Love The Dig? Then volunteer at Northamptonshire's new Archaeological Resource Centre

Volunteers will be able to work alongside experts on annual archaeological digs

By Alison Bagley
Thursday, 11th February 2021, 11:40 am

With Netflix’s ‘The Dig’ topping the TV charts, volunteers in Northamptonshire will be able to get their trowels dirty and experience the thrill of holding history in their hands.

Chester House Estate, the £14.5 million project funded by Northamptonshire County Council and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, is home to the Archaeological Resource Centre (The ARC).

The ARC is the first building on site to open and where more than 10,000 years of Northamptonshire’s history will be unearthed and catalogued by professionals, students and volunteers.

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The Dig - Netflix

With the site itself built on top of the Roman town at Irchester, the estate has partnered with the University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History (SAAH) which will hold annual digs that members of the public can join as volunteers.

Dr Sarah Scott, deputy head of the SAAH at the University of Leicester, said: “The Chester House Estate lies at the heart of one of the best preserved walled Roman small towns in Britain.

"Past and present survey and excavation has focused not only the core of the walled town with its houses, workshops and temples, but its suburbs and cemeteries, allowing us to better understand the lives of its inhabitants.

“This exciting project will reveal more of the town’s origins, development and people, and will provide an exceptional range of excavation and practical training opportunities for University of Leicester students, local schools and community volunteers.”

The ARC on the right of the artist's impression

Archaeological archives curator Ben Donnelly-Symes has been at The Chester House Estate since August last year.

He will be overseeing the transferring and cataloguing of 1,600 boxes of important historical material which will be arriving at the new Archaeological Resource Centre this spring.

Local volunteers will be invited to get hands on with archiving and with this year’s planned summer dig, while visitors will be able to enjoy a timeline walk in the Roman walled town and explore a large indoor museum when it opens in set to make archaeology much more accessible to the general public.

Business manager Jack Pishhorn said: “At present much of this heritage is buried or kept in unsuitable conditions; our challenge is to preserve it, bring it to life and tell its stories.

Inside The ARC - Archaeological Archives Curator Ben Donnelly-Symes

“The partnership with the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History is really exciting because the digs on site will be accessible to the public who can come and volunteer.

“Part of the process will be to involve the local community in everything we do. We have the opportunity to create a legacy for many years to come. The future is positive and is, in itself, history in the making.”

The ARC is set to open next month.

Dr Scott added: “The experience and expertise of both partners will inform the development of a bespoke educational programme for all ages that combines archaeology, social and economic history, landscape history, and the study of human communities and their impact.

Boxes of finds from previous digs need cataloging

"It will benefit the health, education and well-being of diverse communities in Northamptonshire and surrounding counties by facilitating and encouraging access to archaeological research, heritage, education and volunteering opportunities.”

To volunteer at Chester House Estate, which is just off the A45 between Wellingborough and Rushden, click here. Click here to take a look behind the scenes of Chester House Estate.

Archaeological Archives will need sorting by volunteers