Hidden history shared with school children at Nicholls Lodge

Bishop’s Stortford’s hidden history has been shared with Year 6 children from St Michael’s CofE Primary School this week during an event at Churchill Retirement Living’s Nicholls Lodge.

Archaeologist James Fairbairn, from Oxford Archaeology East, shared the findings of the investigation work which took place at the site on South Street where Nicholls Lodge was built. Working with Churchill Retirement Living, a team from Oxford Archaeology East spent four weeks in 2014 evaluating and excavating the Swan Dock area, revealing a history dating back earlier than previously thought.

Nicholls 2The excavations uncovered unknown clay-lined tanning pits from the late 18th century, in an area thought previously to be uninhabited. The findings suggest that the pits could have started as a cottage industry and developed into a cooperative or small business on the site. A number of interesting artefacts were found, including tools relating to the tanning industry which are not often found in situ. A first century Roman brooch was also found at the site, supporting Bishop’s Stortford’s Roman history. 

James Fairbairn from Oxford Archaeology East, said: “It was great to return to the site again and share the findings with Owners at Nicholls Lodge and local children from St Michael’s School. This was a fascinating investigation because for such a small site there was a lot going on and we found much more than we thought we would. We went looking for an 18th or 19th century dock but found activity dating back much earlier.

“We also recovered some great and quite rare artefacts and a timeline that spans from pre-history and Roman times, through Medieval tanning activity up to 19th Century warehouses.”

Jonny Hays, Year 6 teacher at St Michael’s CofE Primary School said: “We were delighted to visit Nicholls Lodge and treat the children to a hands-on experience with some real archaeological finds. Being able to touch jewellery and tools which were held and used by actual Romans and Medieval artisans really brings history to life.”

The archaeologists think that more tanning pits could have existed in this area of Bishop’s Stortford, but that the construction of the docks in the late 18th and early 19th centuries may have damaged evidence of this. The digs also showed the history of the docks themselves, and findings reveal a previously undiscovered phase of the dock, again suggesting construction could have started earlier than was originally believed.

To find out more about Nicholls Lodge, please call 01279 905 782 or click here

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