RHFAG - Activities

RHFAG carries out various other activities in addition to excavation. These have included



  • Fieldwalking
  • Research
  • World War 2 Defences Survey
  • Canewdon Project
  • Reports and Publications
  • Online Diamond Jubilee Report, 2012
  • Talks by Members
  • School Liaison
  • Do you want us to investigate?
  • Other information




Details of these activities are set out below.




We carry out fieldwalking in an area for several reasons. It can tell us what sort of finds the area may hold, can show us whether a known site extends any further and can even suggest possible new sites. We use a “system walking” method where the area to be walked is divided into a grid of small squares. Each square in the grid is then walked over with the sites and finds being plotted onto a plan. The resulting map should show the pattern and nature of the finds and gives us an idea of the location, extent and type of the site.


We only carry out fieldwalking with the permission of the landowner, at a time of year when the soil is clearly exposed and where we believe the results may be of use to our investigation.





A lot, but not all, of our research is linked to excavation, both preceding and following it. The type of research varies and can include studying various types of historical document such as manorial, estate and ecclesiastical maps and records, and the Heritage Environment Record. Modern documents, aerial photographs and maps e.g. Ordnance Survey maps at various scales and BGS geological maps may also be consulted as well as internet searches.



World War 2 Defences Survey


We have carried out various surveys on behalf of others eg Essex County Council, English Heritage. Our most detailed survey work has been our contribution to the World War Two Defences of Rochford Project, 2002 - 2004. This was a project to record wartime defences built to guard against a German invasion in World War Two. Funding came from the Local Heritage Initiative, Nationwide Community Award and Essex County Council.


We joined in and worked closely with a professional military archaeologist, locating, recording, photographing and interpreting wartime defence sites in the Rochford District. By the end of 2003 we had recorded 164 sites in the area.


We used a variety of sources, such as 1940s aerial photographs and the “Wartime Contraventions” – records of any defence emplacement, from anti-glider wires to pillboxes and anti-tank ditches. Having found where they were originally sited, we then tried to find them on the ground, or where they had been. This involved a lot of walking and trying to make sense of what had been there 60 years ago and how it related to what was there now.


A lot had gone from the built-up areas and we often found more had survived in the countryside. Once identified, the condition of the site was then recorded. If anything remained, we measured and photographed it. We wrote up a preliminary site report for each of the sites identified.


We owe a lot to the help we were given by Rochford residents. With their great local knowledge, we were able to locate and record some sites which might otherwise have gone undiscovered.


During the winter of 2003/4 the results were entered into the county Heritage Conservation database and were published as a two-volume report entitled “Survey of the World War Two Defences in the District of Rochford”. Copies of this report are now held by the Imperial War Museum and local libraries.



Canewdon Project


Our Canewdon Project was begun in 2001 and was inspired by Professor Mick Aston when he gave a talk to RHFAG about his Shapwick village project. It is an archaeological and historical investigation of Canewdon village and parish and has the following objectives

  • identifying patterns of human activity and settlement and the origin and growth of the village and parish
  • determining the origin and development of St. Nicholas’s Church, Canewdon
  • examining and recording historic standing buildings and World War 2 Defences
  • examining earthworks within the parish.


This is a major study for us and is a long-term project necessitating many different investigations and activities. These include: the study of the Historic Environment Record, historical documents, maps and aerial photographs; surveying, recording, geophysical investigation and excavation; interviewing local people and designing and analysing questionnaires. Details of Canewdon test pitting are given in the Excavations section of this website.



Reports and Publications


We produce various publications, e.g. Newsletters, Reports, Transactions and Papers.


Minutes and Newsletters

Activities are decided by our members at meetings and details circulated through the Minutes which follow. Newsletters with articles and short reports are also produced from time to time.



These are normally printed reports on an investigation we have carried out. They may be produced for RHFAG itself, or for others. Examples include


  • Test Pit Reports, produced after a 1 square metre test pit has been dug, usually on a private property eg as part of the Canewdon project. These reports are given to the property owners.


  • Survey of World War Two Defences in the District of Rochford, Vols 1 & 2, 2004, as part of the Local Heritage Initiative, and recorded in Essex County Council's Essex Heritage Conservation Record database. Final reports of the Group’s investigations were jointly written by our guiding military archaeologist and the Chairman of RHFAG.  


  • Rayleigh Cellar Survey, carried out in association with “Historic Towns in Essex” survey, 1999, for Essex County Council / English Heritage.


Transactions and Papers

These are the formal written reports of our investigations, normally excavations, in printed form. They contain details of the location, documentary findings, geophysical results, excavation, finds and dating. The excavation results are described and analysed trench by trench and an overview of the site given. The finds are treated in detail with totals of different types and forms being set out as well as discussion of individual pieces. There may be separate reports written by different specialists. There are normally many drawings (eg of different pottery forms) and, where relevant, there may be maps and photographs.


We try to make the overall report as comprehensive and authoritative as we can. This means that all the post-excavation analysis and processing of finds, the reports from specialists and all the documentary investigation must be complete. This can take some time and means there is always a gap between the end of the excavation and when we can publish the report.


The report may be published as an in-house report (Transaction) or as a detailed account (Paper) in a learned journal e.g. Medieval Ceramics. To date, the main transactions and papers which have been published are as follows.


  • Mackley, R, & Faulkner, N, (Eds), 1994, “Excavation on the Leigh Beck Marshes 1993”, Transactions of the Rochford Hundred Field Archaeology Group, Vol. 1.


  • Mackley, R, (Ed), 1996, “The Church of Pitsea St. Michael: Research project 1994 – 1995”, Transactions of the Rochford Hundred Field Archaeology Group, Vol. 2. (Essex Record Office Ref. No. T/P 581/3)


  • White, M, & Fitzpatrick, A, 2004, “Almost Complete Donkey (Equus asinus L.) Skeleton from a Medieval / Post Medieval site at Noak Hill, Romford, Essex”, Transactions of the Rochford Hundred Field Archaeology Group, Vol. 4.


  • Meddens, F. M. et al, 2005, “The Excavation of a Medieval Ceramic Production Site and Tile Kiln at Noak Hill, Essex”, Medieval Ceramics, Vols 26, 27, 2002 & 2003.


Articles / website articles

As appropriate, we may write articles for newspapers or websites.

In 2012, a report of our work excavating the donkey skeleton was written as part of a Royal Archaeological Institute initiative (see below).

In the September / October, 2014, edition of Canewdon's "Broomstick", an article was written about RHFAG's ongoing Canewdon Project and the two test pits dug that year.

In 2015, an article ("The Vanishing Past") was written about excavations on Canvey for the Canvey Community Archive website. 



Online Diamond Jubilee Report, 2012


In April, 2012, along with other societies, we received an invitation from the Royal Archaeological Institute to take part in a celebration in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The RAI seeks to advance learning, education and knowledge about archaeology at all levels and we were invited to submit a report for their website about our proudest achievement over the past 60 years. We  thought our discovery of the buried donkey at Noak Hill would be a suitable topic so in June, 2012,  our article, “Digging the Dead Donkey”, went up on the RAI website, scheduled to remain there for a year.


It had been back in the freezing and windy November of 2003 when a Noak Hill builder was surprised to be asked to take away his JCB as we would be digging out the footings for the new garage by hand. No surprise to us as we knew previous excavations in the garden had revealed the largely intact medieval tile kiln and thousands of Mill Green pottery sherds, many of them wasters. If the tile kiln had not had a previous life making pottery, perhaps a second kiln might be located.


No such luck but as it turned out the surprising bonus of an almost complete and partly disarticulated skeleton of a small equid with its neck broken and folded back along its body and all four legs removed and placed beside it in the grave cut. The skeleton was lying on a layer of broken tile extending in all directions and at only a shallow depth below a land surface lowered and terraced to accommodate the building of an 18th century house.


Such an unusual find was outside our previous experience and a lot of advice had to be sought, research done and visits made and this included taking detailed measurements of co-operative living donkeys. The conclusion was that our equid was Equus asinus L., a male working donkey which had carried heavy loads throughout its life. It was about 10.5 hands high and perhaps 6-7 years old when it died at some time between 1650 and 1750.


There was a lot of interest in this find. Several talks on the donkey were given around Essex, including at the Essex Congress, and a detailed report was published. RHFAG had a lot more exposure than it had had for years. We also learnt a lot about osteoarchaeology and that it was possible to start and complete a dig in November, even though the experience could be quite painful.





Our Members may, from time to time, give talks on the work done by RHFAG. These would normally be to other archaeological groups or conventions. In 2004, our Field Officer gave a talk about the excavation of the Noak Hill Donkey at the Essex Archaeological and Historical Congress annual Symposium, as mentioned above.


On occasion, we may have a speaker come to talk us. This would normally be related to an activity we were involved in or a particular area of interest.



School Liaison


We have done some liaison with local schools and are interested in doing more. If you are a teacher or governor who is interested in a link with RHFAG, please contact us.



Do you want us to investigate?


As an active, practically-based group, we are always on the lookout for possible new sites. If you think you may have archaeological features on your property, you are generally in the south east Essex area and you want them looked at, we may be interested in investigating. Please contact us. We make no charge and supply all our own equipment but we do appreciate access to basic facilities. We aim to return any site to the state it was in before we began our work, with the possible exception of any masking vegetation etc which may, with your permission, have to be removed.



Other Information


We no longer organise regular talks by visiting speakers, nor do we arrange  a formal programme of trips, though we have done both in the past and some trips still take place. As a Group, our concentration is on practical activities such as excavation.


Excavation itself involves a range of activities, not just digging, with Members deciding in which ones they want to participate. We give ourselves regular breaks for tea, coffee and cakes and, where it is possible, the season usually ends with an on-site barbecue.


We hold General Meetings each month except for July and August which are activity periods, and December when we have a Christmas social event. We have an annual meal, normally in February or March.