Digging for Pinchbeck’s past

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Most people would be looking for silver and gold and certainly Casey Nurse thought he was hunting for treasure.

But John Lyon’s imagination was fired some years ago by an idea thrown up by an old map that showed Pinchbeck once had a manor house.

Spalding Grammar School student Casey Nurse in a trench at the Pinchbeck dig.

Spalding Grammar School student Casey Nurse in a trench at the Pinchbeck dig.

So, naturally, John was on site at Pinchbeck during the latest dig, hopeful that the archaeologists would uncover something that would confirm the suggestion.

“We were a bit disappointed,” admits John, who feels so passionate about local history that he actually funded the dig by Allen Archaeology – and is chairman of Pinchbeck History and Archaeology Group.

John had been hoping for signs of the remains of Ogle Manor on the site close to the River Glen in Pinchbeck, as shown on the 1789 map, which also points to nearby ‘ruins’.

John may have been disappointed, but the archaeologists on the site were enthusiastic – as was 13-year-old Spalding Grammar School pupil Casey Nurse.

Casey Nurse (left) expected treasure but what was revealed was the late medieval landscape at Pinchbeck.

Casey Nurse (left) expected treasure but what was revealed was the late medieval landscape at Pinchbeck.

Casey’s mum Amanda said her son, who has an interest in history, had responded to an appeal for volunteers and was given clearance by his school to spend two days on site as an educational visit.

“He absolutely loved it,” said Amanda. “He was really thrilled. He thought he was digging up treasure, but he says it wasn’t about that.”

Project manager Mike Wood explains that nine trenches were dug and while they may not have thrown up treasure or John’s manor house, they revealed a lot about the late medieval fenland landscape.

Mike said: “When you look at the fenland now it is a flat landscape, but it’s all been created by modern agriculture and drainage works.

“The late medieval landscape would have looked very different. Rather than managed dykes and drainage systems, there were quite a lot of natural streams and creeks. That’s the biggest difference and why it’s so fertile.

“Going back 400 years, in particularly bad years you would get flooding over the landscape. People would have starved to death after a few years of bad harvests and it would destroy communities.”

Mike says by the late medieval period people were living on the site they were digging and, because there were no waste disposal or recycling systems then, some of the ditches revealed domestic rubbish.

Mike says: “Of most interest was a long pit backfilled with charcoal and fired clay, probably representing an industrial site. Other pits and ditches near the road produced food waste – animal bones and shellfish, as well as broken cooking pots, glass bottles and clay tobacco pipes.

“All these finds and environmental samples have been sent for specialist analysis and we expect to get the full story soon.”