The official blog for the Big Dig at Calderstones

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We did it! The Reader secures £2m HLF Funding.

The Reader at Calderstones secures £1.99million Heritage Lottery Fund investment

The Reader will begin work on creating their flagship International Centre for Reading inside Calderstones Mansion House in 2016, having secured a confirmed grant of £1.99million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Building on work that has already taken place on the site since 2013, the Reader at Calderstones project will restore and showcase the heritage of the Grade II listed Mansion House and the Neolithic monoliths known as The Calderstones. These forgotten treasures are older than the Pyramids and will now be brought back into the heart of Calderstones Park and their condition will be significantly improved. Liverpool City Council, National Museums Liverpool and Manchester University have all been consulted as part of the process.
Initial work will begin to secure the building which over the years has fallen into a state of disrepair. Currently hidden architecturally significant elements will be carefully revealed and restored, bringing the building back to life.
The finished building will house a heritage room which will show how one of the rooms may have looked in 1880 with visitors having the opportunity to interact with objects and learn about the history of the house at that time. There will also be four key reading rooms allowing The Reader to continue their shared reading groups, bringing people together to read great literature out loud as a practical way of improving wellbeing, building stronger communities and extending reading pleasure. A newly created bistro will also allow visitors to relax after their visit and soak up and reflect on the atmosphere of the house.
Dr Jane Davis, Director of The Reader says “We’re delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support. It will allow us to grasp this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create something truly special at Calderstones for the city of Liverpool and beyond. Not only will this mean we can offer more of our reading groups and continue to grow our wellbeing initiatives here but we can carefully bring The Calderstones themselves back to their rightful place at the heart of the park to be enjoyed and cherished by visitors”
Sara Hilton, Head of HLF North West, said: “The Reader is a real Liverpool success story that helps thousands of people get together to share their love of reading. We were hugely impressed by these proposals that will bring an exciting new use to the 19th century Mansion House and help many more people discover the history of the 4000 year old Calderstones. Special thanks must go to National Lottery players for making our investment possible.”

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Caldies Big Dig Report is Published

After months of hard work we can annouce the dig report for the 2015 Caldies Big Dig is finally published.

On Monday last volunteers from the research, digging and cataloguing teams of our Caldies Big Dig gathered in the Museum of Liverpool at Liverpools Pier Head for the reveal of our display cabinet showcasing some of the fantastic finds that came up from the dig.Big Dig Display 11

The finds were hand-picked by volunteers from the huge amount of finds that came from our four trenches.  The finds were also given a personal touch by volunteers writing about what they discovered. The display is located on the 1st Floor of the Museum of Liverpool at the Pier Head and is FREE for the public to view.

Big Dig Display 06

The volunteers also recieved a copy of our Big Dig Report which you can download free of charge here: Caldies Big Dig Report.

Once again thanks to the volunteers and all the Museum of Liverpool staff.

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Day 10 – Ha-Ha, that’s funny!

The weather was on form this morning and so were the volunteers. We had our greatest number today which meant we could have three trenches open and some find cleaning and sorting at the same time.

Trench 2 surveyEmptying Soil 2

A word must go here thanking the volunteers as their response has been fantastic as has the response of the community: one member of the public remarked that ‘Calderstones Park has never had such a high-profile, everyone knows about it now.’

Our volunteers have been great and we’d like to thank them all and hope they keep getting involved with further ‘Connect at Calderstones’ projects.

Helen Finds Cleaning 2

Whilst work continued apace on Trench 1 and 2 which are our original trenches and are still going down the real interest of the day for all volunteers is what would come out of Trench 4 which was dug to look at the Ha-Ha.

Ha Ha Trench Trench 4

As stated yesterday we were surprised to find it had a very steep cut with lots of what seemed like natural ground (i.e. undisturbed) behind. For safety we had to begin taking the natural out to step down the trench. As the mattocks began cutting into the compacted soil – shock – FINDS!

Kathryn Digging Ha Ha Trench 2

What we all thought had been natural seemed to be producing finds – it couldn’t be natural after all

Only further digging today will sort that out.

Only further digging tomorrow will sort this out!

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Day 9 – It never rains… it pours!

We had decided to spend Wednesday washing and sorting the hundreds of pieces of pottery we’d discovered during the previous week and a half. The main reason for this was the poor weather; however when we arrived to set up the tables in the old Theatre Room at the back of the mansion the weather wasn’t looking at all bad.

Trench Morning

We decided to press on with our plan anyway and we’re glad we did because within a few minutes of our volunteers arriving, the heavens opened and we were left with trenches like mudpits.

Trench Wet

All the finds from all our trenches had been carefully placed into trays to be cleaned. This meant lots of scrubbing with brushes, sometimes big ones and sometimes little tooth brushes.

Toothbrush Cleaning

It was nice to see some of the very mucky items we’d dug up cleaned.

Slip Ware John Masonic Pipe

It was also nice to see so many volunteers learning that not all archaeological work is carried out in trenches and that a lot of the finds have to be sorted, recorded and cleaned.

Finds Sorting

Not a dramatic day but there was a lovely atmosphere and It was especially nice when the BBC arrived to film some of our work.

Fran BBC

Keep your eyes peeled and hopefully we’ll be back in the ground tomorrow!


Keep your eyes peeled and hopefully we’ll be back in the grou

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Day 8 – Back to the Mud

What a difference a weekend makes!

The lovely weather of last week had been blown away into a soggy, windy Tuesday morning. Still Museum of Liverpool Archeologists and our Volunteers are made of sterner stuff so without so much as a whimper they dived into the trenches.

Mike Trench

We again had some school visits; 60 year 3 pupils from Our Lady Bishop Eton and then 32 pupils from Smithdown Primary. We also had a small group from Alt Bridge School who didn’t know about the dig but were in the park anyway and were fascinated by what we had uncovered.

The big news today was the opening of Trench 4, the Ha Ha trench.

You can clearly see the difference between the dark trench of the ha-ha ditch and the orange of the natural.

You can clearly see the difference between the dark trench of the ha-ha ditch and the orange of the natural.

A ‘Ha-Ha’ is a ditch with one sloped side and one sheer side made up of a sunken wall. The idea was to create a barrier between the park where you may have deer or cattle and the lawns where you would relax, promenade and picnic.

The Ha-Ha

The Ha-Ha

The advantage of a ha-ha is that it creates a barrier without disrupting the view. Most ha-has are 18th Century so Calderstones is a late example and may show how Ha-Ha building techniques developed.

Within a few inches we came down onto the hard-compacted sub-soil, possibly the natural with the tracks left by dead tree-roots throroughout.

Tree Roots

Tree Roots

This was surprising as we were expecting a V shaped cut for the Ha-Ha with one side filled in, instead we seem to have a very sharp cut that is only about 20cm from the wall.

Because of the nature of this cut we may have to remove some of the natural to see how it develops.

In Trench 1 recording and measuring was continuing, we’re pretty sure we’ve hit natural here so it’s now a case of just recording all the features we’ve found.

Lynda trying to hide behind the ranging pole.  You can't fool us!

Lynda trying to hide behind the ranging pole. You can’t fool us!

Trench 2 (behind the house) however is still getting deeper and still bringing up loads of finds. Most of them are 20th or 19th Century but we did find a significant pointy metal object.

Mike Metal

Although it does look a bit sword-like its probably a blade for a plow that snapped off or even part of some gardening equipment.

Our finds are starting to stack up now so on Wednesday we’ll probably take some time out to wash and record them.

We’ll keep you updated.

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Day 7 – When one trench closes, another opens!

What a stunning day! The weather was beautiful and so were all the volunteers who turned up!

The day stated with a visit from Gwladys Street Community Primarywho had a wonderful reading session in The Calderstones and who gave some excellent feedback on our archaeology.

Reader Calderstones

It was decided that as we had hit bedrock in Trench 3 it would be best to close it down, so all those tonnes of spoil that had been removed had to go back in!

The turf was laid on with expert precision by the archaeologists and in some cases by a ham-fisted yours truly.

...hole, what hole...

…hole? what hole…???

Whilst we were busy shovelling soil the volunteers at Trenches 1 and 2 were getting down to some fabulous archeology.

Trench 2 unearthed a whole collection of flower-pottery and gave the volunteers a great experience of digging out feature sections.

Trench 1 brought up two star finds today: a small fragment of a Masonic Clay Pipe showing a compass and set-square symbol and a fragment of wine/spirit bottle.

Ken with his masonic pipe fragment

Ken with his masonic pipe fragment

The bottle is very interesting as it is hand-blown and doesn’t have any moulding marks on it. This suggests it is quite early and may even pre-date the Mansion House! Volunteers had a great time imagining that perhaps this bottle made its way to a rubbish tip after the foundation stone of the house was laid! Imaginative stuff but you never know…

The bottle found by Peter

The bottle found by Peter

Now that Trench 3 has been closed preparation began for Trench 4. This will be in front of the Mansion again but this time up against the Ha-Ha so we can see how it was built and what was placed in it’s backfill.

This is where trench 4 is going.

This is where trench 4 is going.

We hope all of you enjoy your bank holiday!

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Day 6 – Bone! Clay! Glass! Crisp Packets!

Day six began with a visit from the lovely Gwladys Street Primary school.

They had learned about dinosaurs and the Egyptians in class and had even done their own little archaeology dig in their school grounds.

They really enjoyed their time in Calderstones and getting to see our archeologists at work!

After the weather yesterday it was great to see all the volunteers out in force even though the trenches were quite damp…

Sloppy Wet Trenches

Wet Trenches

And needed some remiedial work: enter Jeff with the ladle.

Jeff Lunchlady

The job this morning was finishing off the planning of Trench 1.


Before mattocking began…


We had some nice finds including a clay pipe stem with mouthpiece.

Clay Pipe Stem

A pretty glass bottle.

Bottle Neck

And ta da! Fran cleared out her crisp packet filled feature to find what looked like a lovely post-hole filled with a base of stones. Could this be evidence of a structure of some sort?

Crisp Packet Hole Fran Find

The careful planning of the trench resulted in Hannah and Jude creating this beautiful trench plan.

Hannah and Jude

On with the digging!