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A Forgotten Landscape

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October 2016

It’s so easy in these days of instant entertainment to sit and watch fascinating stories about the history and heritage around us, we just as easily forget that unless someone makes the effort to research and record these stories they will disappear forever. A forgotten history is history, as it were. So a chance to take part in a project to explore and record our local heritage and culture should be grasped with both hands, and it was with great interest that we listened to Katie Scaife and Dave Lambie present ‘A Forgotten Landscape’ to the October gathering of Thornbury History and Archaeological Society.

The aims of this project are to improve wildlife habitats, research the history and celebrate the heritage of the Lower Severn Vale levels, by involving local people and communities. It’s one of around 100 similar projects around the UK funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The boundary of our particular project extends from the Gloucestershire border to the river Avon, encompassing the flat floodplain around Shepperdine and Oldbury upon Severn, down to the more industrialised Avonmouth.

The whole area is an important wildlife habitat. There are good populations of Great Crested Newts in our ponds, and you may be surprised to learn that Lawrence Weston is one of the most important habitats for the endangered Water Vole in the South West. The project has trained volunteers to monitor bird roosting, survey ditches, rhines and ponds, and traditional orchards, 75% of which have disappeared in recent times. The plan is to plant new trees among established ones and train local people in the management of orchards. Workshops in cider making will be held in November. They also give farmers and landowners help with traditional skills such as hedge laying, willow pollarding and wildflower meadow management.

On the history front they are training volunteers in the research of archives and old maps to explore a range of subjects such as; N.W. Bristol estates of the medieval bishops of Worcester, Redwick and the Poyntz family, and Tudor pirates and privateering in the area. People with knowledge of local heritage and culture are being consulted and their memories of bygone days recorded. One of the main history projects is the exploration of Oldbury upon Severn. David Lambie presented an interesting summary of progress on this.

A LIDAR picture, taken with aircraft borne lasers, clearly shows a ring of double walls around Oldbury. The origin of these walls is still a mystery. Early O.S. maps name the monument as a ‘Roman Camp’ but later maps label the area as ’The Toot’ (probably middle-English for a lookout). The aim of the project is to find dating evidence for this and for the knoll upon which is built St. Arilda’s church, where many Roman coins have been found.

Historical documents about the area date back to Camden’s Britannia, which suggests that Oldbury was the terminus of a Roman ‘Trajectus’ or river crossing, and documents from the c18 mention the discovery of large stone foundations. Geophysical surveying of the area by project volunteers has produced an underground image, which shows a number of interesting ‘anomalies’ (a good Time Team word) that require excavation to reveal their secrets. The project plans to use local volunteers to excavate large areas of ‘The Toot’ next summer (2017) and may require up to 200 pairs of hands. So if you are interested in getting down and dirty, or volunteering in another way, contact the project at or email .

The Thornbury Local History and Archaeology Society always welcomes new and occasional members. Details of our programme can be found on this website, the library or the Town Hall. Our meetings are on the second Tuesday of the month, held at St Mary's Church Hall beginning at 7.30pm. Visitors are always welcome at the society for the small charge of £2.50.

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