Introduction to Field Recording Part 4- Construction Materials and Condition

It’s been a while but I’m back again!

Over the last year I’ve been busy working for the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeology Network in my role as CITiZAN Community Archaeologist. This means I’ve been lucky to work on some amazing coastal archaeology sites with some amazing volunteers, not just sites consisting of wartime concrete (though I did get to spend some time surveying, interpreting and writing reports for wartime stuff).

I recently wrote this blog titled ‘What We Can Learn From Pillboxes‘. I’ll give you three guesses at what it’s about. The blog outlines a simple methodology for recording wartime pillboxes and features a simple guide that can be used to aid recording.

Unfortunately, as my spare time has been limited due to work commitments, I haven’t been able to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) for a while now.

Peter Hibbs and myself have continued to develop the UK Second World War Heritage group and now have a dedicated website featuring the required guidance for undertaking non-intrusive archaeological investigation of wartime sites. Archaeology isn’t all about digging and finding stuff. As always, site investigations should be non-intrusive unless you have the permissions, experience and time to undertake a methodologically sound intrusive site investigation and are able to write up the findings in a properly compiled report.

We have some exciting plans under development at the minute and are continuing to encourage people to work closely with local Historic Environment Records to record Second World War sites. Doing so is the most effective way of helping to ensure preservation and further our understanding of the wartime landscape of the country.

Anyone with a genuine interest and focus can make a difference by ensuring the significance of surviving sites is recognised through detailed recording, interpretation  and thorough documentary research. And, most importantly, by getting in touch with local Historic Environment Records/Sites and Monuments Records (Or their equivalents across the UK) to see what information they require to aid preservation through informing the planning process. There is a lot of catching up to do now to ensure that what does survive is recorded to an adequate degree and that significance is properly conveyed.

As we have now reached the 80th anniversary of the start of construction of the wartime anti-invasion defences and as we approach the 20th anniversary of the end of the Defence of Britain project, it is now even more important for people to work with local Historic Environment Records to push for the preservation of surviving wartime sites and structures.

Unfortunately, we’re drawing nearer to the conclusion of this introductory guide. I have one more edition planned, which will look at photographic surveys and basic planning. Once that is done I will focus on condensing this guide into a more user friendly format. Then I’ll do a few more basic guides looking at report writing and additional information.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this quick look at recording material types, threats and site condition.

The Usual Disclaimer

Thanks to the hard work of Pete and me, you can now find a comprehensive set of Good Practice Guidelines over on the UK Second World War Heritage website-  https://ukswwh.wordpress.com/good-practice-guidelines/

But here’s the basics for reference. Wartime structures are the property of the landowner. Removing items from sites, trespass, unauthorised or illegal excavation and vegetation clearance all have a negative impact on surviving wartime sites and can make them vulnerable to further misuse. Also, these actions may act as justification for a landowner to demolish surviving structures that aren’t protected. 

“There were no signs saying Private Property” is not an excuse.

If you do any of the above, you are not ‘preserving’ or ‘recording’ Second World War sites and are actively contributing the negative issues that plague many surviving wartime sites.

Make contact with the landowner and work with them to highlight the importance of what they own.

Into the Guide

Copyright: © IWM TR 567. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188386

This guide will look at filling out the final sections of the site recording form.

We’ll look at recording materials used in the construction of the pillbox in question, site condition and identifying and recording threats to preservation.

Here we go!

Construction Materials

Having finished your sandwich and cup of tea, you lose the battle of the flapjack to a seagull that flies off with the spoils of war. Luckily, your mate didn’t notice.

You’re nearly done now and have just a few more details to record in the recording form and a photographic survey to undertake.

Having already taken a close look at the pillbox you are recording, you are pretty certain you have identified the correct material used in its construction. You record ‘Reinforced Concrete’ in the ‘Construction Materials’ box of the recording form.

Okay, this section is pretty straightforward and self-explanatory. Here you record the materials used to build the structure you are recording.

As with recording site type, there is a thesaurus of accepted building material types that is used by Historic Environment Records and heritage organisations.

The complete Building Materials thesaurus can be found via the link below- http://www.heritage-standards.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Building_Mats_alpha.pdf

The most commonly used terms when recording wartime sites will be-

BRICK

REINFORCED CONCRETE

CONCRETE

CORRUGATED IRON

BREEZE BLOCK

EARTH

If more than one material is used in the construction of the structure you are recording, then please do record them all.

Condition

Time for something a bit more complicated. Recording condition is extremely important. 

It’s almost been 20 years (at the time of writing) since the Council for British Archaeology’s Defence of Britain project ended. As the Defence of Britain data is used by most Historic Environment Records across the UK as the baseline information regarding wartime sites, much of the information used to inform planning decisions is now largely out of date as very little up to date information has been provided to HERs over the course of the last two decades.

A condition survey is very important as it gives an idea of the levels of preservation at time of survey.

Having taken a look around the pillbox you are recording, and making observations, you have been able to assess the condition. You select ‘Good’ condition on the form as the pillbox is fully intact.

Condition can be very subjective, where one person’s ‘Good’ condition may be another’s ‘Poor’. This is why we use a categorised system consisting of condition types with supporting statements.

We use ‘Good’, ‘Fair’, ‘Poor’, ‘Very Poor, ‘Uncertain’ and ‘Destroyed/Demolished’ to describe current condition.

To help you to visualise these conditions I have provided photographic examples of each using the same type of pillbox.

Good: Fully or almost-fully intact and clear at time of survey

Yorkshire Medium Machine Gun Pillbox in Good Condition

Fair: Structurally recognisable, but subject to some damage or decay or alterations

Yorkshire Medium Machine Gun Pillbox in Fair Condition

Poor: Generally poor condition, significant features largely missing

Yorkshire Medium Machine Gun Pillbox in Poor Condition

Very poor: Substantially collapsed or features wholly missing

Yorkshire Medium Machine Gun Pillbox in Very Poor Condition

Destroyed/Demolished: Little or no remains visible above ground or no further information can be obtained from future investigation of the site.

Fragmentary remains of Yorkshire Medium Machine Gun Pillbox identified through wartime aerial photographs

Uncertain: Features of interest not surveyable at the time of the survey (obscured or not located)

The final two options on the recording form are pretty self-explanatory.

Converted: Structure converted from its original purpose but original function and features can be interpreted.

Restored: Structure restored

A word of advice. One very important thing to remember is that you are recording the condition of the structure. Not the current condition of the landscape.

For example, this pillbox near Bridlington may appear to be in poor condition, yet it is only the orientation of the pillbox due to coastal erosion that gives the impression of poor condition.

The pillbox itself is in Good condition. However, the pillbox is currently under threat of damage or destruction, which brings us to the next section of the recording form. Even a pillbox that is completely buried can be in good condition.

Threats

Threats are anything that can harm the long-term preservation of the site or structure you are recording. The threat record consists of the type of threat, the significance and the timescale. We shall look at these sections more closely now.

While on site you have noticed threats that may affect the pillbox’s long term preservation. Although these threats appear minor now they could develop into something more serious in the future.

Looking at the Threats, Significance and Timescale sections of the recording form you record the following-

Threat: Coastal Erosion
Significance: Moderate
Timescale:Long-Term

Threat: Plant Growth
Significance: Low
Timescale: Negligible

Recording current or long-term threats is very useful as it helps HER officers assess the likelihood of loss of the site and allows them to act accordingly to aid preservation where possible.

As with everything heritage related, we have a thesaurus of threat types. These can be found here in .csv format.

CSV Format- http://heritage-standards.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/556_threats-2.csv

For ease of access, I have reproduced these terms below.

AGRICULTURAL REQUIREMENTSNATURAL EROSION
ANIMAL BURROWINGNO KNOWN THREAT
ARABLE CLIPPINGOTHER
BURIALPLANT GROWTH
ARABLE PLOUGHINGPUBLIC DANGER
COASTAL EROSIONPUBLIC UTILITIES
COLLAPSEQUARRYING
DETERIORATIONRAIN ENTRY
DEVELOPMENTRELOCATION
DIGGINGINAPPROPRIATE RESTORATION
DRAINAGERIVERBANK EROSION
DRYING OUTROAD CONSTRUCTION
DUMPINGROT
FIRESCRUB GROWTH
FLOODINGSOIL MOVEMENT
FORESTRYSUBSIDENCE
GARDENINGTHEFT
LIVESTOCK EROSIONVANDALISM
MACHINERY DAMAGEVEHICLE EROSION
METAL DETECTINGVISITOR EROSION
MINERAL EXTRACTION

The Significance of a threat indicates the severity of the threat and the damage it will cause to the site.

High: Threat will result in the total loss of the site

Moderate: Threat will lead to loss of parts of site, alteration, partial demolition, dereliction or damage

Low: Lack of maintenance, vegetation damage

Negligible: No known threats to the site

Timescale

Timescale indicates how long the threat to your site will take to cause damage to, or destroy your site.

Use one of the following to describe threat timescale:

Active: Current demolition, coastal erosion, vandalism, animal damage

Short-term: Within the year, known development plans, coastal erosion

Long-term: Within the decade, for example due to neglect, coastal erosion, vegetation growth

Negligible: No known immediate threats to the site

Outro

Copyright: © IWM TR 559. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205188380

This one was short but sweet.

Next time we’ll look at conducting an archaeological photographic survey and bring this introduction to a close.

Please do check out the UK Second World War Heritage group over on Facebook or on the website and I’ll be back soon.

Creative Commons Licence
Introduction to Field Recording Part 4- Construction Materials and Condition by Chris Kolonko is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://chriskolonko.wordpress.com/2020/08/04/introduction-to-field-recording-part-4-construction-materials-and-condition/.
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2 thoughts on “Introduction to Field Recording Part 4- Construction Materials and Condition

  1. Pingback: Weapon Slits – UK Second World War Heritage

  2. Pingback: Anti Tank Blocks – UK Second World War Heritage

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