May 2015 marks the end of my third year at Chair of CBA North West, and the archaeological landscape continues to change regionally and nationally. Nationally, the big worry in archaeology remains financing and a lack of skills. On the 1st April 2015 English Heritage split into a trust (still named English Heritage) designed to look after the national collection of 400 plus historic properties and a statutory planning advisory body called Historic England. Both new bodies have significant challenges in the sustaining their funding and skills in the medium term. Although developer-funded work is increasing as the economy grows we have a third-fewer professional archaeologists in Britain, than at the peak of the profession in 2008. Planning archaeology posts also continue to be lost, the latest in our region being in Cheshire. However, an HER officer for Merseyside was appointed last year. CBA itself is also facing a significant cash short fall due to the ending in March 2015 of its grant from the British Academy. The continued good health of our parent body is vital for the protection of archaeology in the UK at a time of continued Government cuts and planning reforms; CBA is a significant factor in inspiring the next generation of volunteers and professionals.
Regionally, CBA North West has been boosted by two successful conferences in the last year, linked by the theme of military archaeology: ‘From Turrets to Trenches’ held at the Fusiliers’ Museum in Bury in May 2014 and ‘Castles in the North West’, held at the Grosvenor Museum in November 2014. The latter included a tour of Chester Castle, which was specially opened for the 80 plus conference delegates to tour. The CBA North West Industrial Archaeology Panel also helped to run the Association for Industrial Archaeology’s annual conference at Chester in September, organising the Friday Seminar and writing the tour notes guide and a book on the industrial archaeology of Cheshire. Two newsletters have been published in 2014-15, a further edition of ‘Industrial Archaeology North West’ (back-issues of both can be downloaded from our website – www.archaeologyuk.org/cbanw/), and the hillfort-themed edition of Archaeology North West was also published this year (2014-15). We have also provided two more small grants to help promote archaeology research in the region: to Ron Cowell of National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside for radio-carbon dates for a prehistoric site and the South Trafford Archaeology Group towards a publication on the archaeology of Warburton.
The sudden death of long-term committee member, and Young Archaeologist Club supporter, Peter Lange in April 2015 was a shock. His enthusiasm and commitment will be greatly missed.
In terms of lobbying for the future of our archaeological past, committee members have lobbied councilors in Cheshire over potential funding cuts and contributed to a Government Review of Planning Archaeology Services in England (undertaken in March-May of 2014). Frustratingly, we are still awaiting the final report on this, and indeed I wonder if this will ever see the light of day. The impact of future local government funding cuts on the archaeology and heritage of our region is also unclear.
CBA North West members have been active in representing archaeology at various events: Greater Manchester Archaeology Day; Cheshire Archaeology Day; the Dig Greater Manchester Day at Salford University; Roman Castleshaw Conference in Saddleworth; CBA Groups Forum meeting; and regular meetings of the Greater Manchester Archaeological Federation. These occasions enable us to raise the profile of CBANW, to sell our publications, to meet others with common interests, and above all to raise awareness of the importance and value of our archaeology in the North West.