Who designed the Royal Fort?

Blog by Makenzie Snarey

As we continue with archival research and report writing for our excavations, we came across the question; Who designed the Royal Fort? Bernard de Gomme would be the person in question! His name may not be as famous as Charles I or Oliver Cromwell but his countless fortifications across England changed military engineering. Little is known about de Gomme before his military apprenticeship as an engineer with Fredrick Henry, Prince of Orange in 1641[1]. However we do know he was born in 1620 in the Netherlands and died in 1685. At 22 years old, de Gomme was appointed quartermaster-general before he accompanied Prince Rupert to the storming of Bristol in 1643 and was later knighted by Charles I in 1645 [2] . Under Prince Rupert, de Gomme constructed the Oxford fortifications as well as Liverpool, Newark, and of course, Royal Fort.[3] He followed Prince Rupert into exile in 1646 but returned to serve as Charles II’s Chief Engineer in 1661. During his second stay in England, de Gomme constructed countless fortifications including Dunkirk, Plymouth (pictured to the right), and Tilbury, and reconstructed the Tower of London and Windsor Castle.[4] Much of these plans are now kept in the British Library and readily available for viewing!

De Gomme’s battle maps and engineering plans are extensively detailed. Edmund Turnor’s 1803 landscape of Bristol was the assumed structural layout of the Civil War, but De Gomme’s map provided several fortifications that Turnor left out.[5] Not only were de Gomme’s maps and plans thorough, but so was his account of the 1643 siege. The link below is a transcription of the account by Lieut.-Colonel G.H. Leslie. While De Gomme’s account of the siege is meticulous in some regards, he is criticized for not providing further detail on the royalist line after it moved from Stoke’s Croft to Tower Harratz. [6] While in Bristol, De Gomme oversaw the fortification and improvement of abandoned parliamentarian defenses such as Windmill Fort which became Prince Rupert’s headquarters. [7] This included the Royal Fort which was described to be a “practical solution for the elevated terrain.” [8] Bernard De Gomme’s Royal Fort’s blueprints may be lost but excavation efforts have and continue to uncover Bristol’s strongest Civil War defense.

Lieut.-Colonel G.H. Leslie transcription:  https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/44227516.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3Afc6288a786d9ad8f1f87ff8080af569f

British Library: http://explore.bl.uk/primo_library/libweb/action/dlSearch.do?vid=BLVU1&institution=BL&search_scope=LSCOP-WEBSITE&query=any,contains,bernard+de%20gomme&tab=website_tab

[1] Christopher Storrs, Review of Fortress Builder. Bernard de Gomme, Charles II’s Military Engineer, by Andrew Saunders, (Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2004): 119.

[2] “Sir Bernard de Gomme,” Fortified Places, accessed 2021.

[3] “Sir Bernard de Gomme”.

[4] Storrs, 119.

[5] Patrick McGrath, Bristol and the Civil War (Bristol: Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, 1981), 49.

[6] McGrath, 49.

[7] Andrew King, “‘Not fullye so loftye’: excavations at the Royal Fort, St Michael’s Hill, Bristol,” Post-Medieval Archaeology 48, no. 1 (2014): 4.

[8] King, 38.

The famous ancestor: Oliver Cromwell

Blog by Lily Smith

Since we are all in a Civil War mood the last few weeks, we thought that we should talk more about Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell, was an English general and statesman who led Parliamentary armies against King Charles I’s Royalist forces during the English Civil War. During the war, Cromwell became well known for his ruthlessness in battle, and was quickly promoted from  commander of a single cavalry troop to being one of the principal leaders of the New Model Army, who played a key role in the defeat of the Royalist army. After the death of Charles I, Cromwell dominated the Commonwealth of England as a member of the Rump Parliament and was subsequently elected to command the English campaign in Ireland in 1649. His forces occupied the country and brought an end to the Irish Confederate Wars. Cromwell also led an attack against Scotland in 1650. In 1653, Cromwell dismissed the Rump Parliament, and set up a short-lived Barebone’s Parliament, and his fellow leaders invited him to rule as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England. Cromwell died of natural causes in 1658, and was succeeded by his son Richard, whose weakness led to the Royalist’s return to power and the re-establishment of King Charles II.

One of Cromwell’s greatest motivations was for Protestants to have the ability to worship God in the way they thought was correct. As a Puritan, he wanted England to become godlier, championing specific behaviours such as sobriety, piousness, and better manners. This attitude backfired, however, with many ordinary people disagreeing with his rules. Despite Cromwell’s dislike of the rules of the Church of England under the rule of Charles, he was extremely harsh on those who he perceived to be a threat to the Protestant Church, with his policy of religious tolerance not extending to those he considered to be heretics, such as Quakers, Socinians, and Ranters.

Similarly, Cromwell’s views and actions regarding Parliament were often contradictory. He was a firm believer in the importance of Parliament and working closely with MPs. Despite this, he dismissed Parliament twice by force during his rule, and often argued with said MPs. His power relied largely on the support of the army, so in order to work with Parliament to pass laws, he had to attempt to keep both the army and the MPs happy. This proved difficult, as the army and MPs often disagreed with each other; the MPs disliked the army and the high taxes required to finance it, and the leaders of the army (often political and religious radicals with extremist views) distrusted the MPs, many of whom would have re-instated Charles I after the first Civil War. Cromwell’s dismissals of his Protectorate Parliaments led to the country eventually being ruled by his major generals; essentially, a military dictatorship.

Cromwell’s biggest motivation for his campaign in Ireland was the threat of a Royalist invasion, due to the monarchy’s continued support in Ireland. However, Cromwell had a more personal vendetta against the Irish, due to the large Catholic population, as well as a hunger for revenge for a massacre of English Protestants in Ireland in 1641. Cromwell’s eagerness to crush the Irish forces was apparent throughout the course of his attacks, with his army slaughtering soldiers and civilians alike in a number of brutal battles.  In the siege of Drogheda in September 1649, Cromwell even joined in on the massacre, ordering his men to kill all priests, monks, and nuns. These actions have led to Cromwell’s measures being categorised as genocidal.

One of Cromwell’s most controversial and memorable actions was the cancellation of Christmas. During his reign as Lord Protector, shops and markets were ordered to stay open on Christmas Day, and soldiers were ordered to patrol the city and seize any food they found being prepared for Christmas. However, the contempt of Christmas did not begin with Cromwell. Rather, Puritan leaders had been voicing their dislike of religious celebrations they considered frivolous (i.e., Christmas) since the mid 1500s. These Puritans held the belief that said celebrations threatened Christian beliefs, encouraged immoral activities, and dishonoured God. Legislation protesting these festivals had been enacted before Cromwell’s reign, and in 1645, Parliament produced a Directory for Public Worship that advised that these days of celebration should be spent in respectful contemplation rather than celebrated. From then until 1660, Christmas was officially illegal. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Cromwell played a prominent role in formulating and advancing the legislation restricting Christmas celebrations. Regardless, our knowledge of his beliefs and faith can allow us to assume that he was sympathetic towards the cause, due to his support of the enforcement of the measures. Although Cromwell himself did not initiate the abolition of Christmas, his rise to power definitely catalysed it.

Actions like these have solidified Cromwell as one of the most controversial figures in British history. Many have claimed him to be a villain, a dictator, and a fascist. During the Civil War, Cromwell was a brutal military leader, who did not stop fighting until the opposition had been destroyed. Whilst it can be argued that war is always bloody and brutal, his conquest of Ireland showcased his bigotry and violence due to his contempt for Catholicism. Although some historians claim Cromwell didn’t directly give the order to murder civilians, as commander-in-chief of the army, the responsibility for the army’s actions lies with him. Furthermore, although Cromwell disagreed with the monarchy, his hunger for power turned him into somewhat of a hypocrite. Despite his Puritan beliefs, he behaved like a monarch when acting as Lord Protector, going so far as to have people address him as ‘Highness’.

However, some people see Cromwell as a hero, due to his blunt and no-nonsense attitudes. Utilising the example of the conquest of Ireland, it can be argued that Cromwell did the only thing a leader could do in that situation in order to defend his nation. Much of the evidence painting Cromwell in a negative light is contradictory, with some modern historians claiming that Cromwell actually avoided the killing of civilians during his campaign in Ireland. As Lord Protector, his actions were motivated by sincere religious beliefs, and when he was offered the crown in 1657, he stayed true to his republican beliefs and denied it due to the philosophical and moral implications. However, due to the contradictory historical evidence and highly biased accounts of the English Civil War, it is difficult to ascertain whether Cromwell was indeed a hero or a villain. However, here in Bristol we are all proud that our very own Dr Stuart Prior is a descendant of the famous man!

The Royal Fort House – in the place of the old fort

blog by Megan Vandewalle

Our excavation this summer are take place at the gardens surrounding the famous Royal Fort House. The site of the Royal Fort House and the surrounding garden has had a long and interesting history. The house itself is described as Bristol’s finest Georgian villa. It is a three-storey square plan built in Bath stone and its three elevations are attributed to three different architects, each one commissioned by Thomas Tyndall as an ode to classicism.

The house was built in the 18th century on the site of bastions which were fought over during the English Civil War. During the autumn of 1642, as the hostility of the rival forces of the Crown and Parliament deepened and the threat of civil war increased, Bristol began work on the expensive task of surrounding the city with defensive earthworks. The pass into Bristol between Windmill Hill and Brandon Hill was defended by forts built atop the two hills. On the west of the city the fortifications ran from Brandon Hill fort and continued up to the hill-top then known as Windmill Fort. These forts were used by Prince Rupert during his siege of the city, and in July 1643, the Prince successfully captured Bristol from the Parliamentarians. Rupert became Governor of Bristol and subsequently rebuilt the fort on Windmill Hill, which then became known as the Royal Fort. The “Royal” in the name was in honour of Prince Rupert when he was made Governor of Bristol.

In 1655, Oliver Cromwell ordered the demolition of the Royal Fort. Colonel Thomas Tyndall, a wealthy merchant from the long-established, locally influential Tyndall family from south Gloucestershire, leased the land from Bristol Corporation in 1737. He intended to build a fashionable mansion and garden on the grounds. In 1758, the Common Council of Bristol renewed his lease of a house in the Royal Fort for a fine of £60 and an annual rent of £6. In 1762, he bought the freehold from the Council for £670. He soon acquired the freehold of the Royal Fort from the Corporation and most of the surrounding property, and demolished houses, cottages and buildings to create an elegant parkland. Tyndall demolished many of the stone walls which had divided the area into paddocks, planted trees and erected a grand entrance to his park from Park Row, with a gateway flanked by two lodges.


Tyndall commissioned three different architects to design an elegant Georgian mansion to overlook his newly constructed park. The Baroque, Palladian and Rococo styles of architecture are attributed to several architects. James Bridges designed the house to join an existing building on the north side, and engaged the Bristol sculptor, Thomas Paty, to provide the ornate carving, while the fine plasterwork of the interior was created by Thomas Stocking. By the 1760s, the Royal Fort House, with its beautiful interiors of plasterwork and carved wood, was finished. The Tyndalls’ lived at Royal Fort House until 1916 when it was sold to the University of Bristol. The house is now the home of the University’s Institute for Advanced Studies.

The architectural quality of the house is exceptional, and it remains one of the most interesting and important C18 houses surviving in Bristol. Its design provides an important link between Bristol and classical architecture. Royal Fort House is Grade I Listed and the gardens are included in the gazetteer of historic parks and gardens in Avon, which makes them of national, regional and local significance.

Working out Royal Fort’s dimensions

Previous excavations of Royal Fort, Bristol appear to have underestimated its size, for example the BaRAS excavations of 2014 (https://doi.org/10.1179/0079423614Z.00000000047) included the following illustration, which shows the southern end of the fort reaching only as far as the bay window of Royal Fort house. Our excavations, however, seem to be revealing a much larger footprint for the fort itself.

BaRAS unfortunately missed a key resource for understanding the earlier landscape in the area. Namely, Humphrey Repton’s ‘Red Book’ entitled ‘The Fort nr. Bristol, a seat of Thomas Tyndall esq’ in which it shows the shape of the fortification (unfortunately without a scale to gauge its dimensions) as well as other useful information. BaRAS can be forgiven however as the book was located in Yale university library, Connecticut and may not have been digitised at the time.

Repton used a plan of the fort taken from one of 56 etchings of the antiquities of Bristol made by Joseph Skelton who in turn utilised artwork by Hugh O’Neill as inspiration. Hugh O’Neill was an English architectural and antiquarian draughtsman, and his drawings are part of the Braikenridge collection held by Bristol City Museum.

Repton’s Red Book also contains a cross-section pen and ink drawing showing, to the left, The House at the Fort (Royal Fort House), then The Pleasure Ground (with accompanying large hole = the remains of a section of Prince Rupert’s Royal Fort), beyond which is The Park.


What is important in this illustration however are the three tiny lines written beneath: the dotted line shows the original shape of the ground; the zigzag line shows the chasms dug from 15 to 20 feet deep; the shaded line shows the present shape of the ground, as altered and planted. Importantly, each one of these lines represents a phase in the landscape’s history. The first line represents the original shape of the landscape, pre-Civil War. The next line essentially represents the construction of Prince Rupert’s Royal Fort by Bernard de Gommebetween 1643-4  with its vast ditches (which Repton was tasked to fill-in), and the final line represents Humphrey Repton’s relandscaping of the locale into a picturesque pleasure ground.


The image below (Duffy, 1985, 2) shows a cross-section througha typical Civil War fort and this is essentially what we appear to be seeing with our geophysical surveys and excavation on site where we appear to be targeting the most southerly baston of Royal Fort.

Also, from Repton’s Red Book is the image below, showing a substantial surviving piece of masonry/walling. This wall appears to survive to the present day (despite Repton’s landscaping) and is showing up immediately to the north of our present Trench 3. There is even local folklore suggesting that this is a remaining fragment of the Royal Fort.



Bristol and the English Civil War

Since our excavation shed a new light into the Civil War history in Bristol, let’s have a look at the role that the city played in the war. The English Civil War was a series of battles between Royalists, who supported King Charles I, and Parliamentarians, who fought against him. The conflict surrounded the governance of England and religious freedom. King Charles and his supporters wanted absolute monarchy due to his strong belief in the divine right of kings, whereas the Parliamentarians wanted constitutional monarchy. The conflict ended with a Parliamentarian victory, marked by the execution of Charles I, the exile of his son, Charles II, and the abolition of the English monarchy. The English monarchy was then replaced by the Commonwealth of England, with Oliver Cromwell ruling over the British Isles.

The event that first triggered conflict was the dissolution of Parliament by Charles I in 1629, which marked the beginning of 11 years of Personal Rule- namely, a period of government without parliaments. In a bid to secure religious conformity across Britain, Charles introduced a new prayer book in Scotland, which resulted in protest from the Scots. Charles attempted to secure order by preparing to send troops to Scotland. However, this required money which Charles did not have, causing him to summon a new parliament. This parliament was resentful of the monarch’s domestic policies, refusing to grant him money, causing Charles to re-dissolve parliament a month later. Scotland’s forces overpowered the English, forcing Charles into a truce due to their occupation of Northern England. Once again, Charles re-established parliament to provide him with financial assistance- a decision which backfired, with many members of parliament using their position to voice their complaints against Charles’s policies. In an attempt to demonstrate political control, Charles attempted to arrest five leading members of parliament. However, they evaded the monarch’s capture, and in 1642 the civil war began.

Charles set up his royal standard in Nottingham, summoning his subjects to join him in the fight against parliament. Almost all of southern England fell under Parliamentarian control, with the exception of Cornwall, who became some of the king’s strongest fighters. On the 23rd of October 1642, Charles’s army advanced on London, resulting in a battle at Edgehill in Warwickshire which proved to be indecisive. The following September, after a series of reverses, Charles called for a ceasefire with the Catholic insurgents in Ireland in order for the English Protestant soldiers to return home and serve in the Royalist army. This caused even more outrage from the Parliamentarians, who then formed an alliance with Scotland, who agreed to fight in return for church reform in England. On the 2nd of July 1644, Prince Rupert’s army was destroyed in a battle with the Parliamentarians and the Scots, resulting in the loss of the north to the king. Following a defeat in the Battle of Lostwithiel in Cornwall, parliament passed the Self-denying Ordinance, requiring all members of parliament to lay down their commands. This restructured fighting force, which was made law on the 15th of February 1645, was named the New Model Army, of which Oliver Cromwell was second in command. This army went on to crush the Royalist’s main field army in Naseby, Northamptonshire, effectively crushing any chance of Charles winning the civil war.

On the 5th of May 1646, Charles surrendered to the Scots, who handed him over to the Parliamentarians. Two years later, in 1648, a second civil war broke out, with Royalist rebellions breaking out throughout the country. The Royalist force rode south, but were destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s army, marking the end of the Royalist resurgence. On the 30th of January 1649, Charles was executed, after being found guilty of treason. In an effort to recover his father’s throne, Charles I’s eldest son made a bargain with the Scots. On the agreement that he take the Covenant himself, the Scots crowned him King Charles II of Scotland in early 1651. After his coronation, Charles II utilised his Scottish army to invade England. Despite the support of many English royalists, Charles II’s army was defeated in battle at Worcester by Oliver Cromwell’s forces. This was the last major battle of the English Civil War, and Charles was exiled abroad.

Following the execution of Charles I, there were a number of internal disagreements within parliamentary factions. To resolve this, Oliver Cromwell dissolved this rump parliament and summoned a new one, which also failed to manage the complex issues England was now facing. Cromwell also named himself ‘Lord Protector’, essentially giving him the powers of a monarch. His regime was supported by his continuing popularity with the military. In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died, and his son Richard took his position as Lord Commander. The Commonwealth fell into financial chaos and parliament was once again dissolved. Richard Cromwell was overthrown, and a leading officer of the army realised that the only end to the political chaos would be the restoration of Charles II. On the 29th of May 1660, Charles II was officially restored to the English throne, an event marked by massive celebrations.

Bristol should have played a key part in the English Civil War due to the importance of the port to both the Royalists and Parliamentarians. However, it did not meet its expectations as a strategical key due to the population’s reluctance to participate in the war. Bristol’s governing body initially wanted to keep the city neutral, with a request being made in 1642 for Parliamentarian Thomas Essex to not occupy the city. Despite this, Essex’s forces managed to enter Bristol with little resistance due to its weak defences. For the duration of the war, the Royalists utilised Bristol as a receiving point for reinforcements from Ireland. Bristol Castle, as well as the Frome and Avon rivers, meant the town was well defended against attack, but the population of Bristol were largely unenthusiastic in fulfilling the expectations of such a large and rich port town. The Royal Fort House, designed by Dutch military engineer Sir Bernard de Gomme, acted as one of Bristol’s strongest defences, as it was one of the only purpose-built defensive works of the era. The fort was made to be the western headquarters of the Royalist army, but it was demolished in 1655.

The key event that occurred in Bristol during the war was the Storming of Bristol by the Royalists in 1643, in which Prince Rupert’s army seized the town from its Parliamentarian garrison. Bristol went on to become a major supply base for the Royalists, as well as a centre for communication, administration, and manufacture. Bristol was important to the Royalists due to their dependence on foreign aid and imported weaponry. In order for them to receive this cargo, however, the ships had to evade Parliamentarian patrols. In September 1645, the second Siege of Bristol occurred, and the city surrendered to the Parliamentarian army. In disgrace, Prince Rupert fled England, and English Royalists were left with only the port of Chester to connect them to Ireland.



We are back with fieldwork excavating the University Royal Fort Gardens

This year, after a digital project in 2020, the famous University of Bristol student excavation is back on track on a fantastic site, at the University Royal Fort Gardens.

Over the course of the first week the students started excavating two trenches in search of evidence of the Royal Fort, which was for built for the Civil War, as well as trying to understand how the landscape changed with the later construction of Royal Fort House and the relandscaping of the grounds by the famous Humphrey Repton.

At the start of Week Two, in Trench 1, there is some emerging evidence for a linear feature, as well as evidence for some later quarrying of the site (probably around the time the Royal Fort was dismantled) and also some potential later garden features.

The linear feature is possibly part of the construction phase of the Civil War Fort (potentially a ditch, such as that shown in the image below).

On the western side of Trench 1, there is also evidence of quarrying of a limestone outcrop (probably synonymous with the destruction of Royal Fort for building stone). The trench has also produced a good clay pipe stem with partial bowl (see photo below), which may give us a date for the Fort’s destruction).









In Trench 2, minimal features and finds have been uncovered. The features present appear to be cuttings for Victorian or Edwardian ornamental flower beds rather than evidence for the Picturesque style landscape that Humphrey Repton was endeavouring to create in 1800. Also uncovered in Trench 2 was a late Victorian or Edwardian scarf/tie pin, which nicely dates the flower beds.

Victorian/Edwardian flowerbeds in Trench 2

The Archaeology of Pandemic Project- towards the end

Reflecting on our work so far, we noted our strong focus on recording objects and buildings related to healthcare. While these are essential to our understanding of the pandemic, focusing on them has limited the scope of our work. So far, we’ve largely missed out on a wealth of information about the ordinary, everyday experience of the pandemic. For our last few days of recording we’re shifting our efforts towards more mundane objects and buildings which tell us about how ordinary people perceive and react to the pandemic.

For example, the buildings team will be looking into changes within the home, like how many spare spaces such as garages have become makeshift pantries to store goods ‘panic bought’ before lockdown. Similarly, the objects team will be recording objects associated with the experience of living in lockdown, be they new targeted products like lockdown branded beer or familiar objects which have acquired new meaning through the pandemic- even toilet roll will be recorded! The historical narrative team will supplement this work by adding wider stories about such objects throughout the pandemic to the timeline.

As this is our final week of the project, we are also starting to think more about what to do with the information we’ve collected. We could analyse the results we have and publish the results in a paper, which would hopefully add to academic efforts to understand the impact of the pandemic. Alternatively, we could assemble what we have into a virtual exhibition, featuring our Padlet map and timeline which give a great sense of scale to the pandemic. Maybe even both? More updates on this and our progress soon.

Kieran Curtis

Second year Anthropology student

 the ‘Archaeology of Pandemic’ Project: On Context in Contemporary Archaeology.

Well into the second week of our digital fieldwork, we turn our efforts from brainstorming the myriad imprints of this pandemic towards the categorisation and sorting of data. In doing so, we hope to begin with a coherent data set, allowing us to start analysis and discussion of some of our examples. To summarise, contextual data is continually being added to the padlet timeline. Meanwhile, object and building forms have been sorted into google spreadsheets- enabling a level of clarity in presentation that the map padlet couldn’t provide. These efforts are not to say that we have ceased to explore new ideas of how the pandemic has shaped contemporary material culture. 

Late yesterday we recorded some of Royal Ascot’s ‘virtual racegoers’ and their outfits, a novel practice which exemplifies digital adaptation to one of Britain’s oldest traditions. More recently, we’ve turned to Damien Hirst’s ‘Butterfly Rainbow’, which, while holding aesthetic value in its own right, also contributes to the new COVID metanarrative of nationwide NHS support. Drawing upon these examples helps illustrate the multifaceted nature of all the objects we have chosen to record- serving as both a merit and an issue in analysis. Central to our methodology is the designation of Historic England’s heritage values to each aspect of material culture (i.e. evidential, historical, aesthetic, or communal). Yet while clearly defined, these values are interwoven. The total salience of Hirst’s rainbow is lost without an understanding of the support it conveys. Likewise, the newfound digital footprint of Royal Ascot is only made important with reference to its centuries-old history. Essentially, the material culture of this pandemic is both formative of, and dependent on, the context it is a part of. From a heritage standpoint then, we should aim to capture both the physical and wider contextual value of each item- an opportunity provided especially to us as contemporary archaeologists, living through the history.

While pandemic life has somewhat become our new ‘normal’, its evolution is far from stagnant. If the fleeting establishment of our Nightingale hospitals is anything to learn by, the contextual backdrop of this fieldwork will inevitably change just in the short period we are undertaking it. 

Therefore, it is inherent to contemporary archaeology and heritage asset production that this work will become just a snapshot of our time in this pandemic. It is vital then, in designating heritage values, that we provide a rich contextual background against which we substantiate our selection of this pandemic’s exemplary material culture.

Tim Rock

Second Year Archaeology and Anthropology Student.

The Archaeology of Pandemic project – Day 4

Day 4 of the project and we are well into the swing of it.  Group 1 has been focussed on formalising the historical narrative the project uses. This includes looking at how COVID-19 spreads and linking this to both material changes and our Padlet timeline. Groups 2 and 3 are recording the objects and buildings which have changed or been introduced due to the Pandemic.

Today that included looking at the short-lived life cycles of some of our examples. In March, the Government appealed for help with 10,000 ventilators. Dyson replied, designing, engineering, and producing ventilators across 4 weeks at a cost of £20million. But these were never needed. Now Dyson have shifted to how they may be able to produce ventilators for international markets. The objects themselves were designed and prototypes made but they were never used.  This narrative may change our perception of their importance.

Similarly, many of the makeshift hospitals worked under capacity or were built for a demand that never materialised. NHS Nightingale London and ‘Dragon’s Heart’ Hospital Cardiff were open for  less than a month. Exeter and Bristol Nightingale hospitals were unused. Of all the makeshift hospitals recorded so far only the NHS Nightingale Manchester still has patients. All others are on standby in case of further surges in the pandemic.

We therefore face questions about how we record these objects and buildings, and their value in heritage. These are key buildings, objects and moments in the historical narrative but so far have had small lifespans within the pandemic. Unless there is a significant second wave, they will play smaller parts than expected in the pandemic response. How important are these hospitals which did not fulfil capacity? Is the fact that they were built important enough to warrant documentation and preservation?  The much longer biographical histories of centres such as the Excel Centre London, the NEC Birmingham and Manchester Central Convention Centre must also be considered.

Δημιουργήθηκε με το Padlet

Amelie Wiseman

Second Year Archaeology and Anthropology Students

Day Three of the ‘Archaeology of Pandemic Project’

Today’s post is about the difficulties that we started seeing early in our project. As mentioned yesterday we have split into three groups researching the historical narrative, buildings and objects associated with the pandemic, respectively. Most items of interest – the announcement of the lockdown, the construction of temporary hospitals, and the repurposing of ski goggles as PPE for medical staff, due to shortages – will naturally fall into one of the above categories. However, there are exceptions which we came across today. Shipping containers are being converted into portable laboratories designed to carry out up to 2,400 COVID-19 tests per day. The metal containers started as objects but through conversion into testing centres, they have become buildings. Should the containers be recorded as shipping containers or labs? Should they be placed in the category of object or building? The answer is that they could be either – it is debatable. The materials and transportable nature of the finished laboratory would identify it as an object, whereas the uses of the shipping container as a lab, something which cannot be moved while in use, would identify it as a building. As we had to categorise the shipping container labs into one of the two categories, we placed them under objects. This is because the shipping container is what the lab was converted from and could be converted back to. How ordinary items have been altered due to demands caused by the pandemic is key to this project, as it is reflective of the changes caused by COVID-19 that we are documenting.

Another feature of the pandemic we found to be difficult to record is the digital replacement of physical events. The Hay Festival and Download Festival are just two examples of events that were due to take place this summer as physical events but have been forced to go online instead. When attending a physical event, one would expect to leave with physical reminders: tickets, wristbands, muddy boots, souvenirs. But those who attended virtual festivals have none of these. By taking the events online more people can be a part of the experience, although the experience is altered through the lack of materiality. We are taking note of these festivals both because they did not happen physically but also because they did which makes them difficult to record their ‘material print’. These events are best documented by looking at social media posts detailing the reactions to any festival forced online, as the use of such sites and technology as a substitute for physical interaction is a defining feature of this pandemic.

Continue to keep updated with our progress in documenting the historical narrative, and the heritage value of the objects and buildings associated with the pandemic, on our Padlet Map:

Δημιουργήθηκε με το Padlet

Anneke Schadenberg

Second Year Archaeology and Anthropology Student