I'd been running an archaeology club at Bitterley School where I'm a Governor, for about 3 years. The children were enthusiastic about anything archaeological and we had developed our own digs. All this had evolved with an enormous amount of help from local people, unfortunately too many to name here, offering skills, time and encouragement. These were given in abundance by Peter Reavill, our local Finds Liaison Officer based at Ludlow. We had been investigating the local oral tradition that Bitterley is a 'moved' village and had turned up interesting results from walking the land, geophysical surveying, metal detecting and finally turning up loads of medieval pottery in our carefully placed trench.
We wanted to know more and so the children invited Time Team. I had a mixture of shock, excitement and, yes, panic when the almost immediate reply was positive. Jane Bishop, the Head teacher at Bitterley, Peter and I were then thrown into a round of visits and discussions with producers, researchers and people whose jobs were an enigma to me. Jane joked that Peter was discussing the archaeology, I was discussing the children and the village and she was discussing toilets and electricity as the school became the base for the three days.
Then followed a six week period when all the organising had to be done: gathering interested people in the village and deciding where test pits were to be dug, grouping the children with parents, answering the dozens of e-mails shooting through the ether. One of the main difficulties was the sheer number of people involved and keeping the communication going. For us it was quite frenetic, for Time Team background people I'm sure it was perfectly normal. Then, too soon, equipment and people were arriving and the school and village became a different place. Our sleepy Shropshire backwater became a hive of activity with trucks, vans, diggers and even a cherry-picker lumbering around the narrow lanes. There were folk wearing the Time Team logo everywhere. The school was a heap of equipment, all of it very high-tech, surrounded by a tangle of spaghetti wires. Monday saw the village transformed into a filming venue. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were the investigation days and by the end of Friday all had gone! We were left feeling that a tornado had passed through but with the proven answer to that longstanding question: is it all done in three days? Most definitely, yes!
So what kind of place is Bitterley? Did we find out anything? What effect did it have on our community? Would we do it again?
Bitterley is a wonderful place to live - very rural, very beautiful. It's also very quiet. We don't even have a pub and certainly don't warrant a shop. The former was a distinct shock to Phil but the situation was ameliorated somewhat when an alfresco pub was erected on the green on the Wednesday evening and again on the Thursday when the village threw an impromptu party for the crew. The people here are friendly and supportive and well-known to each other but I was still surprised at the reaction when asking for volunteers to dig test pits through the village. We ended up with nineteen test pits in a village with around fifty houses and even those not digging were keenly interested. It was a wonderful response for which I was very grateful. The activities became almost the sole talking point for the weeks before and sometime after. In fact Time Team is still a favourite topic of conversation.
Did we find out anything? The programme will say, but we were surprised. The evidence just doesn't fit any straightforward, accepted picture. So, yes we did. We now have a much clearer idea of what was happening around and in the village historically. We also have a much better idea of what we're looking for and how to look.
What effect did it have on Bitterley? The whole activity certainly drew a close community even closer together. There were comments about having talked to villagers who were only 'faces in the lane', of becoming friendly with folk where hardly a name was known before. There were all round big grins throughout the three days. Now a vegetable patch can't be dug without a 'find's tray' being present and there's a new feeling, especially in the children, of being part of that history, just the latest chapter in a very long novel.
Would we do it again? I have no reservation at all in saying YES! It was a marvellous experience. The whole Time Team crew were a delight. We all gained so much and learned so much. The children still talk about it. What price can you put on coming across a couple of our children being given a personal lesson in finds washing by THE Professor Mick Aston? So we would do it again at a moment's notice. In fact, there must be some Anglo-Saxon remains round here surely...
When the children wrote to Time Team, one of them said 'We're a little school but we have big dreams!' Thank you to all members of 'our' Time Team for turning this particular dream into a spectacular reality.