The pleasant surroundings of Hirst Wood, Shipley - set beside the placid canal with intriguing folds in the landscape and, on occasions, beside a raging river - have been a playground as well as a workplace for local people for centuries. Historical records exist but there has also been some conjecture about the detailed history of the area. More information is likely to emerge as a result of the wood being included in a three-year project, funded largely by the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by Pennine Prospects.Community surveyThe project targets over 40 sites across the ‘South Pennines’ in order to generate new information about the nature of the woodlands but also about the way in which the trees and the environment have been used and, consequently, influenced the social and economic life of local communities.Chris Atkinson, the Woodland Heritage Officer overseeing the heritage project, reports:‘Over the course of January 6th and 7th the very first community archaeological woodland survey, - as part of the Celebrate Our Woodland Heritage project - was undertaken at Hirst Wood. ‘Over the two days 17 volunteers explored the woodland and recorded 58 archaeological features some of which had not been previously identified or recorded. ‘Working in small groups the volunteers were given guidance to accurately measure, record, photograph and ‘locate’ features by GPS.
‘Recorded features included old trackways, quarries, charcoal burning platforms, woodland boundaries and the ruined cottages next to the site of New Hirst Mill. Further analysis of the recordings will be made in due course to produce a definitive report.’Those who were not able to take part on this occasion may be interested to join a survey at another woodland. Details can be found at the Woodland Heritage website or you can follow the project Facebook page: South Pennines Archaeology. Also, other woodlands in the Bradford district will feature in years 2 and 3 of the project, thus offering other opportunities to get involved.’
Chris adds: ‘It was gratifying to get such good support from local people in the Hirst Wood survey so early in the new year! Thank you again to those who took part. What has been found and recorded will be important to the local community, now and in the future.’It is really exciting for local people to be able to take part in a community archaeology initiative that updates existing knowledge, adds new information and also uses new technologies. John BromleyThis article first appeared in Saltaire Review February 2017