I’ve escaped my study and the corridors of academe for a few days, and have joined in an archaeological excavation beside the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal at Ty Coch, near Cwmbran. It has been great to wield a mattock and have a trowel in my hand again after too long an absence from the trenches.

The site is beside Shop Lock, the top of a flight of three locks, and was discovered when a team of volunteers carrying out restoration discovered masonry just below the surface they were clearing. They called in an archaeologist and a local history group, and I heard about it also and couldn’t resist the temptation to abandon my studies and head to Wales.

The short project appears to have uncovered a saw pit and associated structures:


The pit and the building around it appears to have been contemporary with the construction of the canal (1790s) but to have been subsequently altered and repaired. At some point the building was demolished and the pit filled with rubble that contained material as varied as nineteenth century ceramics and a 1981 crisp packet. The location of a saw pit close to a series of locks is understandable given the need to fabricate, repair and replace lock gates.

For me it’s been great fun. For one thing it’s been good not to be the oldest person on site! Good also to train a few volunteers in the finer skills of excavation and recording. It’s also a rare project these days that is almost completely volunteer-run. I’ve enjoyed finding a scatter of interesting nineteenth century material, and meeting some keen amateurs willing to brave the wind and rain of this miserable early summer!