AGM talks, 18th January 2019

The talks were delivered directly after the official business of the Annual General Meeting, 2019.


The secretary of Wyre Archaeology, David Hampson introduced himself mentioning that they cover the original Amounderness area. He introduced a great deal of work they have looked at to map the Roman road from Walton-le-Dale to Lancaster using the expertise and research from David Ratledge.

The uncertain area is around Bilsborrow and the back of the Sir John Cross Primary School, Bilsborrow (along the A6). They were able to excavate some test areas at the back of the primary school, and plotted out some 50m x 20m trenches to look for some evidence of the existing line of he Roman road. They did not eventually find anything significant: maybe the Roman road was through the next-door farmer’s field, maybe they didn’t dig deep enough; but more likely being that when the school acquired the land in 1989, the field was bulldozed and much evidence may have been destroyed.  Small pieces of broken china, stone and rubble were found, and something useful was that the Primary school children and their teachers were able to be involved when viewing the area in the new term, it was interesting for them to find out something new about their local area, having recently done some local history when celebrating the 300 years anniversary of their school last year.


Steve King is from the Lytham St Anne’s U3A group and many other archaeology groups. He talked about the very popular Fairhaven Lake restoration project, more popular in the press in the last year due to this applying for and being successful in having Heritage Lottery Funding for its restoration and showing its original features.  They would like to restore the entire lake environment and engage local people in the work.  Local people have been engaged through guided walks, there have then been some excavations.  Steve talked about some of the other previous historic uses of the park around Fairhaven lake, some still there and some not, including crazy golf (now not there), crown green bowling (still there), WW2 garrisons (these were destroyed after the war).

It was learnt that Thomas Mawson (of designing Rivington terrace gardens and Haslam Park, Preston, famous for Japanese Garden planning, among others) designed the Japanese Gardens at Fairhaven lake, the plan shown from 1924. Churchill Archaeology have been commissioned to start a historic environment plan for the HLF and planned archaeological excavations in summer 2018 to find the national significance of the archaeology at this lake, and Steve was contacted as a specialist to support this, as well as engagement from local volunteers. These were advertised and open to members of the public, many people were engaged including passers-by who wanted to know more.

fairhaven 1

What has been initially excavated (20 trenches were opened in 2018) are some brilliant steps (see photo above) which we think originally led to some Japanese water gardens and some paths were found in the digs taking place in 2018. Steve King showed us photographs of the Japanese gardens, stepping stones and ornamental work, both in their hey-day and as uncovered by the excavations. Excavations and archaeological work will be continuing later in 2019.


Derek Forrest talked about the bias in views of when we look for images of who were the Romans and what did they do. He made clear that many ‘Google’ images show the traditional red and grouped legionnaire re-enactment pictures of Roman soldiers, but very few Auxilia.

The same is true of books on the Roman Army – many on the legions, but almost none on the auxiliaries. The Auxilia of the Roman Imperial Army by G. L. Cheesman is one of the rare exceptions.

Derek helped us to think about what the reality was for Britannia in 120 AD, the reality is that there were 29,000 auxilia in 50 cohorts in this country, compared with three legions adding up to say 12,000 men. He also dismissed the idea that the auxiliaries were second class soldiers, telling us for example that at the battle of Mons Graupius, all the fighting was done by auxiliaries, while the legions were held in reserve. Moreover, Roman auxiliaries were well paid, 5/6 Roman pay.

What language did the Romans speak? Whilst in the legions and auxiliaries, all commands would have been in Latin, amongst themselves they may have spoken their native languages. Many of  those stationed in Britain were recruited from present-day Holland, Belgium and Germany.  Did we become English speakers because there were people in Britain speaking Germanic languages long before the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons?


Bill Shannon on Quill Pens and Iron Gall Ink

Bill showed the group the example of a perfect medieval text written with a quill pen, the Great Coucher of the Duchy of Lancaster, 1402. Bill has brought some display samples for us to look at and try. They used iron gall ink, and the pictures we can see show the writing is always written on a sloping desk.  We see swash letters/slashes near the corners of the page when the writer is re-sharpening and re-inking their pen, testing the pen again each time to test that it is working correctly before they continue writing.

The scribe is constantly holding the pen knife and quill, the Clerk is using the pen knife to sharpen the quill, they will have sharpened their quill 60 times in a day, and issued with 3 quills a day. Quite a lot! The quill has a double cut, with a split in the end.  The unusual thing is that the quills in pictures are always seen with the clerk seen writing in their right hand.  He was only aware of one image of a left-handed medieval scribe.

The quill was heat treated in sand before use, and the iron gall ink in the ink pot. This has been tried as a method by Bill, with a recipe, written in Middle English 14th-15th Centuries (ingredients: oak gall, from wasp lavae, copperas (ferrous sulphate), gum arabic, and water).

Once adding the other ingredients the mixtures of tannic acid and the chemical reaction means that this turns this substance into black: ferrous tannate: iron gall ink.


Text by Wendy Ferneyhough

Image courtesy of Steve Hill


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