During Covid I started work at Guildhall Art Gallery and enjoyed myself so much. Having lost international tourists, I wanted to focus on the local community who lives in the surrounding boroughs around the City of London. I tried to start a storytelling workshop for families with children under-fives but then we closed for works to the Gallery and the storytelling went onto Facebook.
I also went out into the community to run art workshops at St Luke’s Community Centre for little ones. Eventually, when we reopened I was able to put on an exhibition of the children’s work in the Gallery itself. Take a look.
One of my other favourite achievements was working with an app called Telmi to record children’s opinions on the artworks in the collection, and then to use them as a children’s audio tour on Smartify. Take a listen!
Billingsgate Roman House and Baths is a little known Roman site in the old Roman Londinium, very close to the Tower of London. It is hidden underneath an office block opposite Old Billingsgate Fish Market and you have to book special tours to get in.
I had a year and a bit trying to open it up more often for more audiences before Covid hit. During lockdown we all learned how to use digital tools, and I used my new found skills in video calling to record various talks about the site.
Here’s just a little taste of some of the videos on that link, an introduction to the early Germanic brooch dropped in the ruins of the Roman bathhouse when it was ruined.
I also started to work in partnership with other Roman sites in the City of London to create a livestream school session that was recently nominated for a Museums & Heritage Award.
Don’t worry, the deer was a stuffed toy, given special knitted innards to remove with kids to talk through how all the animal would have been used.
Other activities included learning how to make paint, string and fire using the materials available in the environment. It was definitely the most exciting workshop to run – but working in the Iron Age roundhouse came a close second.
Matt brings together groups of writers and artists most, but not all, with an archaeological bent and always produces fantastic resources for specific use with the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, but that will be useful to schools in the rest of the British Isles as well. This publication focuses on the use of forests by Neolithic farmers.
It is organised roughly into chronological sections looking at the development of timber monuments throughout the Neolithic in Scotland, but there are parallels for many of these Scottish structures in the rest of the Britain and in Ireland. Huge timber halls, wooden circles and post flanked cursuses accompanied the stone monuments that we know so much better because they’re still here, for the most part.
I provided ideas for the classroom and woodland based activities that could help teachers explore the use of the timber resource in Scotland’s heavily forested Neolithic. One of these was like a ‘Combination Man’ game where one person draws the feet and legs, covers what they’ve done and passes it on and then the next person draws the torso, and the final person draws the head. With the help of Alan Braby, a superb illustrator, the book suggests ‘Combination Post’ game where children draw what they think the posts of a timber circle might have looked like. Is it carved? Painted? Left as it is? Has the tree been turned upside down so the roots stick out of the top?
Alan Braby also provided very intricate reconstruction drawings of the monuments in use, including a very grisly ‘Table of Bones’, a mortuary structure for excarnation. Alice Watterson produced more intimate reconstructions of the personal use of tools in the Neolithic. Linocut landscapes, including the one on the cover, were produced by Liz Myhill. John MacPherson was given the task of locating typical woodlands around Scotland and photographing them without people, to get a feel for the different types of woodland and the emotions they evoke. As Matt Ritchie says in the book, he wanted photos of woodlands that were ‘open, light and safe;… bare, skeletal and dormant; deep, dark and scary…’
Gavin MacGregor and Ingrid Shearer of Northlight Heritage were given the job of writing stories exploring the different ways that people in the Neolithic may have used and viewed the forest; as a resource; as a scary place to be avoided; as an ancestral home. These evocative tales were the basis of ten characters sketches that I wrote. Alex Leonard really brought them to life, though, with his beautiful cartoon style drawings of them. Winta and Shaarmarke, Ani and Uri (and Boudin the dog), Tanta and Laki have all become my friends now.
Gavin, Ingrid and I took part in the Third Public Archaeology Twitter Conference and explained some of the process from storytelling to illustration. Here is the moment I created on Twitter: #PATC3 First Foresters and response
I was so lucky to work on this wonderful project with all these talented people, who could have thought I would ever get the chance to do anything quite so cool again. But that’s another story.
I don’t want to use the J word, but I have been deleting old emails recently and it reminded me about the way my freelancing career has developed over the years.
At first it all started as an extra to full time work. I left English Heritage to work at the London Borough of Camden on a Heritage Lottery Funded project, but I was keen to continue to do something in association with the Charles Darwin Trust and, as it turned out, they wanted that too so I started to do some writing and teaching work with them. During the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth and 150th year since the publication of Origin, 2009, I was very busy with work for them as well as work for Camden. It quietened down a little in 2010, and then got quieter still after that, and I had a new baby which also reduced the amount I could do.
I eventually moved from the London Borough of Camden to another employed role at the Pitt Rivers Museum and freelancing went by the wayside. After the maternity cover contract ended I decided to go it on my own. The costs of childcare while working full-time were too onerous and I wanted to spend more time with my little one. At first I trained to be a childminder and managed three months of this. Childminding is not an easy job, let me tell you. I was more tired doing that than any other job I have had, and I have worked as a field archaeologist, in the catering industry and now visit schools to do days of teaching, all of which are tiring but not like childminding. So I looked for other things.
All of a sudden, I found things. I had experience of writing for teachers through English Heritage and the National Museums Online Learning Project so a friend introduced me to a friend who had set up a business called Plan Bee. She needed a history specialist to write lesson plans and resources for the new curriculum so I took that on, writing lesson plans on the Prehistory of Britain, the Shang Dynasty of China, and the Kingdom of Benin, for instance. With this experience under my belt I approached the Hamilton Trust, on the advice of another friend, and said I could write their Prehistory of Britain topic. I found the Hamilton Trust work much more in depth and I still write for them, just recently having finished a recap of all British history for a post-SATS topic for Year 6s.
At the same time I had applied for two local jobs. One was as a secretary for my village’s Neighbourhood Plan at £10 an hour and this lasted for over a year with me working mainly in the evenings. I also applied to be a workshop leader at the Chiltern Open Air Museum and I work there still on a zero-hours contract mainly teaching schools but also families and home ed groups. I also volunteered for Kids in Museums and an opportunity came along to take over organising their workshops on working with families and young people.
I set up Schools Prehistory in order to get information out to teachers for the new topic in primary history, as it is my specialist subject, and I think on the back of that was approached by a contact from the British Museum (which was part of the National Museums Online Learning Project that I had written for) to apply for a job as a writer on the Teaching History in 100 Objects website that the DoE had funded to support the new history curriculum across Key Stages. I wrote about lots of objects for them from Late Bronze Age logboats from Must Farm to a cloth celebrating Ghanaian independence from 1957.
I also started marketing myself as a time travelling visitor with Schools Prehistory to schools and still visit schools across the south-east and midlands as a Stone Age, Roman, Saxon of Viking woman or as an archaeologist, sometimes with colleagues and sometimes on my own. I had difficulty in selling lesson plans through my own website so now they can be downloaded if teachers sign up to my newsletter.
As a time traveller, and for the purpose of developing a Mesolithic workshop at the Chiltern Open Air Museum, I developed some bushcraft skills and so my latest venture has been to set up 500 BC. I asked the Forestry Commission, who look after Wendover Woods near me, whether I could work on their site and duly applied for a licence to do so and now run toddler groups, home ed courses, family and adult bushcraft days, holiday clubs, school visits and team-building workshops. I am expanding to other sites and to sub-contracting.
I have also tendered for shorter freelance contracts conducting market research with families, or devising and piloting schools workshops but have not had much luck with those. Where I have been successful it’s usually through recommendations and word of mouth.
This isn’t meant to be a self-congratulatory post. I wanted to show how I built my freelancing portfolio, which is a little unusual, but has all the elements of how to be successful at freelancing whatever field you’re in.
Network. Having a good network that you stay in contact with via social media and attending sector events is essential.
Don’t be afraid to approach people cold. Before you do this you have to do your research and be sure that they want something only you can offer.
Create your own opportunities if you can – apply for funding, see a need in the market you can fulfill.
Collaborate. Find like-minded people you can sub-contract to (you’ll need employer’s insurance) or pass work to, and they will hopefully pass some back.
Try to have a couple of relationships that bring in a regular income and supplement them with shorter contracts. Then when you need to find the next job, you still have a little work and money to tide you over (I can’t say I’m very good at saving!)
Be flexible. Not everything you will end up doing is going to totally rock your world. As you get more confident and busier, you will be able to say ‘No thanks’ to those contracts that don’t totally float your boat.
I hate saying this, because it’s not something I love doing, but you will need a brand. Either that’s your name or a trading name that will represent you. As you can see, I have a couple of different ones for different strands of my work.
If something doesn’t work, learn from it and move on.
Following interesting discussions on Facebook and Twitter with colleagues from the archaeology sector about the perceived leaky pipeline for women (i.e. lots of women studying archaeology at university – not so many in management positions in the profession) I decided to look at the publicly available data covering the gender pay gap. Organisations that employ 250 people and more are obliged to publish data on pay for men and women employees under the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 which came into force on 6th April 2017.
This obliges these larger organisations to publish the difference between the mean and the median hourly rate of “male full-pay relevant employees and that of female full-pay relevant employees”. It also requires them to publish the proportions of male and female full-pay employees in the lower, lower middle, upper middle and top quartile pay bands. What the intention is to see whether men and women are paid the same rate for the same work, and whether women are represented in the upper pay bands at the same proportion as men. A “full-pay employee” does not mean a full-time employee but “a relevant employee who is not, during the relevant pay period, being paid at a reduced rate or nil as a result of the employee being on leave”. Overtime is not included. Bonuses are reportable, but are not included here as they are not routinely used in this sector.
There are three commercial archaeology companies who would qualify (according to the Institute for Archaeologist’s Yearbook detailing numbers of employees in 2017), Oxford Archaeology (OA), Wessex Archaeology and Museum of London Archaeology (MoLA). I could only find the gender pay reports for the first two. MoLA may have reported as part of an umbrella organisation, I guess.
I also decided, as I work in museums and heritage myself, to see if I could find other organisations who had reported. I found the British Museum (BM), National Maritime Museum (NMM), the National Gallery (NG), the National Trust (NT), the National Archives, and the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).
The first table below shows a comparison between all of these organisations in where women’s pay sits above or below the mean and median hourly rate in 2017.
Now let’s look at the percentage of women in each quartile of pay bands in each of these organisations.
This is really revealing, as in the museums (BM, NMM) and galleries (NG, NPG) and the National Trust, women outnumber men at all pay levels. You will not that in many of these organisations there is a tail-off so that the percentage of women at upper levels is lower than those in the least well paid quartiles. The British Museum is slightly different, in that it is only in the lowest quartile that women and men are virtually even, and then the percentage of women is higher in each of the higher pay quartiles. The National Archives is also an interesting case where women outnumber men in the middling pay quartiles but not at the bottom or top.
And then we get to the archaeology companies (OA and Wessex). From virtually even numbers of men and women at the lowest pay quartile the numbers of women drop off alarmingly in the upper pay quartiles, arguably the ones that don’t entail working in the field as much. Oxford Archaeology, in it’s report on its own website, has committed to determining what the barriers to progression for women are. Interestingly, of course, OA’s CEO is a woman, Gill Hey. Chris Brayne of Wessex Archaeology has also published some objectives for his company to combat the lack of women in upper pay grades.
What are your thoughts? Do you have experiences to share in either archaeology, museums, galleries or heritage? Are things moving forward?
In July 2017 I ran a small excavation for families at the Chiltern Open Air Museum. We debated where it would be safe and interesting to open a trench and decided on the site of the first replica Iron Age roundhouse that was built at the museum at the end of the 1970s. The current version is a 21st century construction, and the house platform for the first is clearly visible next to it.
I was lucky that there were extensive photographs (those old square slightly brown-tinged 1970s style – see right) of the original build which helped to prepare the families for what we might find including the remains of a turf wall and some big post-holes. What is also really useful is having some of the original builders of the house still working at the museum, though they couldn’t remember whether we would find a cobble or rammed chalk floor, as have been used in the new roundhouse.
A small trench was opened over the area where I thought the turf wall might have been, and I hope to hit at least one post-hole, and over a lump that would be inside the house. We found a wooden post under the surface, not big enough to be an abandoned post from the house, and the lump was a small dump of flint cobbles – which also housed an ant’s nest to was abandoned immediately. John Hyde-Trutch, the buildings manager at the museum, remembered leaving a heap of flint cobbles behind after the dismantling of the old house, and that a fence was built along the line of the old turf wall – the source of the wooden post.
Dating evidence for the house was found in the interior, in the form of a twenty pence piece from 1994 and a Stella Artois bottle cap! A broken pencil and pencil lead that refitted, and a stray plastic gemstone also gave us an idea that the house might have been used for educational and family activities.
Parents often asked if the ground had been seeded with objects, which it hadn’t. Children and adults alike loved being able to do ‘proper’ archaeology, and everyone thought the finds were very funny. The Aylesbury Young Archaeologist’s Club helped out on one weekend day as well (very useful as my co-leader Vicky Guy is a field archaeologist). The best bit for a lot of children was reinstating the site, which was done in record time with their help!
It was such a success that I’m running it again year in the first week of the summer holidays from 23rd to 27th July, despite the lack of the Festival of Archaeology this year. It will run for more days (five instead of three), with higher numbers of participants and a larger trench. There’ll be a small charge this year to cover costs and hopefully make it sustainable. It will be on the site of the old house again, and, this year, I want to see if we can find some post-holes and maybe the site of the hearth.
We started with a salad from Columella, which involved crushing salad leaves with chopped leek and soft white cheese (feta is good). Mixing in some vinegar with peppercorns crushed in a mortarium added a bit of a bite.
We then made Apicius’ roast tuna with a vinaigrette including the famous garum, a fish sauce. You can still get a Thai fish source that’s quite similar. It smells awful but makes food taste amazing.
We finished with another from Apicius which was boiled ostrich! The sauce involved making a roux from red wine and flour, and then adding vinegar and garum as well as crushed coriander seeds and dates. This was, perhaps, the most popular dish.
Throughout the day we talked about where all the ingredients came from, with some of the most exotic like peppercorns and coriander being traded from India to the Roman Empire, and on to Britain, while some are very local like the flour, celery seeds and leeks. We also talked about how these recipes would be for the very richest people, perhaps some in Londinium would have had access to such exotic ingredients as ostrich!
The table and storage wares were used for their original purposes, from grinding food on mortaria, to storing dates in a carrot amphora, and drinking mulsum (a spiced wine but we used grape juice) from little Samian cups poured from an authentic flagon.
As part of a suite of pilot activities for the Chiltern Hillforts project planned by the Chiltern Conservation Board to go to a Stage 2 Heritage Lottery Fund application, I ran some family activities around Iron Age food at Wycombe Museum during the Easter holidays.
Families were invited to book on to one of two workshops, either making bread and butter from scratch or boiling water with hot stones. It was, of course, meant to be fun and educational, but also to gauge what interest there might be locally for more events like this in the Stage 2 lottery bid and what level of knowledge already existed about the Chiltern hillforts with this audience.
A hillfort is a woolly name given to a wide range of defended sites of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, many, but not all, of which are on hills. These generally do seem to have been lived in to some extent when excavated and there is some evidence that some of them were attacked. There are around twenty of them in the Chiltern hills and while some have been excavated, such as Ivinghoe Beacon and Ravensburgh Castle, others have been sadly neglected. Others, still have either been ploughed flat, like Cheddington hillfort, or occupied by later buildings, such as at West Wycombe and Cholesbury, both of which have churches inside them. The Chiltern Hillforts project aims to do more investigation and public events in and around the hillforts. They are currently raising some matchfunding via Just Giving if you feel you’d like to donate: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/chilternshillforts.
So the Iron Age Masterchef event proved that there was a demand for events like this. Many of the parents were looking specifically for heritage events to support their child’s interest in archaeology and history, or their schoolwork. Many of the children had studied the new Stone Age to Iron Age topic in school and so had more background knowledge than the parents (one of whom guessed the Iron Age was in the 17th century – to be fair, technologically, it was still the Iron Age in the 17th century even though archaeologists tend to define the end of it as the Roman invasion for their own purposes).
The children were very committed to keep going with all the activities, especially grinding grain on querns. We also found out that making butter in a bag is quicker than using a pot and spoon, and that even young children can do it very effectively. They tried out some bread cooked directly on the fire and several children stayed for a very long time trying to make the water boil, and we did get bubbles in the end! Here’s a video of a boiling pot from an earlier test I did.