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3.3 Heritage River Crafts: Living on the Edge

Engaging local communities through woodland management, experimental archaeology and heritage crafts workshops.

Delivery Lead Organisation: West Suffolk Council (West Stow Country Park and Anglo-Saxon Village)

Overview

Project Update

January 2024

The team at West Stow have spent the last year building an iron age roundhouse in the Anglo-Saxon village. The ash, alder and hazel for the structure was grown on site, the clay for the daub and the reeds for the thatch have been sourced as locally as possible and the methods and techniques used have been carefully researched. Building a roundhouse is a lot of work but, fortunately, the team at West Stow have been training groups of heritage building skills and have had a number of workshops with now-trained volunteers to put pieces of the build into place.

At the end of January, the team at BFER used our employer-offered paid volunteer day to spend a day with the team at West Stow to apply daub plaster to a panel of the roundhouse. It was a brilliant day out, with therapeutic stomping of the daub mixture and then a sociable time applying the daub from either side of the roundhouse walls and we’d highly recommend it as a team-building, heritage-learning day out.

In fact, we were so inspired by the project that, when we got back to the office, we put together a little film recording the build so far and our day out.

If you would like to get involved in this project and leave your fingerprints in the roundhouse wall, you can get in touch with West Stow on 01284 728718 or on their site weststow.org

August 2021

The first phase of ‘clearing the view’ has been underway. The team at West Stow have been working with a local landscape company to improve and install new paths and the platform in the gap between the village and the forest. The paths are designed to support 2 new aspects for the needs of the park. Firstly to allow access from the village perimeter down into the Alder Carr and to the river edge. The second is to create a new alternative footpath that diverts the public away from that area during seasons when it floods. In the past visitors/users had to turn back on their walk to the river/lake. Now the path allows a safe and scenic diversion to the heath and lake.

 

May 2021

Apply cob

Activities have been limited due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. The main activity has been the continued planting of trees in the designated areas for development along the river edge. A large area has been cleared and landscaped to provide the key viewing point for ‘Clearing the View’.

Removal of further alders and scrub.

 

More of the old alder trees have been removed and chainsawed into small sections. Larger pieces have been moved to the village and will be used for authentic splitting techniques and making items for the houses.

Aims/Objectives

To engage local communities through woodland management, experimental archaeology and heritage crafts workshops, reconnecting West Stow’s Anglo-Saxon and Iron Age settlement sites with their river valley landscape.

To address the currently inaccessible and invisible Iron Age heritage of the riverside site and enhance West Stow Country Park to enable it to be a centre of learning excellence for the future and enhance the visitor experience, for the public to directly experience the past.

To enable visitors to see the river from the settlement site, which is currently isolated from its landscape due to high fencing and unmanaged woodland.

To restore the riverside alder and willow woodlands at West Stow Country Park to improve habitat and biodiversity.

Summary

Wet woodlands are a rare habitat type in the Brecks, and very little of it is in positive management. The skills to undertake effective management are being lost by landowners and local communities, alongside a variety of associated craft skills that rely on the products harvested from wet woodlands. These include coppicing, green woodworking skills, coracle making, and weaving fish trap.

This project will work with volunteers to restore the riverside alder and willow woodlands at West Stow Country Park to improve habitat and biodiversity and reconnect the Anglo-Saxon Village to the river that dictated its location, provided resources and communications/ connectivity to the wider region and beyond

The project will enable visitors to see the river from the settlement site, which is currently isolated from its landscape due to high fencing and unmanaged woodland. This detaches the visitor from experiencing and understanding the broader landscape and specifically the river and its resources which would have influenced past settlement for over 10,000 years.

Workshops in woodland management will improve access to the river and the resources generated from these will be re-used as materials for the experimental archaeology and heritage craft workshops, as well as providing, materials for wider river conservation projects.

These will include river-based crafts, such as boat building, as well as the construction of an authentic site-specific Iron Age round house using materials from the river corridor. The Iron Age round house will become a ‘working’ building and offer a base for skills workshops, as well as provide a unique education centre for future generations.

By running workshops and setting up a new Country Park heritage volunteer group the project aims to reconnect the River Lark to West Stow and enhance the visitor experience by enabling the public to directly experience the past and also understand the vital role of the River Lark in influencing the lives of all past communities.

If you’d like to get involved in this project contact us for more information or to be added to the project mailing list: bfer.admin@suffolk.gov.uk

Resources

Anglo-Saxon Daily Life 

This video is part of a video series of Anglo-Saxon life by West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village and Museum. The videos were made in partnership with Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service and West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village and Museum, for the Rendlesham Revealed project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The video shows how important the River Lark which flows through West Stow Country Park was to the Anglo-Saxon village.

For more information on the Rendlesham Revealed project click here

 

 

Coracles: The surprising history of Britain’s strangest boat

Click here for more information on the history of the coracles

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