undergrowth, I am also having to stay steady on very uneven terrain. It has definite areas though and each has quite distinctive characteristics: a flat, cathedral like canopy of trees, ordered in very clear rows; then the more ‘bushy’ places that open out into small clearings; further on from this is the thick stinging nettles and then the steep sided banks of the Well. I didn’t look much at the detail of the things I found and am just noting where the most active areas are. For now I want to focus on the place and how I might even start to uncover its secrets.

After about 2 hours at The Boffy, I left feeling pretty exhausted and, well rather grubby to tell you the truth. Today I find myself nursing a multitude of insect bites, stings and scratches and am seriously wondering how on earth I am going to survive all these places, that’s without even mentioning the weirdos that might be lurking there!


With the first week of the project under my belt, I’ve identified several sites on the map that I will be looking to explore further this week and had my first meeting with Keith over at Letchworth Museum.

I’ve been identifying potential areas around the perimeters that I remember from previous walks around the Greenway. There seem to be many possibilities to choose from and the next few weeks I will be exploring and investigating these further so that I can find 4-5 to focus on in this study. Ones that I already had in mind are: The Boffy, which I began looking at last year. This site is out towards Fairfield Park, and was once a place I use to play in myself as a child; an area in Norton Common known to locals as the Pudding Basin. Keith mentioned there possibly being some old WWII air-raid shelters located in this area too; then there is the quarry on Wilbury Hills and the car park opposite; there is the old orchard behind Kristiansand Way at the top of Stapleton’s Field; the graffiti covered underpass at the A1(M) between Letchworth and Baldock near the power station; another potential site is one Keith mentioned, in the Spinney near Wilbury Road. However I know that this area has recently been redeveloped so not sure what I will find there now. I am also looking at an area near Willian village. If there are any further suggestions for places that I might have missed, or any information that you might have about the areas I’ve mentioned, I’d be grateful for any extra insight, please do get in touch!

I met with Keith on Thursday and we had an interesting chat about the background to the dig that took place at Stapleton’s field this year and more about the Norton Community Archaeology Group and its origins. I was also able to ask him more about the planning of a dig, the equipment used and a bit about dealing with the finds and recording them. It has been extremely helpful to reconsider how I might be able to use these processes within my own work and incorporate the scientific methods of the discipline into my own visual language. Keith mentioned that what I was doing in this study was technically called ‘Ethno-archaeology’ (the archaeology of living societies) although it is something that is rarely done locally by western archaeologists, who tend to be drawn to the communities of more exotic places. It has been so interesting already to get a taste for how rich and varied the discipline of Archaeology is and the potential it has to be applied to many different aspects of life. I am currently reading Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past by Victor Buchli and Gavin Lucas. A fascinating read, giving a completely new perspective on the discipline. I also came across the Graffiti Archaeology Project (www.grafarc.org) this week, an interesting interactive website set up by Cassidy Curtis, that records the ever changing graffiti hotspots in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. It allows you to flick through the layers of time upon the walls and explore the growth and evolution of the space through time. Samir S. Patel debates its value and relevance to the field in and article in ‘Archaeology’.

So lots to think about and only a week in. This week I am looking to do my first Fieldwalking and assess the potential sites face to face.