I was upstairs at the Three Tuns last night, at the History Group meeting, because they had advertised that they would be talking about the finds from the test pits that were dug in various gardens around Hay during the history weekend.
It turns out that the area around the Cinema Bookshop was more interesting than I had thought. It seems there was a flannel mill somewhere there, next to George House, and one of the test pits was in one of the gardens at the back. They also moved next door, to where the neighbour was putting up a garden shed, and dug a pit there as well! One pit provided evidence of a ditch, possibly drainage.
The finds themselves, mostly pottery and bits of clay pipe, are not as exciting as a Viking hoard, but they do build up a picture of what was going on, and the history group are hoping to add to this information over time. Jane at Berry's Cottage has offered to have a test pit in her garden when they do it again, and she has some archaeological experience herself, which helps a lot - she's got some idea of what a digger should be looking for. This time, the professional archaeologist was supervising work at the Castle, and dashing out to look at the gardens, which wasn't ideal.
More recently, there has been a small excavation in the Castle at the back of the stable block. Eventually, in the plans drawn up for restoring the castle, they want to put a patio there as part of a cafe - so first they have to investigate the bank. This was made more difficult by the roots from a nearby beech tree, which they had to dig round without damaging. They also had to cover the trenches with hessian to protect the roots before backfilling, which should be happening today. When I went up there, this is what it looked like:
The lump covered in black plastic at the centre is the spoil heap, which will be used to refill the trenches. At the nearest ends of the trenches, they didn't need to go down very far to find an earlier ground surface. There will be more information on the Hay Castle website for this and the history weekend digs.
One of the chaps who runs the model railway exhibition in Salem Chapel was at the meeting, and he reported that the chapel roof has finally been fixed! However, there is some dispute with the insurance company about paying for the work. It looks a lot better now, though:
He also said that the model railway volunteers had treated themselves to a day out on the Severn Steam Railway.
There was a fair bit of discussion about history and archaeology events further afield - Hay History Group has a good relationship with the Brecon History Forum, so it's easy to find out about things like the 350th anniversary of Penpont House, which several people at the meeting went to, and enjoyed. Many people at the meeting went to events organised for the history weekend, and brought back ideas about how Hay could do things better for future events - such as changes to the times and frequency of the Hay Tours history walks.
There's very little knowledge of what's happening on the Herefordshire side of the border, though, and everyone wanted to improve on this. The dig at Dorstone, for instance, should be in the diary of anyone who's interested in archaeology - run as a training dig for Manchester University, they've discovered some fantastic information about the neolithic. There's also a community dig going to happen in Longtown, which is a very interesting place, being a medieval planned town that failed - too high, too remote - with a pretty good castle. Work is also planned at Snodhill Castle.
The annual Smith-Soldat talk will be on abandoned houses of the Black Mountains - a chap called Christopher Hodges wrote a book on the subject a couple of years ago, and has agreed to come and give the lecture. This will be part of the Hay Winter Festival, so they do all the publicity, tickets and so on, while the History Group provide the speaker. The History Group will also need to provide bed and breakfast accommodation for the speaker this year, and were appealing for anyone with a spare bed to come forward.
Back to Hay, and one of the ideas for the future is to have a trail of "blue plaques" around town for people to follow, some of which will have historical information on the buildings ("This was the site of the Red Lion pub" for instance) and some of which would be more light hearted ("This is where Brian sits with his dog Lucy"). Other topics for consideration included the Dentist's Siege on Lion Street!