Digging for Doncaster – volunteers sought for new archaeological exploration

History enthusiasts around Doncaster are being given a unique opportunity to get their hands dirty alongside leading archaeologists this summer as part of a fortnight-long dig to try to uncover secrets about the town’s First World War and military history.

excavating Doncaster
excavating the secrets of Doncaster

As part of the Doncaster 1914-18 project, archaeologists will be conducting two weeks of excavations in the grounds of St Peter in Chains Church on Chequer Road – the former location of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry’s Scarbrough Barracks and just a stone’s throw away from the project’s curators at Doncaster Museum & Art Gallery. Members of the public will be trained in archaeological techniques, before picking up trowel and brush to see what early 20th century stories they can uncover buried beneath the ground.
“The dig site in central Doncaster offers a fantastic opportunity for those with an interest in history to work on a real archaeological dig. The site is the location of the former Scarbrough Barracks; these were built shortly after World War I, but prior to this the site was used for military training during the war, so we are hoping to find evidence of what activities were carried out here,” comments project manager, Dr Glyn Davies of ArcHeritage, which has been commissioned to undertake the dig. “A recent dig at what is now the new cultural quarter revealed practice trenches excavated by soldiers training in Doncaster. We don’t know if they were undertaking similar training in trenching on the barracks site but the excavation provides us with the opportunity to find out what they were doing.”
During the main dig, running from 10 – 22 August, the archaeologists will require 15 – 20 volunteers each day to help dig and process finds – including cleaning, labelling and bagging – but before that, around 5 people per day are needed at the end of July to help with geophysical surveys of the site. “This will give us an indication of the best places to start digging so that we can focus our efforts on parts of the land that have the highest potential to contain archaeological remains,” explains Dr Davies.
digging away
digging away

The volunteering opportunity is open to anyone over the age of 16, and no prior experience is necessary. Training will be provided on the Monday and Wednesday of each week, with volunteers then spending at least a day working on the site. Young archaeologists can also get involved, as those aged between 8 and 16 can join the team if they are accompanied at all times by a parent.
“Our team are spending the next four and a half years talking to communities in and around Doncaster about the experiences of their ancestors during the First World War and we are hopeful that this archaeological excavation will help us better understand how we prepared our young men for life on the front line,” says Doncaster 1914-18 Project Manager, Jude Holland. Father Augustine O’Reilly of St Peter in Chain’s Church added, “We are supportive of this project and encourage a good response to the appeal for volunteers. I hope it will be productive and the knowledge gained may be a source of great inspiration to future generations.”

Alongside the volunteering opportunities, the dig will be open to the public every day (except Sundays) between 10-22 August, 10am-4pm. On Saturdays 15 August and Saturday 22 August, visitors can join in action packed archaeology open days between 10am-4pm.

There will be hands-on activities, and fun for all the family. The Great War on Tour, the Project’s travelling roadshow will be present on both days, presenting a snapshot of Doncaster 1914-18’s latest research. “Once visitors have seen the archaeology in action, they can pop into the museum to learn more about the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry’s role in the War in our new exhibition, ‘A Call To Arms’,” adds Jude.

For details on how to register, volunteers should visit www.doncaster1914-18.org.uk or the ArcHeritage website http://www.archeritage.co.uk/news/#790 or contact ArcHeritage, by email diggingfordoncaster@yorkat.co.uk or phone 0114 2728884.

For further information on the Doncaster 1914-18 project, please visit www.doncaster1914-18.org.uk

Free family event gives a taste of Doncaster's First World War at Cusworth Hall


Saturday 18 – Sunday 19 July 2015

Doncaster’s families will be able to travel back 100 years to explore life on the home front during the First World War at a major – and free – event at Cusworth Hall and Park on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 July 2015.

Lady Isabella of Cusworth and son Robert c 1910
Lady Isabella of Cusworth and son Robert c 1910

Visitors to ‘Life on the Home Front Weekend’ can taste wartime cooking, try out costumes and crafts, encounter vintage vehicles, and even meet soldiers and nurses in living history camps, experiencing military training and medical care just like people in Doncaster in 1915. The weekend is being organised as part of Doncaster 1914-18, a four-year project which aims to build a picture of life in the Doncaster borough during the First World War, so visitors are also being encouraged to share their own family or local stories at the event.
Dress up like this
Dress up like this

“Life on the Home Front Weekend is based on genuine events experienced by local people 100 years ago, so visitors will get a vivid, first-hand insight into how life changed – for everyone – during the First World War. Not only did brothers, sons and husbands serve as soldiers, but families back home did their bit for the war effort, growing their own vegetables and fruit to deal with food shortages, fundraising and making clothes and gifts to send to relatives at the Front. Doncaster miners and railway workers in reserved occupations did valuable work to support the war effort and keep the country running and its supply chains moving,” explains Jude Holland, Project Manager for Doncaster 1914-18. “What is most striking, though, is the way that people rallied round to support each other and the war effort. Everyone played their part with indomitable spirit, finding ingenious ways to make do and mend. In fact, the Weekend will reveal some really useful tips for today!”
A packed programme of activities will take place throughout the weekend between 10am – 4pm, including:
Taste – and learn how to cook – original First World War cakes and biscuits, sent from Doncaster homes to soldiers fighting on the front line. Local cook and author, Meryl White will recreate traditional recipes including trench cake, imperial biscuits, parkin, and cocoanut haystacks, all inspired by her Grandma Abson, a South Yorkshire housekeeper in the 1900s.
Explore a soldier’s life in the First World War Training camp, including a tented encampment and displays of drill, weapon firing, tactics and gas warfare, recreated by expert living history group, The Manchester 1914-18 Regiment.
Meet the nurses and Frank, a patient who has literally been in the wars, at the Voluntary Aid Detachment nurses’ station. Visitors to the medical tent will also witness medical tools, equipment and hundreds of other everyday items from the home front.
A vintage 1916 Model T ambulance and officer’s motorcycle take centre-stage alongside many original objects, including uniforms, which reveal how we lived during the First World War.
Make do and mend, getting creative – and picking up a few money-saving tips – with hands-on crafts suitable for all ages, including ‘sew and save’.
Visitors will discover more about the Borough during the First World War at the Great War on Roadshow, handling original objects and dressing up in First World War uniforms. Members of the public can bring along their family’s First World War letters, objects and memorabilia and have them digitised for the new, online archive.
“The First World War brought about significant change, including the introduction of British Summer Time to increase daylight working hours, restrictions on lighting – dubbed A Night of Grease, Grime and Gloom by the local Doncaster Chronicle – and even a ban on buying rounds at the pub to discourage drunkenness,” adds Victoria Ryves, the project’s Community and Education Engagement Officer, “but it’s the everyday stories that are most poignant, revealing the realities of wartime life for Doncaster people, and the contribution they made. Local people donated entire buildings to the war effort as hospitals for convalescing soldiers – including Lady Isabella of Cusworth Hall whose family home in Stamford became a hospital. Schoolchildren made food parcels for injured soldiers in local hospitals – in just one day, one school’s parcel included 194 eggs, 68 lbs of sugar, 5 lbs of treacle, and also a jar of Bovril.”

To find out more, visit www.doncaster1914-18.org.uk.

Admission is free to Life on the Home Front Weekend, but car parking charges apply, ranging from £1 for an hour to £6 for an all-day ticket. Cusworth Hall and Park is located in Doncaster, DN5 7TU. During the weekend, visitors can also explore, at no additional charge, the 18th-century country house, museum displays and its historic parkland, complete with lakes and pleasure grounds, shop and tea room.