Northamptonshire's archaeological treasures ready for £4 million resource centre move to Chester House Estate

The archives will be moved to the ARC at Chester House Estate near Irchester

Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 10:59 am
Updated Tuesday, 18th May 2021, 11:00 am

A large collection of the county's important archaeological finds and records will soon be arriving at the newly completed Archaeological Resource Centre (ARC) at Chester House Estate between Wellingborough and Rushden.

The Chester House Estate project — including the Archaeological Resource Centre (ARC) — has been funded by North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council, supported with a grant of nearly £4 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and a Kick Start award of £719,700 from the Culture Recovery Fund.

The completion of the ARC and the arrival of the first boxes of artefacts will be an important moment, not only for the team at Chester House Estate, but for the county of Northamptonshire, as for the past two decades its archives have been stored in various locations out of reach of anyone who might have had an interest in them.

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Shelves in the ARC are being filled by boxes of finds

Jack Pishhorn, Chester House Estate business manager, said: “This is a really big moment for Northamptonshire.

"This month sees the start of something really quite special. We will be celebrating as we receive the first of hundreds of boxes of archive material.

"Come the autumn, we’ll be able to share with the public many of the finds that have been locked away out of sight for many years.”

The huge storage building has climate-controlled store rooms specifically suited to each different type of archaeological material to be stored there.

The ARC

Approximately 20,000 boxes of archives will be moved into the centre from numerous sites in Northampton and further afield, an operation that could take about two months to complete.

Numerous partially reconstructed Roman mosaics, the top of the Roman column found on the Chester Farm Estate, and two medieval sarcophagi from Northampton, are all waiting to take their place in the ARC.

The team is also expecting collections of archaeological archives, including pottery, worked bone and stone objects, building materials, metal finds, and environmental remains from more than 2,500 sites in Northamptonshire.

Important documents related to previous archaeological excavations in the county will also be there.

The racking is ready to receive boxes from all over the county

ARC archaeological archives curator Ben Donnelly-Symes said: “It is going to be a huge resource, ­with storage for up to 32,000 boxes with plenty of space to grow into – it really is future-proofed.

"And it will be a model of best practice as we’ll be working to the up-to-date guidelines in terms of archival storage.”

Material is coming from more than 60 different locations, from household garages to large storage facilities in Portsmouth, Northampton, Buckinghamshire and Daventry.

Ben said: “Our archives will range from small pieces of archaeological fieldwork that generated small quantities of pottery to huge archives of over 3,000 boxes from excavations at Stanwick.”

Ben and the Chester House Estate team will be working with volunteers, external movers, professional archaeology units, community archaeology groups and universities to bring the collections to the new store.

The moving process will be documented by the team at Chester House Estate as part of the story of these archives.

The cataloguing task is estimated to take up to 10 years and volunteers have been recruited to help with the material arriving at the ARC.

Volunteers will be able to get hands-on with washing, re-boxing, cataloguing and archiving a wide range of objects.

The ARC will be open to the public this autumn initially for three days a week because of the amount of work to be done.

Researchers will be able to book in a session, request an archive then come and study it.

People interested in researching the local history and archaeology will be able to see finds from specific digs.

The resources will be used for ‘pop-up’ events, loans boxes for schools, and to be loaned to local museums for exhibitions and displays.

Ben added: “This is not always an opportunity people have because archaeological archive collections are often inaccessible.

"This is a fantastic chance for volunteers to properly engage with and get hands-on experience with archaeological material.

“The closer we get to opening, more and more archives seem to be appearing that people have had in their sheds or from archives that we previously thought were lost. I suspect that when we open even more will appear. Archaeology produces a lot of stuff.”

Chester House Estate has been working with Nenescape to recruit volunteers – the response has been so great that the registration list has had to be closed for the time being.

Information on how to register interest in other Chester House Estate volunteer roles is now available by clicking here.