Week two of our community excavation, digging the WW1 training trenches under Watson Road Park, Blackpool, produced some exciting, but also difficult archaeology.
After day two the weather was hot and humid. This meant that the archaeology was hard to see as the sun bleached the trenches and the sections. The team ended up praying for some Manchester rain and spraying the sand with water! Add to this the phenomenon of finding wind-blown sand piled in the corners of the dig each morning it became a bit like digging on a beach. Fortunately, Kirsty was able to bring her years of experience of digging in the sand quarries of the Trent Valley to effective use.
By the end of the first week we had realised that the park archaeology (flower beds, putting greens and bunkers) was masking the WW1 archaeology by as much as 0.3m in some places. Furthermore, there was evidence of a wind-blown sand layer in some trenches almost as deep, between the WW1 activity and the layout of the park in the 1920s. This at least demonstrated that there was a significant period of abandonment between the two periods of activity, something which we had not been certain about.
As the second week progressed, and we opened two new trenches, it also emerged that the site was crossed by a network of pre-WW1 field boundaries. These were found in Trenches 1 and 4, and had a brown-red tinge to the fill. In T4 we have a piece of late medieval pottery from the fill of a field-ditch. This lay next to the re-cut line of several WW1 communication trenches.
The best preserved WW1 trenches were in T1 and T2. In T1 we found one of the front-line trenches, complete with several traverses. We could see in section that the front and back of the trench had been revetted with piles of turf. There was, though no evidence for a fire-step. In T2 we again found turf-revetted trenches, in a communications trench and a front line trench. We also found in one of the front line traverses a sheet of metal at the bottom of the trench, presumably used to provide a more secure footpath, though whether for soldiers of the public was unclear. The star find of day eight was a rusted piece of telegraph wire from the front-line trench in Trench 2. The next day this WW1 trench also produced a finger ring with a precious stem setting. A hallmark indicated that it was made in 1907. This was our best piece of evidence for the tourist use of the trenches in later 1916 and 1917.
Watson Park, then, has begun to give up its early 20th century secrets. One of the surprises was the extent of re-cut and unrecorded practice trenching. Another, the pre-WW1 activity and the post-WW1 landscape changes. There is certainly more to be revealed about the way in which the public of Blackpool were given a taste of the frontline in Flanders. In the meantime, there will be a chance to take a tour of the trenches during the Watson Park open day on the 3rd August, run by the Friends group and part the commemoration of the beginning of the First World War.