Discover High Ashurst
At the beginning of 2007, Heritage Enterprise was approached by Surrey's Youth Development Service with a request: could we act as advisors to a very excitable bunch of enthusiastic young people whilst they undertook an archaeological project of their own? We were happy to, and so started months of project planning and preparation.
As this was to be their own project, the young people had to find a suitable site, carry out a desk-based assessment and plan the aims of the project. The group already had a site in mind, the High Ashurst Outdoor Education Centre near Mickleham. It is well known that a house once stood close to the now converted coach house, but the group wanted to discover what was now left of it, and more about the history of the site.
A week of fieldwork began on 3 September 2007. Using plans of the house located during their research, the young people chose areas to investigate, taking into account the evidence that still survives on the ground. This includes cellar tunnels for pipe work, an outside staircase, a garden pathway retaining wall and the oral history evidence for a mosaic.
According to staff at the Outdoor Centre, the mosaic (thought to belong to the entrance hall of the house) had been exposed to the elements and visiting school groups for many years, until little bits of it started to be taken home! It was covered over with rubble, and finding and recording the state of preservation of the mosaic was to be one of the main aims of the 2007 team.
In all seven small trenches were opened up and recorded:
Trench 1 over the position of a bay window in the dining room. The slate damp-course was uncovered.
Trench 2 was located where a small part of wall was exposed. It was thought that this could be the foundation for the south-west corner of the house, but turned out to be part of a small garden wall, in alignment with six alder trees marking the main western driveway.
Trench 3 was located over the eastern edge of the house, close to the cellars and toilet blocks. This trench in particular suffered from tree root action, but evidence for a wall and a possible cellar windowsill was found.
Trench 4 was located just below Trench 2, investigating a possible garden step, and one of the stone bollards (four were located in this area), which were presumed to be the driveway markers as seen in an 1881 drawing of the house.
Trench 5 was positioned to uncover the entrance hall mosaic. People who had seen the mosaic when it was previously uncovered described it as being fairly small, black and white in colour and with square blocks of pattern. After the team had shifted a fair amount of brick rubble, what was revealed came as a bit of a surprise: a pink, blue and white tiled mosaic with wave and Fleur de Lis patterning!
Trenches 6 and 7 were excavated to the south of the mosaic to try to locate the position of the front door. The pathway, which is known to run across the length of the house was located in Trench 6, and to the north Trench 7 picked up a stone block, possibly a door step.
During the week Finds Liaison Officer David Williams visited the team, along with local metal detector, John Cole, who helped the group locate several interesting finds including coins, a button and an abundance of metal curtain hooks!
The Discover High Ashurst group followed their fieldwork week with several days of post excavation work. This involved washing and packing the finds from site, which included a large quantity of brick rubble, window glass, plaster and iron objects.
Following the success of Discover High Ashurst, the project has gone on to be used as an activity for Surrey Youth Justice, local archaeology and youth groups, and regular tours for Heritage Open Days.
If you are interested in taking part in the project or would like further information on other Community Archaeology projects in Surrey please contact: Abby Guinness, Community Archaeologist, Tel: 01483 518772, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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