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Forgotten history uncovered on Cannock Chase

Great War practice trenches, evidence of prehistoric enclosures and medieval mining pits are amongst the exciting archaeological remains revealed on Cannock Chase in a new project.

Staffordshire County Council, in partnership with Historic England, is exploring this fascinating archaeological landscape as part of the ‘Chase Through Time project.’

During the summer, a detailed ground surface model of the area was produced using LIDAR laser scanning technology from hundreds of metres in the air. Now, the images are being analysed by specialists, and show a host of previously unrecognised archaeological features.

The images show what appears to be an extensive Great War practice trench system larger than what was previously thought to be there. There are also signs of medieval mining pits and possible Tudor roads. And, close to Wolsley Bridge is a circular ‘bank and ditch’ – which, while not hillfort size might be the remnant of a small prehistoric farmstead.

These will now be explored from the ground in the coming months, assisted by volunteers to confirm and better understand what they are.

Gill Heath, Staffordshire County Council’s Cabinet Lead for the Environment said:

This is a fascinating project that will tell us much more about the Chase’s past and we’re pretty excited about the initial findings.

“We’re now seeing evidence for things on the Chase we never realised were there before. And the beauty about this project is that using the lidar technology we can uncover some of the county’s lost history without digging up and damaging any part of what makes it special today. It’s a brilliant step towards protecting the Chase’s natural splendour, understanding more about the landscape and preserving its history for the future.”

Helen Winton from Historic England added:

The quality of the lidar data is excellent and confirms the extent and preservation of archaeological remains hidden beneath scrub and trees.

“The sheer scale of the First World War camps are particularly impressive. We can’t wait to get started examining the details and out on the ground with the volunteers to explore this important landscape. It will help us to understand and care for these remarkable archaeological remains and help preserve them for future generations to visit and enjoy.”

The Imperial War Museum are also an important centenary partner in the project concerning the search for information on the camps and training trenches on Cannock Chase.  Diane Lees, Director-General of IWM said:

We are all connected to the First World War, either through our own family history, the heritage of our local communities, or because of its long term impact on society and the world we live in today. The Chase Through Time project is enabling people in Staffordshire and beyond to understand the impact of the Great War on society today.”

Vanessa Harbar, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands, said:

We are delighted that, thanks to National Lottery players, we’ve been able to support this project exploring the fascinating and incredibly varied heritage of Cannock Chase. This project highlights how far-reaching the impact of the First World War was, touching and shaping every corner of the UK and beyond, and we’re pleased this project will help local people explore the continuing legacy of the conflict.”

The project received a grant of £96,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund in April 2016 and will culminate in a touring exhibition, mobile app and other interpretive material. Working with colleagues and living historians, a commemorative event to mark the centenary of the Battle of Messines in 2017 is also planned, a battle to which Cannock Chase was closely linked.

Anyone interested in taking part in this exciting project, with any stories of the effect Cannock Chase has had on their family or indeed would like to share any old photographs should contact the Project Coordinator gary.ball@staffordshire.gov.uk.

PHOTOS: Link to lidar images and photos past and present of Cannock Chase.

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Photo captions:

Lidar Images of Cannock Chase supplied by Historic England (Accessed through QT Reader) :

Tar Hill: In the top left quadrant of this image can be seen the Great War hut bases of Brocton Camp.

Brereton Park Wood: The ‘pimple-like’ mounds visible in the centre of this image are the result of medieval and post-medieval mining for coal close to Castlering hillfort.

Near Haywood Warren: In the top right quadrant of this image you can see a small rectangular enclosure of unknown date.

NW of Glacial Bounder: Across the central portion of this image lie more Great War hut bases and the camp railway.  In the bottom left quadrant can be seen the zig-zag pattern of Great War communication trenches and even the ‘Greek Key’ pattern of fire bays for front lie practice trenches.

Round Hill: In the centre of this image on the hill can be seen a possible area of quarrying and a roughly circular enclosure.

Other photos:

Brocton Camp power station: The Brocton Camp power station in Oldacre Valley (Credit to Jake and Jill Whitehouse)

Brocton Camp snow gravel pit area: Christmas time at the Brocton Camp gravel pit area (credit to Jake and Jill Whitehouse)

Cannock Chase heathland

Brocton Camp Messines Model model under construction: View across the Messines terrain model looking northwest with the village of Messines visible centre right (National Army Museum, New Zealand. NAM 2007, 543)