Archaeology on the Clent Hills
The Clent Hills have been an important part of the local landscape since ancient times. There are rumours of Roman battles and Iron Age Hill Forts, although little archaeological evidence to support them. Visitors are still drawn to the hills by the legend of St Kenelm, the boy king of Mercia who is said to have been murdered here. A church and spring carrying his name are situated on St Kenelm's Pass.
In more recent history the hills formed part of the wider Hagley Hall estate, with the Four Stones being just one of the landscaping features built in that period.
We want to find out more about the history of the Clent Hills. Did Romans ever fight here? Were the hills a significant place in the Iron Age? Which lumps and bumps on the hills were once ancient field boundaries or tracks for wagons to take farm produce to market? Which buildings and landscape features definitely date back to the work carried out by Hagley Hall in the late 1700s and which features are actually a lot older?
There are lots of questions that we don't yet know the answers to. One project that we have been focusing on has been the ruins of a cottage down in a valley below the Four Stones. This was known originally as Hill Cottage, although the last owner put up a sign calling it Ranger's Cottage to make it look like a more official residence. For years the ruins have been left and we would regularly find that people had used the area for late night campfires and drinking. If that continued the cottage would eventually be destroyed, so we decided to set up a project to find out more about the cottage and record the remains. What we have found so far has been fascinating.
We worked with Wolverhampton Archaeology Group (WAG) initially and also set up our own group of archaeology volunteers. These volunteers worked alongside WAG and received training from our regional archaeology specialists and now operate as an archaeology group in their own right: DITCH (Diggers in the Clent Hills).
Over the past two and a half years we have uncovered most of the floor plan of the cottage, revealing original quarry tiles and lino, fireplace features and unearthing toy soldiers, egg cups and glassware along the way.
We were fortunate enough to meet Irene Edge, one of the last inhabitants of the cottage, her lively account painted a vivid picture of life growing up on the Clent Hills. They had no gas, electricity or running water. Every day she had to fetch water from a spring about half a mile away, her family were careful to keep the spring hidden in case anybody tried to contaminate it! Coal would be delivered to the cottage but access to it was difficult, so her family built the pathway up from Adam's Hill: she said her father made her a little wheelbarrow so that she could help move the earth and as she grew bigger so did the wheelbarrow. Walking to school in the winter was hard work, her mother would put chains around their boots so that they didn't slide in the ice and some days the fog would be so thick they would get horribly lost.
From our research and excavations we believe that the cottage was originally built in the early 1800s, although it was extended and added to at later periods. By the 1960s it was abandoned and eventually knocked down.
Evidence from old maps suggest there was another building on the site and our excavations are now focusing on finding that building and learning more about what it might have been.