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York academic’s key role in Home Front research offensive

Posted on 16 May 2014

An archaeologist at the University of York has played a key role in a pioneering project to discover the scope of the First World War’s impact on England.

Convalescing soldiers at Enfield Palace in 1916 attending an entertainment event organised by the Enfield Constitutional Club. The Palace was demolished in 1927 and the site now holds Pearsons Department Store (Image: Enfield Local History Archive).

Funded by English Heritage, the pilot project, The Home Front and its Legacies, is one of the first initiatives of its kind to use volunteers in local communities to identify, research and record traces of the First World War in their own localities. It focused on Staffordshire and the Lea Valley in north-east London.

Revealing previously unrecognised First World War heritage, the pilot project, which involved Dr John Schofield, of the Department of Archaeology at York, and the University of Bristol’s Dr Nicholas Saunders and Emily Glass, used a combination of archival research, field visits, photography and recorded information. Eight volunteer groups, comprising a total of 24 people, recorded 111 sites across the two study areas. The project was advised by Wayne Cocroft of English Heritage.

Volunteers gathered information in a range of locations, from former military hospitals, factories, temporary airfields, air raid shelters, aircraft crash and bomb sites, to cemeteries, country estates and the homes of people who contributed significantly to the war effort.

The pilot scheme tested the feasibility of using non-professional volunteers to build up an accurate representation of traces of the First World War. The aim is to use resulting information primarily as a national educational resource for people of all ages to find out more about Britain’s First World War heritage, creating a socially inclusive lasting legacy for the UK. The next stage is to input the findings into the English Heritage National Record of the Historic Environment (NRHE), laying the groundwork for more locally based recording projects supported by organisations including the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage.

Dr Schofield said: “This pilot project provides the basis for a wider study of archaeological and architectural legacies of the First World War on the Home Front. Like the Defence of Britain Project before it (1995-2002) the project will create a wonderful opportunity for volunteers and enthusiasts to get involved in a national programme that can help inform our understanding of these various types of site, and so contribute to crucial heritage protection decisions.

“The project is also likely to include the construction of a web-based atlas to map Home Front sites and events, a smart phone app that enables the public to find and record sites and educational First World War trails using QR codes. This will be a high profile initiative, coinciding with the anniversary of the First World War. It is also public archaeology at its very best, involving large numbers of people in a project that really matters.”

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