Document Transcription Training

Twelve brave souls decided to do some training and have a go at reading and transcribing some very old documents as part of our Dig Appleby project.

Most did not know what to expect but rose to the challenge and all enjoyed the sessions – even though it was not as straightforward as some had imagined and it initially appeared quite daunting; it was definitely a day for head-scratching and for being prepared to interpret some rather bizarre spellings….

Most of the documents were from the 15th – 17th centuries and the range and style of handwriting was quirky to say the least – it became clear that some words jumped out as being easily read while others left everyone baffled.

People were introduced to some basic abbreviations and symbols used by the scribes, odd-looking capital letters, unusual or non-existent punctuation and elaborate curves designed to confuse readers into thinking they were actual words. The example below may give you an idea of what we were up against.



At first there were more gaps and omissions than transcribed words but by the end of each session people were beginning to “get their eye” in and begin to make sense of what they were reading.

Despite going home with a headache at the end several keen participants are doing another training session where they will get seriously to grips with an Indenture from the 1500s!


Big Dig Weekend : 16th to 18th September

Between 16th and 18th September we will be excavating archaeological test pits at various locations around the town centre in order to look for further evidence of the medieval and later occupants of Appleby. We are therefore looking for volunteers to help with this, and asking you to sign up to one or more days if you can help. Full training will be provided by professional archaeologists in how to excavate and record an archaeological test pit for those of you who may not have participated previously.

Please let me know by return which of the days you can help in the next investigation; the days are Friday 16th, Saturday 17 or Sunday 18th September and the hours are 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. NB: If you are coming as a couple please let me know both your names. Children are welcome under the supervision of an adult. We will be meeting each day at 9:30 am outside the main castle gates at the top of Boroughgate.

Our previous investigation in the garden of St Anne’s Hospital, Boroughgate, revealed a crude cobbled surface, which was identical to one found previously at the top of Boroughgate, and we believe to be medieval in date. Fragments of pottery were recovered including some medieval pottery, and later wares, also some hand-made nails, animal bone and glass. We also found a deep deposit of rubble in the second test pit. The finds indicated this was 19th century and we believe this is probably the demolished remains of a buildings which is shown in this location on the 1861 Ordnance Survey map. This confirmed the results of the geophysical survey which indicated the presence of a high-resistance area.

All you will need to bring is something to drink (for tea breaks), sturdy shoes, and some waterproof clothing (just in case), and sun block (just in case)! Please also being a packed lunch, or else food is available in the town centre (lunch is from 1:00pm to 1:30pm). A fold-up/camping chair would also be useful for tea breaks.  Any other enquiries please contact the Dig Appleby email

Archives Training Events

We have some archives training events planned as part of the Dig Appleby project. These will include a visit to the Kendal Archives and some training in understanding medieval documents. Booking for each of these events is essential.

Transcribing Old Documents (Palaeography Workshop):

Due to popular demand, two presentations of the workshop are now planned:

Wednesday 17th August (2.00pm – 5:00pm). White House, Main Street, Brampton,CA16 6JS. (now fully booked)

Thursday 18th August (10.00am – 1.00pm). Swindalehead Barn, North Stainmore, CA17 4EA

The workshop is designed to introduce people to basic palaeography skills and gain some confidence in transcribing old documents. It will concentrate on 15th and 16th century documents but skills acquired will be useful for anyone with an interest in later documents.

Maximum 8 people on each presentation.

Please bring lined paper, pencils, eraser, magnifying glass (if you have one).


 Kendal Archives Centre Visit:

Tuesday 4th October (1.00pm – 3.00pm). Kendal Archives Centre, Kendal County Hall,Busher Walk, Kendal LA9 4RQ.

The staff at Kendal Archives Centre will be giving us an introduction on how to access, and make best-use of the archives, in order that you can undertake your own research if you feel inspired. A selection of documents focusing on Appleby will also be on display and available for examination.

Maximum 10 people in total on this event. There is some parking at the Archives Centre and a couple of car parks nearby in Kendal. Please meet outside the main entrance at 12:45am.

Booking is on a first come first served basis but further events will be organised depending on demand.

To book, please use the digappleby email address (, clearly stating which events you wish to attend and providing a contact telephone number. We will confirm your booking by return.

St Anne’s – First Test Pits (latest information)

Friday morning and the DigAppleby project sees spades in action for the first time.

Martin R has used the geophysics results to select five test-pit locations in the St Anne’s kitchen garden. The pics below show the first pit going in, just behind the chapel.  At this point we were just 30cm down but were already retrieving pottery and pipe-stems. Thought – so were the widows pipe-smokers in the past?


The news from the excavation team by Sunday evening is that :

  • Test Pit 1 reached the medieval ground surface beneath the garden soil with medieval pottery sherds and other finds recovered.


  • Test Pit 2 revealed a demolished post-medieval building, confirming the results of our geophysical survey.


As a bonus we can also report that Tony Robinson (he of Time Team) was  seen in Appleby this weekend, just as we concluded our first Dig Appleby investigation. Our fame is obviously spreading!

St Anne’s Almhouses – A bit of Background

Since we’ll be at the almshouses for a few days it might be useful to have some background information.

As you’ll surely know, the almshouses were founded by Lady Anne Clifford when she was living at Appleby Castle back in the 17th century. The buildings were erected around 1651 and were presumable named “St Anne’s” as a slightly clumsy piece of image-management.

An arched doorway from Boroughgate gives access to a cobbled courtyard with a central fountain (currently non-functional, alas). There is a small chapel in one corner and the living units each consist of a single bedroom, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. They all have a bright red door front door and a small flower border under their courtyard window. The effect is delightful and the almshouse courtyard is a perfect oasis of peace, colour and sunshine.


The “orders” for the establishment are laid out on a board in the chapel. They are rather strict! The almshouses were to provide for the accommodation of 12 widows under the care of a “mother”:

The grassed area to the rear of the almshouses where we will be working was originally intended to provide each inhabitant with a small vegetable garden, though the attraction of this arrangement seems to have died out quite some time ago. The surviving apple trees (one for each widow) indicate how the plots may have been laid out.

A weekly service is still held in the chapel which features a portrait that is believed to be Lady Anne herself (having apparently been incorrectly labelled as her mother, Margaret, at some point during the 19th Century)


Lady Anne arranged for the almshouses to be funded by income from Holme Farm on the outskirts of Appleby. Widows originally lived rent free but by 2011, income from the farm was in decline and a weekly rent of £10 was introduced. Tenants also have to pay their own Council Tax and are responsible for their own furnishing and decorating.

Tenants have not always been easy to find and it appears that some consideration may one day be given to the accommodation of men. It was thought, however, that this “would not be popular in all quarters” (CW Herald, 10th June 2011)

Photos courtesy of Paul Steele on

St Anne’s Geophysics – Initial Results

Saturday’s survey has identified some areas of possible built-up ground (high resistance areas), dug-out areas (low resistance) and a ditch-like feature (white area running left to right), as well as garden features. Open this post by clicking on the blue heading above to view a preliminary 3D wire frame image of the survey

Res Survey 3D Wire frame


Geophysics at St Anne’s

Tucked away behind the Almshouses and accessed via an inconspicuous passageway from the main courtyard lies an unexpectedly large grassy area. Its surface is intriguingly lumpy and today, in bright sunshine moderated by a refreshing breeze, there couldn’t have been a better place in the whole of Appleby to begin an archaeological excavation.

This initial foray was all about geophysics – non-destructive archaeology using earth-resistivity and gradiometer equipment to probe the area for buried features. A total station theodolite was also used so that we could tie the results into an accurate survey.

Tonight Martin R will be downloading the data from the data loggers into his laptop so we can see what (if anything) we’ve found.  Watch this space for details …..



Survey team with gradiometer

St Anne’s Hospital Investigations

This month we will be investigating the land behind St Anne’s Hospital on Boroughgate, Appleby-in-Westmorland, using a combination of geophysical survey and test pit excavation, in the hope of identifying possible medieval remains. The almshouse was founded in 1652-3 by Lady Anne Clifford and the land to the rear has potentially remained relatively undisturbed ever since (apart from being utilised as garden plots).

Geophysics Drop-in: This Saturday (16th July) there will be a geophysical survey taking place on the land through the courtyard at the back of the almshouse. I will be there between 11.00am and 3.00pm conducting earth resistance and magnetic surveys. Anyone interested can drop in to the garden between these times to see how this equipment works and have a go. You do not need to bring anything or book for this, just pop in if you wish to find out more about geophysical techniques. We hope to identify some hot spots for the test pit investigation later in the month.

Test-pit Excavations: We will then be opening some test pits from 29th to 31st July based on the results of the geophysical survey. For this we will be booking places (details to follow) so please put the dates in your diary if you wish to take part. Full training will be provided by professional archaeologists in how to excavate and record an archaeological test pit. We will then be putting this into practice at other locations around the town later in the summer.

If you need further information please contact the Dig Appleby email address:


Martin Railton

Dig Appleby Launch Meeting 8th July

Successful launch meeting last night for the Dig Appleby project: Breaking the Ground. Over 30 volunteers signed up!

We will be undertaking documentary research, geophysical survey and test pit excavations this summer around the town. Look out for the Dig Appleby signs as the project progresses.

Dig Appleby