Not far up the M5 from Cheltenham is the Black Country town of Stourbridge. The town is perhaps most famous for its glassmaking (the process of using glass to make a range of vessels, from bottles to bowls), and was historically part of Worcestershire – though it has long since been merged, controversially for local residents, with Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council. I grew up not far from there, so it was with interest that I read an email sent to me by one of our Research Fellows, Dr Tim Copeland, concerning a project of ‘historical archaeology’ about to be launched in the town.
Tim tells me that Stourbridge’s Glasshouse College wishes to develop its car park – and that under planning regulations the remains of the late seventeenth-century Coalbournebrook and Coalbournehill Glassworks, which underlie the area, have to be archaeologically evaluated and explored. Glasshouse College is a specialist further education establishment operated by the Ruskin Mill Trust, which works to provide Practical Therapeutic Skills for young people aged 16-25 years. These students have a range of learning difficulties including autistic spectrum disorders and behaviours which challenge.
That opens up some really interesting educational opportunities for the excavation. Indeed, the Ruskin Mill Trust has gained contributions from the Heritage Lottery Fund for an archaeological assessment of the remnants, followed by a Community Archaeological Excavation. The work is being undertaken by Nexus Heritage – and Tim will be designing the heritage and community involvement strategies as part of his wider research.
“Initially,” Tim writes, “the site will be explored by professional archaeologists, to evaluate the preservation of the remains of the glassworks – which closed in the 1950s without leaving behind any documentary evidence associated specifically with them. Once the extent of the remnants is determined there will be a four week excavation by the students from Glasshouse College and volunteers from the area, specifically members of the local historical society who largely comprise of retired persons. The excavation will end with an ‘Open Weekend’, when members of the local community will be invited to visit the excavated structures and examine the artefacts retrieved from the site. The Glasshouse College students will act as guides. It is likely that there will be oral histories connected with the glassworks and these also be collected by the students.”
Tim continues that, following the excavation project, and depending on the quality of the structures, decisions will be taken about the physical conservation of the site as well – alongside ‘preservation by record’ in archived documents, and both an academic and a popular publication (providing both an authoritative and accessible accounts of the work). It sounds like a really interesting project on many levels: historical, social, pedagogical and (for me, at least!) local.
I hope we’ll hear more from Tim as the project progresses.