A WW1 Silver Medal from Besford, Worcestershire

This silver ‘British War Medal’ was found in July 2020 by one of our archaeologists while they were monitoring groundworks associated with an extension to a 17th century Grade II listed building in Besford, Worcestershire. The medal was found with a range of other objects, including broken pottery, animal bones, an iron sickle and a metal tin-opener.

The medal dates from 1918–1920 and is one of over 6.5 million such medals awarded to British Army soldiers who had served overseas in a theatre of war between 1914 and 1918. It is the second example of this type found by our archaeologists in the last five years –  the first was found in Tidworth, Wiltshire, and was featured on our website previously.

WW1 silver medal

The medal survives in reasonably good condition together with its ribbon clasp, but unsurprisingly the ribbon itself is missing. The design of the medal’s reverse, by William McMillan, is loaded with patriotic and religious symbolism. It shows the naked Saint George on horseback, trampling a Prussian eagle shield and skull and cross-bones – the latter a reference both to victory in the war and over death. In the background are ocean waves, perhaps a reference to British sea power and to acknowledge the role of the navy, and behind St George is the risen sun of Victory.

Given the numbers awarded, it is perhaps not surprising that such medals are entering the archaeological record. They represent an unusually direct and personal link to our recent past, recording not only an event of great historical and social significance, but also the name of an individual participant. An inscription to the edge of ‘our’ medal records the name and other details of the recipient: ‘7,1365 PTE G H. WRAGG. L’POOL R.’.  Being a very recent find, only limited research has been possible so far, but we have been able to determine the full name of this individual as George Harrold Wragg, a private of the King’s Liverpool Regiment (Service no. 71365). This information appears on medal record cards preserved at Kew, which also records that Private Wragg served in the Army Labour Corps (Service no.  47223).

medal edge view

At this stage not much more is known of the individual named. There is no obvious familial connection to the immediate area; the surname Wragg does not appear in the 1911 census for the Besford parish and no references to the name can be found in post-war records relating to this location. The name Wragg appears to have its origins in the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire area and is still common in the cities of Sheffield, Mansfield and Nottingham. Several George H Wraggs of appropriate age to see military service in WW1 are recorded in the 1911 census records from the Sheffield area. Many more listed only as George Wragg appear in the 1911 census records, including multiple persons from Birmingham. Is it possible that our George Wragg, perhaps originally from the Birmingham area, lived for a brief time in the Besford area in the post-war years? It is of course possible that there is no direct connection to its findspot and the medal was at some stage sold or given away.

The only surviving record of private Wragg’s military service is his medal card, although most other records were destroyed as the result of bombing in WW2. Private Wragg’s medal card indicates that he was not in receipt of the 1914-15 star, which suggests that his war service began in 1916 at the earliest. He may have been too young to enlist before this date or was possibly a married man, and as such not subject to conscription until after June 1916.  Conscripted men were not given the choice of which regiment or unit they joined, so Private Wragg’s service in the Liverpool Regiment need not indicate a connection with that city. The King’s Liverpool Regiment numbered 49 Battalions (of approximately 1000 men) in WW1. They took part in some of the bloodiest fighting, including at the Somme, Passchendaele and Cambrai, suffering around 15,000 casualties.

Service in the Labour Corps might suggest Private Wragg was himself wounded. This unit was formed in 1917 from those rated below the A1 fitness required for the frontline infantry and included many of the returned wounded. By the end of the war the Labour Corps numbered approximately 400,000 men, equivalent to around 10% of the army.  The corps provided logistical support for the fighting troops – unloading and distributing supplies/ammunition, trench (and grave) digging and labour for road/rail building.  Service in the Labour Corps was regarded at the time as secondary, with those who died being commemorated under their original regiment and, as here, with service left unrecorded on the British War Medal.

What now?

It is hoped that additional research will help identify Private Wragg and uncover details about his later life. If a descendant can be traced it may be possible to have the medal returned to Private Wragg’s family. If you have information about the Wragg family, particularly those with a Birmingham/Worcestershire connection, and think they may be able to provide further information about Private George Harrold Wragg, we would be very happy to hear from you!

Ed McSloy

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Gunpowder mill from Old Mill, Surrey

Between February and August 2020, Cotswold Archaeology undertook an archaeological watching brief and excavation on an 18th–19th gunpowder mill located at Old Mill, Old Malden Lane, Worcester Park, Surrey, on behalf of Taylor Wimpey.

Powder Mill A
Powder Mill A

The gunpowder mill opened in the early 18th century and operated until the mid 19th century, when an explosion forced its closure. It was subsequently repurposed as a Victorian corn mill. The location of the mill beside the Hogsmill River was chosen due to the strength of the river’s flow, with the Hogsmill River being famous for the corn, paper, and gunpowder mills constructed along its length.

Maps that show the locations of the gunpowder mill’s individual buildings and canals correlate with our findings at the site, as do drawings of the mill buildings and machinery, which were produced in 1771 by John Smeaton, the ‘Father of English Civil Engineering’.

To date, we have found two groups of structures at the site: the mill’s buildings themselves, and a complex system of mill ponds, culverts, leats, and outflows, all designed to harness the power of the river to drive the machinery necessary for the production of gunpowder.

The westerly structure appears to have been heavily damaged in the 1854 explosion at the mill, while the eastern structure is substantially more intact. The latter includes blast walls, evidence of scars left by the water wheel that drove the machinery, and some of the machinery itself. There is also evidence for the modification of the mill to allow for the grinding of corn.

One of the millstones
One of the millstones

Some of the small finds discovered at the site include a hobnail shoe, which appears to have incorporated copper rather than iron hobnails in order to reduce the risk of sparks – a clear danger in a gunpowder mill.

Nigel Randall, Archaeological Officer with Surrey County Council’s Historic Environment Planning Team, said: “The work undertaken to date has been exemplary and the features revealed are certainly of regional and possibly national importance. We are ensuring that all the structures and features revealed are being carefully recorded.”

David Buchanan, Technical Manager at Taylor Wimpey South Thames, said: “Uncovering the mills and learning about the history behind them has been extraordinary and incredibly insightful. As the excavation is part of a planning condition, we have been working with Cotswold Archaeology, Surrey County Council and Barkemp Construction to ensure the structures are safely excavated. We have also taken all necessary precautions to secure the safety of our employees, appointed consultants and subcontractors.”

The following report appeared in The Sussex Advertiser of 21 August 1849.


This quiet village was thrown into a state of consternation, truly terrifying, about twelve o’clock on Tuesday night last, occasioned by the explosion of a gunpowder mill, in the vicinity of Worcester Park, leading into the Ewell Road, the property of Mr Frederick Taylor. The mill at the time was in full work, containing a great quantity of powder. Fortunately, the only individual who was employed had left a few minutes before the explosion or the consequences to him would, no doubt, have been fatal. The noise was heard for some miles off. All the woodwork, of which the mill was composed, was blown to atoms and scattered all round the place into the road. Happily, it occurred at night, or in all probability human life would have been sacrificed.

Ray Kennedy

Powder Mill B
Powder Mill B
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The London Wreck: update on the conservation

Cotswold Archaeology has been working with Historic England on the artefacts recovered from the Protected Wreck Site of the London,  a seventeenth century warship, in the Thames Estuary.  That work has been progressing well, and Historic England has recently posted an update on the conservation and new studies of some of the  artefacts with some wonderful new photographs. The results of the research programme are now coming together as a book and for those who want to know more about this fascinating site we will let you know when it is available. You can read more about the research on the Historic England’s website.

A pair of dividers; © Copyright Historic England, James O. Davies
A pair of dividers; © Copyright Historic England, James O. Davies
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Great Linford Manor Park investigations: video update

In 2019 Cotswold Archaeology worked with the Parks Trust to carry out an archaeological investigation and community project at Great Linford Manor Park, Milton Keynes, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  The Park surrounds Great Linford Manor, a late 17th century house with 18th century formal gardens that replaced an earlier, medieval, manor house. Over two separate weeks in April and July our archaeologists, Parks Trust staff and local volunteers worked to reveal elements of the history of the park and the results have been used to inform a second, larger, Lottery bid called the Reveal, Revive and Restore Project that aims to improve the park as a visitor destination, including revealing, restoring and recreating aspects of the 18th century formal grounds.

Linford Manor Park excavations

The project team investigated the park Ha-ha, a type of sunken fence that was commonly used in landscaped gardens and parks in the eighteenth century to give the viewer the illusion of an unbroken, continuous landscape while providing a boundary that prevented grazing livestock in the park from getting into the formal gardens and eating all the flowers and plants! Constructing a Ha-ha involved digging a deep, dry ditch, the inner side of which would be faced up to the level of the surrounding ground with either a dry-stone or brick wall and the volunteers and archaeologists worked together to reveal a well-preserved dry stone retaining wall, surviving to a height of just over 1 metre. They were also able to establish the shape and appearance of the accompanying ditch. Immediately in front of the manor house, team members also investigated the likely foundation pit of an ornamental sundial, the approximate location of which had been identified from historic photographs dating to the 1960s. The project also led to the unexpected discovery of medieval remains, of 12th to 14th century date, including at least one probable building.

Linford Manor Park excavations

There was a particular emphasis on public engagement and community involvement throughout the project with over 80 volunteers participating in the April dig, alongside Cotswold Archaeology staff. A public Open Day with guided site tours also allowed greater engagement with a variety of visitors to the park. Direct on-site engagement was supplemented by social media campaigns throughout both stages of fieldwork, showcasing progress and raising awareness for the project. A short segment filmed for the local ITV evening news, broadcast at the start of the project, also successfully raised awareness among the local residents. In addition, the Parks Trust produced a time-lapse video documenting the progress of the excavation around the Doric Seat, a 18th century garden feature, that also revealed the walls of an earlier, probably medieval building underneath the Doric Seat – this is still available on YouTube.

As part of the 2020 Festival of Archaeology, it was hoped to hold a series of guided tours around the park, focusing on the results of the 2019 investigation. However, due to the current situation it hasn’t been possible to do this. Instead we have worked with the Parks Trust on a short film (below) that revisits the 2019 investigations. We hope you enjoy it.

Anna Moosbauer

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Cotswold Archaeology and COVID-19

Cotswold Archaeology fully understands and accepts its responsibilities for the safety and well-being of our staff, clients and others during the national health emergency brought about by the onset of the COVID-19 virus. We have worked hard over the last month or so to ensure that our operations accord with evolving Government guidance and have developed a suite of COVID-19 Health & Safety policies and procedures. Most recently we revised our risk assessments to align fully with the guidance set out in Working Safely During Coronavirus. You can view our COVID-19 office and site risk assessments. This has allowed us to adhere to the Government’s directive that construction sites should remain open, where it is safe to do so. Through this vigorous management effort we have been able to work on an increasing number of archaeological field projects throughout the country and anticipate shortly that we will be able to deploy around three quarters of our field teams to site.

All five of our offices remain open for business, but are naturally closed to visitors. The majority of our office staff are working remotely from home, but have full connectivity and are able to respond to customer communications and new project enquiries. If you have an enquiry on a potential new project please contact us in the usual way, using email or mobile telephone numbers. On current projects we continue to adapt to changing customer requirements and methods of working.

Inevitably all of our public engagements are postponed for now, but we do hope to reschedule these when it is safe and practicable to do so.

Cotswold Archaeology will react accordingly as the Government unwinds its lockdown restrictions over the coming months and we will update this notice as the situation changes.

Neil Holbrook
Chief Executive

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Cotswold Archaeology achieves Bronze at Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Awards

mind's Bronze badgeCotswold Archaeology was one of 103 organisations to take part in Mind’s annual Workplace Wellbeing Index, and was recognised with a Bronze Award, meaning we are committed to achieving change within their workplace.

Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index is a benchmark of best policy and practice, celebrating the good work employers are doing to promote and support positive mental health, and providing key recommendations on the specific areas where there is room to improve.

Every employer depends on having healthy and productive employees – valued and supported staff are far more likely to perform better and achieve peak performance. Mental health problems are common among employees. Mind surveyed more than 54,000 employees across the 103 employers participating in the Awards and found that 7 in 10 had experienced a mental health problem in their lives, with over half (53 per cent) affected by poor mental health in their current workplace.

This is the third time that Cotswold Archaeology has taken part in the survey, and our performance continues to improve. Through taking part in the survey we have identified actions to support our efforts on Mental Health in the workplace including:

  • Establishing a Mental Health policy
  • Putting in place a network of Mental Health First Aiders
  • Signing the ‘Time to Change’ Pledge
  • Delivering ‘Mental Health Awareness’ training for line managers
  • Ensuring that all our relevant policies recognise and provide guidance on the impact on mental health

Cotswold Archaeology will continue to review the feedback received from the survey and put in place actions to support the mental health of our employees.

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