Big Dig’s exciting discoveries

Pupils from Duns Primary School with some of their findings during the Big Dig.
Pupils from Duns Primary School with some of their findings during the Big Dig.

Pupils from Chirnside and Duns primary schools have been uncovering clues about their local history at the Flodden 1513 Ecomuseum’s second Big Dig.

Part of the ongoing Flodden 500th anniversary commemoration was always to provide new and stimulating challenges and opportunities for local people. One of the most effective has been the experience of archaeology for youngsters on both sides of the border.

The Big Dig attracted over 300 people, who all helped to make some exciting discoveries about the former coal mine at Ford Moss Colliery and the people who lived and worked there.

Jane Miller, education officer of the Flodden 1513 Ecomuseum said: “We had over 100 people over the weekend including three Young Archaeologists’ Clubs (YAC) - Flodden YAC, Edinburgh YAC and North Pennines YAC, this included children from as far afield as Fife and Penrith!

“The community day on Sunday was a huge success, we found out more about the history of the site from members of the public who came along with their stories of relatives who had once lived at Ford Moss.”

The Big Dig also brought in around 200 school children from Chirnside Primary School, Duns Primary School, Longridge Towers School and Tweedmouth Middle School. The children were busily employed digging, metal detecting, looking at census records from the archives and touring the site.

The event showed how archeology has fired the imagination. Although the digging produced fragments, with skilled interpretation the story these tell is always greater than the sum of their parts.

The former coal mine at Ford Moss was last used in 1918, and now only two of its structures remain visible – however, the site is rich in buried archaeological treasure, as was revealed last year during the first Big Dig for youngsters. The Big Dig also included guided tours of the site looking at the history, archaeology and geology of the area, aimed at piecing together a picture of what life was like in this small, rural mining community over 100 years ago.

Ford Moss Colliery is known to have been active from the 17th century, with the coal mine largely operated along the northern and western edges of Ford Moss, where the ruin of an old engine house and a large brick chimney are the most obvious features. Although it closed in 1918, several of the miners who lived and worked at Ford Moss colliery in the late 19th century were depicted by Louisa Lady Waterford in her famous paintings on the walls of the school which she built in Ford, leaving a unique record of the people as well as the place.

Jane concludes: “People of all ages love archaeology – it’s the personal connection with the past that is so powerful. The best find so far, for me, is a piece of a tiny teacup obviously from a child’s toy tea set.”

Lasting for four years, the Flodden 1513 project aims to raise the profile of the Battle of Flodden and leave a lasting legacy for communities in North Northumberland and the Borders. The £1.3m project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is the UK’s first cross-border Ecomuseum.