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Archaeological Dig at the Mount Summer 2011

Mount Bures: Historian

Ida McMaster, now 92 years of age has devoted the past 50 years of her life to discovering and recording the history of Mount Bures.

Her diligent research culminated in the publication of "Mount Bures, its Lands and its People" .Since moving into Mount Bures, Ida has always had a keen interest in the local history surrounding her local area. In 1969 she joined CAG and with their assistance started her first dig at the base of the Motte, just a few yards from "Fen House" where she lived with her husband Bill.

In 2009, Ida was delighted to learn that the Dedham Vale AONB had been granted £1m by the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project "Managing a Masterpiece" to help preserve and celebrate the areas importance.
The "Managing a Masterpiece" money would help 15 archaeology, biodiversity and conservation schemes in the Stour Valley. One of these schemes would be directed at the Motte to finance such projects as excavating the site, improving access, the steps and finally new display boards and signage.

A few months before the scheduled excavation date, Ida received a visit from Carenza Lewis best known from Channel 4's Time Team. Carenza explained that "Access Cambridge Archaeology", on behalf of the Lottery funded "Managing a Masterpiece" scheme, would run a two-week public programme of community archaeological excavations, test pitting and surveying around the Motte between the 8th and 19th of August 2011.

During her 1969 excavation of the Motte, Ida was convinced it dated back to the Bronze Age, which the Normans made good use of when they arrived in the area. (CAG Bulletin Vol 12)
Would Carenza's new excavation confirm her previous findings? That was what Ida wanted to know more than anything else.

They talked for some time about the possible history of the Motte and the planned works. Ida was extremely pleased the Cambridge Archaeology team would be visiting the Motte. In all that time, there hadn`t been an officially recognised dig since the one she carried out with CAG some 40 years earlier.

Link to:- Ida`s web page

Carenza and the team arrived on August the 8th and started to excavate the top of the Motte. During that first week they also made four other test pits in private gardens within close proximity to their main excavation.

Ida, now aged 93 and with her mobility very restricted, was always seeking information about the progress of the dig, especially that at the summit. Like others, I tried to keep her informed with updates every couple of days and photographs taken on-site. Ida was now becoming very frustrated at not being able to see for herself what was taking place only a few hundred yards from her bungalow. She did suggest at one point, they should make a test dig in her garden. That was one way of seeing what was going on, but sadly that never materialised.

On the Friday, Michael Wood and a camera crew arrived to film a clip for his new series "Story of a Nation" which will be broadcast on BBC TV

During the second week of the dig Ida was now more determined than ever to climb the Motte steps. She set about making phone calls to see if anyone would be willing to assist her to the top. Unfortunately, everyone was concerned at the possible dangers to Ida if she were to fall whilst on the steps and so her ascent seemed increasingly unlikely.

Finally a glimmer of hope came from Philip Crummy. who mentioned he had contacts at Colchester Barracks who may be able to help out. Ida then decided to follow up Philips suggestion and phoned the barracks herself where to her surprise, she received a sympathetic response. But of course, they already knew of her request from Philip.

Thursday and only one day to go before the dig closed, the situation looked hopeless in getting Ida to the summit. Fortunately good news arrived early that morning as Philip telephoned once again to inform her, the army would be more than pleased to come to her aid. We were all to meet at the site, the next morning at 10.00am.

On Friday morning, Ida, her daughter Pam and myself were waiting for the soldiers to arrive when Michael Woods cameraman arrived on scene and started to set up his recording equipment. My first reaction was "how on earth did he hear about Ida`s visit", but it appeared his presence had nothing to do with us whatsoever.
He had come to take a few brief shots of the area to complete the filming from the previous week - what a coincidence.
On hearing of Ida`s imminent ascent with the aid of the army, he immediately postponed his planned work and set up his video equipment to record her journey to the summit.

Precisely at 10.00am, three soldiers arrived and surveyed the steps and the Motte to work out the best way to get Ida to the top. The simplest method always seems to be the best, so without hesitation they lifted her complete with wheelchair and climbed the steps. On reaching the top the archaeology team and the waiting visitors at the base spontaneously cheered and clapped.
Ida was then welcomed by Carenza and the rest of her archaeological team.
Carenza spent some time with Ida as she explained what they had achieved at the summit during the past couple of weeks.

After this Ida was then interviewed at some length by the cameraman about her interest in archaeology, especially the Motte.
He assured us, the video would be taken back to the studio but naturally he could offer no guarantee that it would be used by Michael.

Ida must have spent a good 45 minutes at the summit and was constantly the centre of attention by the archaeological team and visitors. Time at the top passed quickly and soon it was time for Ida to return to terra firma. With no more ado, the soldiers lifted Ida up in her wheelchair and slowly descended the steps returning her to the entrance gate.
What a morning this turned out to be, it was intended to be a discrete lift to the top by the army, but it seemed like a TV celebrity had paid the project a visit.

In her report, Carenza substantiated Ida`s findings of the 1969 dig by stating: The medieval Motte may have been built by enlarging a pre-existing burial mound, as Bronze Age (1500-800 BC) pottery and struck and burnt flint was found in excavations nearby.

 


When Ida reached the summit, there was a great round of applause from the crowds assembled at the top and bottom of The Mount


Local freelance cameraman interviewing Ida about her
work on the Mount


We would like to thank the three soldiers from Colchester Barracks for their wonderful support in making Ida`s dream come true.

They were:-

Sergeant Richard Godfrey
Private Barry Cliffe
Guardsman Dave Gosling

Well done to them all.

Photographs by Alan Beales 2011



Start of the lift up the wooden steps


Carenza welcomes Ida to the summit.

Now on the way down