Of Pots, Pipes and Pencil Sharpeners by Dr D A C McNeil

‘Once more unto the spade, dear friends, once more’ to misquote a well known phrase – last year it was Rothley, and this year – Market Bosworth. It was another archaeological dig The only major change, apart from the location, was the organisers. Last year it was a Charnwood Roots project, and this year the Bosworth Links. Another minor change was my role. Last year I was actually allowed to go out on site to sieve the soil for finds. This year I was back to changing the water for the people who were cleaning those finds. 

There were 25 pits scattered over Market Bosworth. The rules governing the excavation of these pits were the same as before – a one metre square was dug in a series of ‘spits’, each 10 cms deep. The finds from the first 10 cms were bagged and labelled, then the next 10 cm, and so on until the pit was 1 metre deep or until either ‘bed-rock’, or pipes and cables, or the remains of old walls were met. Digging then stopped. Bags were collected and returned to the Dixie School, where the finds were washed as necessary. They were then placed on a labelled tray and put aside for the experts. After each bag was finished the wash water had to be changed to avoid cross-contamination. This was muggings job. The nearest drain was in the middle of the car park, down four steep steps. Then back, through the hall to a corridor at the back where the water was kept in two large buckets (which had to be re-filled from time to time from the kitchen). The bowl full of water went back to the washer. 

There were 9 ‘washer’ stations along two rows of tables facing each other, with a gap down the middle. Unlike Rothley the experts were three enthusiastic young lady graduates – who rushed up and down this gap inspecting the finds and sorting out the rubbish. The whole thing came under the eyes of the chief expert who also spent much of his time going round the pits. He wore a distinctive T-shirt with the word ‘Archaeologist’ written across it. When I first came across him at a talk he had on another T-shirt showing a dalek with the word EXCAVATE under it. 

So what was found? As far as I know to date, lots of bits of pot of various ages from Victorian to Roman, with, it is rumoured, a piece that may be pre-Roman. But that may be only a rumour. Then there was a ‘pipe pit’ which turned up dozens of broken clay pipes. It had either been the site of a pipe factory where inferior pipes had been dumped, or – and I made this up – a puff-in. I decided that Bosworth was a place where wives sent unemployed husbands to stop them getting under their feet when they were doing the house-work, and the exiles sat in a group with their pipes having a puff-in. While I was at it – were the beaker folk relatives of the Brecon Beakers?... A jolly jest, but muddy water does that to you. 

There was a high-light in my humble routine. A bag came in with a metal pencil sharpener in it. This was highly significant for me. In the last three years I have been pot-washing-water-bearer at Whitwick, Rothley and now Market Bosworth. Between times I have visited a professional dig at Lutterworth. Only at Whitwick was no pencil sharpener found that I know of. I found the one at Lutterworth. I still have it. Others have the memory of my whoop of joy when I saw that bag at Market Bosworth. 

There was one other find. In the middle of the parish green work one pit was stopped early when the remains of a wall were uncovered. This may be significant, but we will have to wait till next year, when it all happens again, to find out.