Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Apps 'n' Maps

As part of my research of how to develop my very own mobile app for Breary Banks, I rediscovered York's history by testing two apps to see how they navigated me to particular parts of the city. My first experience was the 'York Churches' app, which gives guided tours of all the churches in York's city center and is like an interactive website, in the sense that you don't have to necessarily be in the church to learn about its history. To locate the different churches, there is an excellent map of the city, with all the street names which is very accurate so you are able to find the church easily. Churches described as 'vanished churches' (ruins) are also plotted on the map, which is even better. No internet is needed either and the app gives you opening times and practical information about the church. 
18th Century Naval Figure 'The Little
Admiral' Clock. (drawing by author)
I went to explore St Martin's Church on Coney Street, with the famous 'Little Admiral Clock' being an immediate focal point. A panoramic view of the interior is available which directs you to different areas and objects, telling you about its history etc. Even though this was very easy to navigate, it almost focuses too much on particular areas such that you don't appreciate the church as a whole. Although, whilst I was walking round the church, there were already some information signs that describe the content of the stain glass windows etc, so it made me question if the app was totally necessary? Nevertheless, I thought the whole thing was set up well: the timeline of each church is available to show its development. But areas to improve: not all churches have downloads available, so you are limited to how many you can view, and possibly an audio might be needed, but this is debatable. 

The second app I tested was www.historyofyork.org.uk , a 45 minute tour of the Jewish history of York around the city. A map has to be downloaded from the website and internet is needed to access the audio on YouTube. The first stop was by the Shambles, Norman House, but I was unable to enter the house as it was locked and you had to go somewhere else to get the key. This seemed, quite frankly, annoying. The audio itself was good - no background noise from the speaker - but if you are on the busy streets of York, you begin to feel cautious of where you stand and may not take the entire 8 minutes of description in. On the screen, all you can see is the map of the trail, the subtitles have some errors in grammar and spelling and the voice becomes slightly droll and monotone. Perhaps images of the history and attitudes of the Jewish community would be more engaging. Overall, it was not sufficiently engaging for me, although the intent was clear.

View of the rural landscape from the Leeds Pals' Memorial
(photo by author)
From being on site for a couple of days now, I have begun to envisage how the app for Breary Banks would look. As there is a passable road which runs through the village, I would like to take advantage of that by creating four or five 'stops' along the road which will give the public a different perspective of the landscape. My main aim would be to use the vast landscape surrounding the site, and manipulate the app to challenge the audience as to the site's relationship with the environment and the landscape. I would like to tell personal stories of the occupants through the different stages, but in a more fragmented way and by the use of the senses. For example, the idea of smell can be used to elicit stories about the canteen and food. And the idea of touch can illustrate the different elements of training that the men undertook, such as learning how to cook, developing skills on how to survive and training for life in the trenches. It is such a remote area, that by simply describing the history of the site, it will be in danger of becoming too much like a documentary, and I want to create something that will give another mindset to the audience. 

Digging Deeper

Back to Trench 10, and it was all about stratigraphy (the formation of layers of earth). And more glass. The whole trench was divided in half, so that comparisons could be made of the features and the layers in the excavation unit. I was located in the middle sections of the hut which had layers of grey clay and yellow clay. Normally once you reach the yellow clay, no more archaeology is left to discover. We had to discover whether this yellow clay was an artificial substance or a natural one, so we kept on digging until we could find more traces of archaeology. The more we dug, the more we realized that the clay was probably natural, and that's as far as we could go. After hours of slicing the clay with a trowel to unveil its stratigraphy, some intriguing pieces of wood appeared. 

Pieces of wood, in line with the drain on the right, suggesting some
connection. This was taken after the wood was removed.
 (photo by author)
Notice the yellow clay surrounding it, and the pointed wood
(photo by author)
As you can see from the image above, there were three pieces of wood that we discovered. This led us to consider whether there was a connection to the drain pipe on the right. After defining the area, we carefully removed the pieces and put them in a plain bag for analysis. Obviously they were very delicate (and reminded me of chocolate flakes!), but towards the end of the day, I uncovered a piece of wood probably about 2-3 inches in length and began to remove it. The more I removed, more kept emerging, until we discovered the wood was placed in a vertical position, suggesting we had discovered a post hole/stake. This made us question whether it was another part of the structure of the hut, and if it was at all connected to the pipe. But after a whole day of not finding anything,  but scraping tirelessly at the clay, this had made it all worth it. 
(photo by author)
Do you remember the brick formation that was discovered in the extension to this trench, by the pathway? Well, it turns out it did have a pipe underneath it! So it could have been a shower unit, a drainage system or a sewage system (hopefully, not the latter...). 

Contrast of the stratigraphy (photo by author)
This photo above, perfectly illustrates the outcome of the day on site. The pink string helps to focus attention on the different features of specific areas of the excavation unit. Again, as you can see on the left, yellow clay is emerging as well as what looks to be some sort of curb with the large bricks. This seems to be the road which divided the huts. At the very end of the day, an exciting piece of evidence was uncovered in our trench - a military badge! Whilst uncovering all this World War One evidence, it occurred to me that it's a shame that no evidence of Navvy occupation had yet been uncovered. As they surely had to adapt also to a sudden change in their lifestyle, with their livelihoods being put on hold. Perhaps something that needs to be looked into more is the Navvy life before they are forgotten?  

Thursday, 23 April 2015

One, 10

Day one on site was like going into the Unknown. Having heard so much about it, I was finally there. What struck me most when arriving there, apart from the serene and quite frankly, beautiful surroundings, was the feeling of isolation and I began to imagine how lonely it must have been for its occupants, throughout its history. On entering the field, you could clearly distinguish the structure and layout of the huts, with the raised terrain clearly defined from all angles. It begs the question, was it the government's intention for this particular site to become a training camp for soldiers, for them to be detached from everything they know, in order to prepare them for the brutalities of war? Perhaps a little abstract, but on reflection the landscape illustrates such a significant feeling of immense calm, something which the soldiers probably didn't realize whilst training, but with feelings of patriotism and optimism, the men would've felt like they were going into the Unknown. 
View of the 'navvy' huts on entering the site (photo by author)
I was excavating Trench 10, an extension to the trench opened by my peers the day before with a little help from Pythagoras' Theory (oh, joy). We were located to the West of the camp, by what would've been the Army huts, and our trench was a strip of the hut, road and pathway which was dividing the huts, and this was clearly indicated by the earthworks. From the extension, which was the pathway, we fought the resilient grass to uncover a raised concrete platform, a gap into the entrance of the hut (top left of image below) suggesting a door may have been there and a baffling area of brick formation (bottom left of image below). This brick formation cuts off suddenly, suggesting some sort of drainage system or simply an addition to the hut. 

View of excavated pathway (photo by author)
Other finds were predominantly parts of glass bottles. These glass assemblages are common as previous years of excavations at Breary Banks found much the same, with medicines, food, sauces (such as tomato ketchup) and drinks. Rusty nails, metal, buttons, and something which looked like a hook off a fishing rod or a door latch was also discovered in trench 10, and after the struggle with the grass and roots, finding a small piece of glass was euphoric! From the trench, the soil had different variations and this was abundantly clear from the texture and colour, which helped to determine the layout of the hut. 
Second extension of the road, noticeably becoming darker
(photo by author) 

The outline of the trench facing North, showing the variations in soil,
notice the lighter area by the rubble is clay
(photo by author)

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

So, what's all this about?

(Photo by: Colleen Morgan, Creative Commons license: CC BY 2.0)

Breary Banks is a historical archaeological site of profound importance, with a 30 year history of active use spanning from 1903 to 1926. The initial purpose of this site was to accommodate up to 700 itinerant workers, known as 'navvies' and their families, to supply the nearby town with water through the building of local reservoirs. When war broke out in 1914, the entire landscape of this site changed: with the government taking over the land, young, local soldiers were brought in to train for what would be their first and last battle (as part of the Pals Battalion) on the Western Front, the Battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916. After the vast majority of the Battalion was lost in this battle, the landscape and purpose of the site changed once again. From 1917 - 1919, it became a Prisoner of War camp, for German officers, so now Breary Banks was housing those otherwise considered 'the enemy'. Finally, once war was over, the 'navvies' once again returned, but in 1926, this town saw an end to its inspiring life. 

As an undergraduate student studying Heritage Studies at the University of York, my interest is World War One and particularly marking the centenary, so Breary Banks is the perfect place. By creating this blog, I will give a regular account of my experiences on site, giving my own interpretations and thoughts of how communities around Britain rapidly had to adapt to new ways of living--grappling with the effects of war, with changing gender roles, with shell shock, with upheavals to regular routines and an overall world in transition. By producing this blog, alongside an interactive and informative mobile app, I am hoping to engage and portray my findings of the site, making it more accessible to people like you, who are fascinated by our country's military and industrial history. Breary Banks is one of the better preserved sites of the early 20th Century in Britain, so let's take advantage of that and explore! 

If you have any particular queries about this fascinating project, then please contact Dr Sara Perry, the module leader, by email