Burnham on Crouch


Status:Active, open to new members
Sue Spiers Tel: 01621 776570
Group email: Archaeology group
When: Weekly on Wednesday mornings
We meet on site from March to the end of November every Wednesday and Saturday from 10:00am onwards.
Venue: On Location

Burnham u3a Archaeological Group was founded in 2018 by the late Terry Cook, we are the only active 'digging' u3a group in eastern England. With around 40 members around 12 - 15 of whom attend regularly, we work two days a week excavating and recording on site. We have been professionally trained and our data is passed on to the relevant authorities. In 2020 / 2021 we discovered and excavated the previously unknown Bishop of London's medieval palace at Southminster Hall. We liaise with experts and other archaeological groups. We also undertake research. Members must be reasonably fit and active in order to dig and  health and safety guidelines are in place and will be enforced. For those who don't want to dig there are easier options such as sieving, finds washing etc and some members undertake research.

Previous sites were at Maylandsea, Southminster and Creeksea Place. Our present site is in Mayland. We have no indoor meeting place, but in the  winter 'off' season members are kept informed via email of interesting archaeological talks and events which we attend for fun and knowledge. Regular emails during the digging season keep all members updated. We aim to be as professional as we can, but we still enjoy ourselves and have a laugh.

August 2023

Our group has been working on site since early March and we've got a great deal done, despite some really bad weather. Our gazebos have been put up and blown down, and our trenches have been flooded, or like concrete! We've kept going and every week there have been 10 to 18 members on site on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Because the site is so complicated, and probably spans a thousand years of use we will be continuing there next year. Our range of experts that we call on has grown to include one for stone, we have all sorts of stone including Barnack, Caen, septaria, flint and the exotic red vein quartz.
We have 12 trenches open now, searching for and uncovering the walls of the demolished church that stood there until the 1870s. Finds have been numerous and are mostly of pot or fragments of floor tile. We find many nails so the metal detectorists have been kept busy. Luckily, we haven't come down on any burials, although we do have a licence to exhume burials. We are very respectful of the site and keep all the authorities informed of our progress.
Three of us, myself, Zoë Bridges and Peter Burton have been continuing to give talks to other groups and u3a groups on the Southminster Hall excavation. They are very well received and we've had donations, and also sales of our Southminster Hall booklet which have boosted our income to buy archaeological supplies - most recently 5,000 context labels for trenches, and planning boards for recording.
We will keep going until late November - if the weather's kind. For more information, please contact me (Sue Spiers).
-Sue Spiers

May 2023

We have had our full colour glossy booklet printed entitled ‘The Southminster Hall Mystery - What lies beneath?’ It looks fabulous and I’m pleased to say that we are offering it to all u3a members for just £10.00. We will be offering it for sale at the monthly meeting on Friday
5th May. We are also having a booklet launch at Southminster Memorial Hall on Saturday 13th May between 10am and midday in costume!
The booklets will also be on sale at Burnham Museum RRP £12.50, £10.00 on proof of u3a membership. Burnham Museum is the publisher and the Turncole Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund funded the printing.

I have them at home and can post them as well, postage is £2.50. If you want to pay via BACS then please make a transfer using the following details:

Burnham on Crouch University of the Third Age (u3a)
Sort code: 20-19-95
Account number: 40950181
Please write in payment reference 'booklet' and your name
Cost £10.00 for u3a members - add £2.50 for P&P

Our group is doing very well with 40 members at present. We resumed at Mayland at the beginning of March and have at last begun digging, our trenches were all flooded and had to be pumped out. With slightly warmer weather it has been very pleasant.
As well as digging we have been giving our Southminster Hall talks, four this year so far with more in May, June and July. We’ve also been attending various talks which are of interest to us, ‘The evolution of the marshes’ with Kevin Bruce who is our history expert, and ‘Stained glass’ with Chris Parkinson.
We work at Mayland two days a week 10am to around 3 to 4pm but members leave when they want. If you’re interested in joining please contact me (Sue Spiers) for further details, we are a friendly bunch and no experience is necessary.
-Sue Spiers

15th February 2023

St. Mary's Church, Mundon
On Wednesday 15th February over 20 friends and local archaeology enthusiasts gathered at the White Horse pub in Mundon at the start of our morning of exploration. We were joined by Dr David Andrews, archaeologist and one time conservation officer and historic buildings manager for Essex County Council; Christine McDonald from the Friends of Friendless Churches and Kevin Bruce, local historian. We were blessed with a glorious morning, sunny but chill – a perfect early spring day.
Mundon church has been redundant since the early 1970s although still consecrated. The Friends of Friendless Churches took it under their wing in 1975 and along with grants from English Heritage, have invested significant sums of money in repair works over the years. At present it is open only four times a year for services, so we were privileged indeed to be able to look around it and with such expert guidance.
The site of St Mary’s has probably been host to some sort of place of worship since Saxon times. This view is strengthened by the fact that the church would likely have been a stopping point on the possible path of pilgrimage between St Peter’s Chapel at Bradwell (where Christianity first landed in Essex from the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne) and Maldon and Colchester.
The present chapel is what Dr Andrews describes as a ‘manor house set up’ – where the church was situated next to the grand manor house, surrounded by a boundary moat and largely funded by the manorial family. ‘Mundona’ was documented in the Domesday Survey, and the manor was noted along with 10 hides, which was the old English unit of land measurement considered to be sufficient to support a household.
Kevin Bruce confirmed that the moated manor feature is quite a common find in this part of Essex particularly.
The 12th century was the time when church building was at its height, and St Mary’s may have been a part of that swathe of construction, but Dr Andrews thinks this church could be even earlier, maybe 11th century in its origins. Over the centuries the church has been through good times and bad, rebuilt over the ages so many times that a multitude of different building materials and methods are in evidence and it is a proper jigsaw puzzle to try to piece together today with certainty and accuracy. Roman brick, septaria and tufa (a type of spongey looking limestone rock formed in rivers and lakes in the UK) are examples of very early building materials all evident in the walls of St Mary’s, and this may all have been transported from demolition sites at Roman Othona (Bradwell) and reused as was the way back then. Essex builders, having very little natural stone material to hand, would have re-used anything that could be recycled. Ragstone from Kent is visible from 15th and 18th
century rebuild phases and the Tudor brickwork within the blocked archway on the south side of the church remains an enigma. It may have been that there was a small chapel on that side, containing a family mausoleum, possibly for the manorial family or local benefactors – possibly a dig for another day!
We entered the little place via the west door in the bell tower which has been dendro-dated to between 1512-16 and we know there were originally three bells in there, although it is difficult to see how they would have fitted in to the small space where only one bell now hangs! It is accepted that St Mary’s bells would have been cast on site. Bell pits in church archaeological excavations have been discovered elsewhere, and this means that expensive commissions were not necessary for bells that then had to travel great distances to a faraway and remote little chapel such as this.
Inside this lovely space, un-modernised by electricity - is a wonderful array of features through the ages, including the remains of wall frescoes, one of medieval origin depicting St Edmund (841-869 who was martyred by the Vikings for his Christianity. History also says that he could have died in battle too, so you have to make your own mind up on that one).
There are the 10 commandments, several post reformation short texts and, to top it all off, an 18th century ‘rare survivor’ fresco of a pair of
curtains high above the east window, which by the way is a very odd construction of Georgian origin and style, more suited to a town church than a tiny country affair. Must have been very colourful and bright back in its heyday. Other features to note are the family vault at the east end and the ledger stones, now minus their brasses, that are present embedded in to the flooring, commemorating important and wealthy individuals. Although these ledgers are incomplete in Mundon, I did happen to be in Danbury St John’s at the weekend, just nosing around, and there are ledger stones there, complete with brasses, and very beautiful they are too.
This elegant little ecclesiastical treasure possesses a charm and a beauty that one imagines has been layered in to its fabric over the centuries by the generations of people who have passed through its doors both to worship and to socialise or trade or gossip or give thanks
or whatever else this community’s heart was used for. St Mary’s sits very quietly on the marshes shrouded in mists, the village having moved across the ages towards the inn and away from the dampness of the wetlands. It sits no doubt amongst stories of long lost memories, myths and stories of a myriad folk, who lived out their daily lives simply and remotely, the church and the inn, being the centre of their village lives.
These days St Mary’s is not visible from the road, and it is only ramblers and visitors to the petrified oak trees that lie beyond who would be fortunate enough to stumble upon it. As well of course as the ghostly pilgrims who still wend their way silently along the long and overgrown pathways.
-Jo Gray

May 2021

I had heard so much about the exciting finds of the Archaeology Group and was thrilled when Terry Cook, the group leader, rang and invited me to visit them.  They were meeting two days later.  The group actually meets twice weekly for the dig on Saturdays and Wednesdays.  On a Wednesday they have the benefit of Ellen, an expert in the archaeology field who is guiding them along making sure they record their findings and do things correctly – it was a Wednesday when I visited so it was nice to meet this knowledgeable, outgoing, hands-on, expert.  Ellen is paid for her knowledge and for this the group has secured a grant, and is in the process of trying to secure another.
It was several years ago that it was suspected there may be something of interest on the dig site.  Covid naturally caused delays but the dig is now well underway.  All the group members present on the day were enthusiastic either digging, scraping, photographing, leafing through books for information or using a metal detector to find hidden objects.  Now a substantial wall has been exposed with precise age unknown although dates of 12th, 13th or 14th centuries were being bandied around, stone age and iron age were also in the conversation (apologies Terry if I misremembered the dates –I’m not too good at history!).   Some pottery fragments may well date it but that afternoon an expert on bricks was due to arrive.  This is important because running through the wall at one point is a brick-built drain and once the expert dates the bricks, and knowing that the wall predates that, it will become easier to date the wall.
There was so much information being given to me that I hope I have remembered it correctly – I am sure I will be corrected if I haven’t!
When the group has completed their dig all the information is stored so that in the future if other archaeologists want to delve further, they will have precise facts and data.
If you want to join in helping with this important find do contact Terry.  Although the actual digging is important there are other jobs that need doing that do not require kneeling; this dig is set to continue for many more months and there is also another exciting local project to follow. This is a wonderful achievement for our u3a but more so for the hard work of Terry and his team.
-Diane Caulkett

5th June 2019

A new challenge at Maylandsea.
We finished at the Limes last Saturday 25th May, the trench has been filled in and reinstated with turf. Thank you to all those who came along over the weeks.
Terry said he phoned the Maylandsea farmer to ask if the field has been cut yet and have a chat about us going there to dig. It hasn’t yet been cut, it could be another two weeks, depending on how much rain we get. We then need to initially get on the field to try and locate our marker posts, and if Tim Dennis is available get him to come along and complete the survey started last October.
Terry asked the farmer if he has a JCB and would he be able to skim our trench/es. He has and he would be happy to do that which would save us a huge amount of time. Our couple of months at the Limes on a small trench only got us down around 6″ – Victorian times if we were lucky!
We will only have a short time at the new site, maybe just a few weeks before the farmer wants to resow the field with grass. We will need all hands to complete the dig and will include an extra day – Wednesday as well as Saturdays. Unfortunately it’s coming up to holiday time and people will be busy with other things but it would be great if you could lend a hand. Any groundbreaking tools you could ‘lend’ to the group for the duration would be most welcome, mattocks, claw forks, spades. If our site is Roman it may well be a long way down.
Will keep you posted – our man in Maylandsea, Dave, is keeping an eye on the field for us.
-Sue Spiers

18th May 2019

We’re coming to the end of our time at the Limes, we had glorious weather last Saturday, the trench had been extended the previous week and we continued to dig in the area where we had found the dump of pottery, bricks etc. but didn’t find anything exciting. Tony, our metal detectorist did find a 1967 two-shilling piece nearby!
Next Saturday (25th) is our final visit to the Limes to infill, make good and remove our gear from the Sadler’s tack shed. The ponies will be pleased to tuck into all the long grass!
We gave the Sadler’s some money for their preferred charity as a thank you for letting us use their land for a couple of months.
We will then be waiting to hear from the farmer at Maylandsea when we can go onto the field there. We may have to add a day during the week to complete the work in the few weeks we probably have.
Thank you to all those who have come along and helped, and even if you haven’t been able to help your subs have enabled us to buy the right equipment. I’ll keep you posted and am including photos of our ‘tea break’ at the Limes last Saturday, and backfilling.
-Sue Spiers

4th May 2019

There were seven of us at the Limes last Saturday, in truly awful weather, we were hailed on as we ate our lunch!
We filled in most of the previously dug trench and concentrated on removing the brick/tile pottery mixture which we’d uncovered previously.
We had a visit from John Farleigh QPM who showed us stones which he’d collected close by which he thought might be prehistoric hammers. We also had a visit from Jennifer Donnelly whom Terry had invited to come along.
We found what turned out to be a copper rivet (identified by my husband) which looked like a large drawing pin, they are still used today in holding roof tiles down, also large amounts of pink and white crockery.
We will only be at the Limes probably for 2 or 3 more Saturdays as we are waiting to get onto the site in Maylandsea.
The meet up with the Rochford U3A went very well and we had an enjoyable talk by Peter Pearson and very nice food at the White Harte.
-Sue Spiers