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Pathways to the Past Project – The Friends of Fairy Dell

Evaluation Report

This report summarises the evaluation of the ‘Pathways to the Past’ Project run by ‘The Friends of Fairy Dell’ during 2013 – 2014.  It has been produced in accordance with the requirements of the project funding body, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Background to the Pathways to the Past Project

The ‘Friends of Fairy Dell’, a local community group set up by Middlesbrough Council in 2005, helps with the management and promotion of Fairy Dell, a natural open space, including  Marton West Beck, which is between Marton and Coulby Newham in south Middlesbrough. The group has been working in the Dell for almost ten years and during that time has looked into different aspects of the history of the Dell, mainly concerning Gunnergate Hall (demolished in 1947), as well as their weekly working teams and grant funded events.

A problem arose with a steep sided muddy pathway that descends from Fairy Dell Park into the bottom of the Dell. The group proposed that it should be surfaced to improve access. However, after making enquiries and having a visit from Tees Archaeology, it was realised that the pathway might be medieval in origin, and could be part of a network of medieval trods in the locality, linking settlements, some of which no longer existed.

Aims of the Project

The Friends group decided to apply for an HLF grant with the following aims in mind:

  1. research the heritage of Fairy Dell in more detail;
  2. carry out further works in the Dell; and,
  3. involve the local community in learning and experiencing the medieval and Victorian history of the locality.

It was planned to have professional archaeologists from Tees Archaeology to provide training workshops with the Friends group and local people. The workshops were planned to provide the skills necessary to work with the archaeologists in historical research, both in archive, mapping work and identifying historic features in the Dell.  In addition it was decided to carry out, with Tees Archaeology, an archaeological dig on the pathway, enrolling the help of volunteers, schoolchildren and members of the local community, to search for evidence hoping it would prove to be a medieval trod.

Also, a series of workshops was planned to teach local people the craft skills of the medieval period and show them some aspects of medieval life. All the activities would be brought together in a one day Festival in Fairy Dell Park at which the heritage of Fairy Dell could be displayed and celebrated.

Members of the Friends group wished to be trained in producing and delivering a Power Point presentation in order to tell the story of Fairy Dell and the ‘Pathways to the Past’ project. Guided walks were also proposed to enable the information to be given to further community and local interest groups in the area.

It was hoped that such a project would not only improve access in the Dell for its many visitors but would also increase the Friends’ skills, enabling them to understand and appreciate the place of Fairy Dell in local history, so bringing the landscape and heritage to a wider audience on Teesside.

Project Management

The project was managed by the Friends of Fairy Dell who met regularly, in each other’s homes and in the local Community Centre for larger meetings. A local consultant with experience in HLF grants assisted with the planning of the project. Middlesbrough Council was also involved, particularly in the administration necessary for the one day event.

It had been planned to start the project in Spring 2013, but by the time the grant was secured it was too late to keep to the original timetable as set out in the application. It actually started in Autumn 2013, which meant that the events had to be reprogrammed. However, it was still possible for all the events to be time-tabled before the end of June 2014.  This enabled the one day event to be held on 20th July, before the school holidays and still within the Council for British Archaeology (CAB) Festival of Archaeology, which ran from 12th July to 27th July 2014.

Craft Workshops

A programme of workshops on crafts and way of life from the medieval period was provided for members of the local community from December 2013 to May 2014. A total of 346 people participated in these events.

The programme included:

All crafts made at these workshops were displayed at the one day festival event. Topics covered in the workshops are found in Appendix X of the Progress Report and photographs illustrating all these events can be found on the Fairy Dell website.

The workshops were quite difficult to organise and it was time consuming. It was sometimes difficult to find the various people with the requisite craft skills at a reasonable cost, followed by the collection of their insurance, plus the necessary health and safety requirements that were essential to run good safe workshops. However, the evaluation forms indicated that everyone enjoyed the workshops and learnt new skills from them. There was a great deal of interest in the display of these craft items at the Medieval Festival – a one day event. Enquiries have been made as to whether any further workshops will be available this Autumn! !

Archaeological Training

Four training sessions led by Tees Archaeology with a total of 45 attendees were held during March 2014.

The attendees gained historical research skills and learned about the identification of archaeological features through working with map and aerial photograph interpretation. All four sessions included indoor and on-site training and the results of this work identified the likely sites for future archaeological investigations.

A map was produced of Fairy Dell on which the Victorian and medieval features were marked. Medieval settlements were identified on old maps of the Middlesbrough area. While looking at these old maps and aerial photographs it became apparent that the site of the lost medieval village of Newham lay on the western side of the dell. Unfortunately, it was built over in the early 1970s.

Five possible archaeological dig sites were identified, two of which were connected with Newham Village. Much fun was had at these workshops, especially learning to look up and identify 'findings' e.g. buckles, bones, seals, coins and also getting to grips with medieval names. Returned evaluation forms indicated that participants enjoyed themselves and learned a great deal including new skills.

In relation to the Victorian era workshop, participants discovered how the formal paths had been set out through the Dell and also (big surprise) all the stone work of the gardens, including the rockery and beck sides were made from foundry waste, caste to appear like stone. One of the owners of Gunnergate Hall had established the first and largest iron foundry in Middlesbrough. Another discovery was the quantity of artefacts from Gunnergate Hall which have been incorporated into various dwellings in the vicinity since its demolition in 1947. A summary of findings from the workshops was made available on the web sites of both The Friends of Fairy Dell and Tees Archaeology (Appendix XXX).

Archaeological Dig

The archaeological dig took place for seven days from May 12th - 18th 2014. Three trenches were dug on the original sunken lane, with a further trench on the opposite side of the beck to investigate the route of another earlier trod. A children's trench was located in the meadow at the top of the lane. See the Tees Archaeology Report, Appendix XVl.

The trenches on the original sunken lane were found to have a deep layer of organic matter with wet clay beneath. A 19th century clay pipe, with a leaf design, was found in the clay of one trench, indicating that the trod had been in continuous use. The most exciting find was a piece of two toned brown coloured medieval pottery in the lowest of the trenches on the interface between the darker and lighter clay substrates.

“The pieces of medieval pottery do show the continued use of the area throughout the medieval period and proves that there was activity within the area around this time” (Tees Archaeology report, Appendix XVl)).

The children's trench also produced a further three pieces of medieval pottery, but these pieces were thought to have been moved to that location with more recent soil works.

The trench across the beck revealed the workings of a more recent road restoration in which the soil and substrates of the medieval era had been removed.

Seven schools with a total of 250 schoolchildren took part in the dig with each child experiencing and learning about archaeological excavation. They were also taken on a guided walk, with interactive worksheets, looking at the heritage of the Dell. A group of 16 Home Learners from as far afield as Huddersfield, Darlington and Stockton, with ages from 4 to 19 years, took part in the dig and the guided walk in a separate session.

Over 100 volunteers attended the dig for differing lengths of time, over the seven days. This number included members of Friends of Fairy Dell, Friends of Boro Becks, Friends of Lingfield Cemetery, Larchfield Orchard Group, local archaeologists, staff from Middlesbrough Council and individuals from the local community.

Evaluation forms show that schools and volunteers found the experience interesting and enjoyable. For most people it was the first time they had been to a dig and many said that learning to use a trowel properly was a new skill they were pleased to have acquired. The insight into how a dig was conducted was also fascinating. Some schools were intending to use this as a start-up for an archaeology club. The official report of the dig has been completed. Information and photographs about the dig are available on the web sites of both the Friends of Fairy Dell and Tees Archaeology (Appendix XXX). The final Archaeological Report has now been sent to the local archaeological curator to be added to the Historic Environment Record.

Medieval Festival

This one day event was held on 20th July 2014 to celebrate all that had happened during the project and the investigation into the heritage of Fairy Dell. An estimated 3,000 people attended the event, including local residents and families, some of whom had travelled from Newcastle and all over the North East. This was a result of massive advertising with over 100 posters, Facebook and Twitter usage, and the CBA Archaeology Festival input. The event was bigger than expected and was very successful. It is difficult to convey everything in this report and photographs on the website. A list of all exhibitors can be found in Appendix X in the Progress Report.

In summary:

The Trod Footpath

Following the completion of the dig, a footpath has been constructed along the medieval trod/sunken lane to the required specification (see application) and has been accepted by the Public Rights of Way Officer at Middlesbrough Council. Appendix Vlll in the Progress Report illustrates the new path. Following discussions with local residents it was decided to omit the steps to provide a good route accessible for all abilities.

The access from the park to the Dell has been greatly improved and local people have made favourable comments. Sign posts for the top and bottom of the new footpath have been installed and the interpretation board with all the information (Appendix XVlll) has been placed at the top of the trod.  

Continuing the Restoration and Conservation Work

Members of Friends of Fairy Dell Task Force were trained in the skill of traditional hedge laying to enable them to continue with restoration work of hedges in the future. Twelve horticultural students were also trained on site and continued to restore a long length of hedgerow between Fairy Dell Park and adjacent woodland. Eight horticultural students started the restoration of the Victorian rockery which was found to be made up from foundry waste rather than natural stone.

Talks and Guided Walks

Twelve members of the Friends of Fairy Dell attended three sessions to consolidate the material from the research workshops, the archaeological dig and the craft workshops using old maps and illustrations. A Power Point presentation and the format for a guided walk have evolved from this.

A total of 445 people have participated in the walks and talks. (Appendix XV). A great deal of interest was generated and further interesting pieces of information came to light from the audiences, increasing the understanding and extent of history around the Dell. Some of the walks and talks were advertised within the Middlesbrough Local History Month in May and the Discover Middlesbrough event in October 2014. Enquiries have been made for a further four talks to be given.

Twenty four members of the Friends of Fairy Dell have worked with professional archaeologists and a graphic designer to develop a heritage trail, a new interpretation board (Appendix XVll), and a new historical leaflet (Appendix XlX), which have been produced in a similar ‘house style’ to the three existing interpretation boards and the ‘Explore Fairy Dell’ leaflets. Appendix XXXl shows that many leaflets are already in the public domain. Findings from the historical research workshops and archaeological excavation were used, as well as information gathered throughout different activities of the project, including from local people at the talks and walks. Both the interpretation board and the leaflet will guide future visitors around the Heritage Trail.

Pathways to the Past Web Site Section

All aspects of the project have been posted on the Friends of Fairy Dell website from the very beginning, including regular updates and photographic records of the progress made.

Background: In 2010 the Chairman of the Friends group approached the current web administrator and suggested the site needed a restyle, but asked that this be done on a very tight budget. Although the web address had been held for some time, a consistent effort was going to be required to get the message out that this was an active group.

In May 2010 a visit counter for the website was added:

Two members of the Friends team took on the role of organising event’s bookings for the ‘Pathways to the Past’ project. It was decided that only one “live” list of events and participants would be made. This avoided double bookings and determined that members of the public could request a place on an event, but also the spread of participants could be managed i.e. avoid those with internet access booking every course, before applications via telephone or forms were received.

The Request Form

An online application was filled out for each person requesting a course place via non-web routes. This ensured a consistent log of information, which as can be seen from the edited form below, included useful information for later correlation of information.

Time Submitted: Thu, 2 Jan 14 17:13:59 +0000
IP 2.26.1**.*0

attendee = John Smith
Guardian =
email = *******
tele = 01642 ******
Age = Adult
Trod_Event = Herbal Walk + Lotions and Potions 24th May '14

Our web logging provider gave us location information from the IP address. This quickly flagged up communications from those outside the Tees Valley area.  It proved to be useful when we were contacted by a family in the Huddersfield area to attend a home learner session during the archaeological dig.

The drop-down choice box allowed a request for a particular session to be closed when the event was fully booked. We took the decision to inform applicants that they were on a reserve list when an event became full or if any individual tried to book multiple events.

Change The Front Page – Create a New Sub Site?

The Friends committee made a decision to keep a similar style to that used for previous events. This proved to be the correct choice. Several guests told us that when they saw our graphic style in different locations they knew to read the main content.  See Appendix XXXll– the front page of the Friends website in December 2013.

Search terms and page tracking:

Use of tracking data has allowed us to identify which words were being used via Google to search for events. This information was used to change the words on buttons and links within the website. If, for example, “Glass making” was searched for more than the title “Fused Glass”, then coding was added to the page to capture the search.

Changing Brochure and Calendar:

When the events brochure was first produced we knew that there could be changes in locations or event times. Knowing that outdoor events may change close to their start time we chose to use a linked Google Calendar. This could be shown in the website but controlled and updated from a smart phone at the venue.  The brochure was created in a publishing package which allowed for easy modification. Any authorised update to the brochure was automatically copied to the website.

Website Counters:

Cookie compliance was achieved over the Christmas holiday 2013 and this allowed us to have a better indication of which PCs and devices had previously visited the page. However, a user can turn off cookie tracking – hence this is only rough information.

 Page Views Unique Visits No Cookie Returning Visits
Recognised Cookie

Dec-14 700 259 205 54

Nov-14 807 286 236 50

Oct-14 1,255 613 531 82

Sep-14 754 411 362 49

Aug-14 1,153 570 508 62

Jul-14 3,398 1,663 1,462 201

Jun-14 1,508 727 662 65

May-14 2,862 1,180 985 195

Apr-14 1,713 671 570 101

Mar-14 2,156 715 587 128

Feb-14 1,647 606 504 102

Jan-14 1,811 960 869 91

Dec-13 1,283 1,016 994 N/A

Total 21,047 9,677 8,475 1,202

Press Ready:

It is always difficult to encourage local press to take photographs of the Park and Dell at its best. For this reason we made a press page with high definition images taken by ourselves.

This meant not only did we get to promote a consistent and controlled presentation of the events but we also knew that personal release permission was on record. BBC National News, ITN Website and local press, magazines and two local councils used the images without coming back to ask permission! It was nice to see photos of our efforts in the media.

Pathways to the Past Archive and Trod:

We hoped to generate a great many photographs of the sessions. Our web designer took the decision to create a sub website from the beginning. The reasoning being that the same site could contain the promotional material for forthcoming events and then have the photos and reports in the same sub sections. Thus allowing a continuous design from the outset that simply had the images uploaded as the session took place.

The section contains 25 pages of information about the project including the findings of the archaeological dig. It includes Youtube video and hundreds of event photos.

This special section of the Friends website was promoted on Google, Bing and Yahoo, so that searches could go directly to the chosen subjects.

The Pathways to the Past counter showed it had been viewed 3,050+ times by December 2014.

Appendix XXXlll shows the front page of the ‘Pathways to the Past’ project’s website.

Direct web access

Outcomes of the Project

The project has had a considerable impact on the Friends of Fairy Dell, the local community and, of course, to the Dell itself. Within the whole community there is now a very real awareness of the long history of settlement in south Middlesbrough. We must ensure that those who look after our open spaces do not lose our relics from the past.

At one talk, before we started, a lady told us she was looking forward to finding out about ‘the battlefield’. It transpired that she was born and lived in Newham Grange Farm until she married. The site we now know was the medieval village of Newham was a 25 acre field, known locally as the ‘battlefield’ because of the quantities of broken pottery and other items that were unearthed whenever it was ploughed. This was before the developer started building on it, so what did he find?

Several people are keen to explore the possibility of more digs on the other ‘hollow paths’ within Fairy Dell. What else might be found?

All of the project worked well and was very successful. But it was very hard work and the management team for the Friends of Fairy Dell put in a great deal of time and effort to ensure that everything went well and ran smoothly. The biggest problem of the project was the paperwork for the one day event, which would have been done by Middlesbrough Council staff. However, owing to the severity of local authority cuts, staff ear-marked for assistance with certain aspects of the project were suddenly no longer in place, either moved to other departments or no longer in post. Unfortunately, after May 2014, there was no one within Middlesbrough Council who was able to name a specific member of staff to be directly responsible for the support of the Friends group. It was only through an obstinate refusal to give up that the Friends did eventually get sufficient experienced support to enable them to carry on with the event. This was obviously stressful and added another level of work onto the voluntary community group.

Concluding Comments

Membership of the ‘Friends of Fairy Dell’ group has risen from 282 on the 16th November 2013 to 360 on 14th January 2014.

We are delighted with the enthusiasm generated by these new members!