LOOKING BACK: Remains of cottages reveal their secrets

Digging up the past at Crowlink

Digging up the past at Crowlink

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Looking Back continues its look this week at a recent archaeological excavation on the remains of the former Coastguard Cottages on the cliff edge at Crowlink.

Heritage Service manager Jo Seaman takes up the story.

The excavation ran for just nine days and in this time we needed to find what, if anything remained of the main Coastguard building and if possible learn a bit more about what it would have been like to live there and of course, about the occupants themselves.

We already had some photos of the building, mainly from the early 1900s, so we knew roughly what sort of building we were looking for, but even photos cannot tell us that match, when it comes to how a building was made and what it was like.

Over the course of the project we encountered rain, although not much, fog (which was very dense but for one day only, gale force winds, two days of 70mph plus winds sandblasted us, and sunshine which was quite a relief after the aforementioned but we did achieve our aims for the excavation.

By the last Sunday we had discovered the positions and identified portions of each of the external walls and uncovered a significant part of the internal layout of one of the smaller units as well as some very interesting finds.

From our evidence it appears that, when first built, each one of the six Coastguard cottages within the main building consisted of just a parlour and kitchen downstairs and two bedrooms above accessed by an adjoining staircase.

The ground floor rooms were each around 10-12 feet (3-3.5m) square and the front room (parlour) had a central hearth in the wall facing the front door, providing much needed warmth and comfort from an open fire. Although the floorboards had long since gone we found a number of interesting artefacts that must have dropped through them including a mid 18th century lead button and even a 1930s teddy bear’s eye. We also discovered a large amount of yellow coloured lime plaster in this area, giving us at least one colour scheme for the room.

Stepping down in to the kitchen beyond, we discovered we were again just below floor level but the brick foundations for the internal walls (including blue painted plaster this time) and other features survived.

Most striking was the large corner fireplace, complete with its dislodged hearthstone which was the real heart of any working house of this period. From the finds in this room, including a splendid Coastguard button dating no later than 1836 – remember the houses were built in 1832 – we can start to imagine one of the first occupants of this fairly remote outpost, damp and cold from Watch duty, stretching out in front of the cooking range and popping one of his precious uniform buttons in the process. We also unearthed a Royal Navy button dating from Nelson’s era from the same area and given as Coastguard were often ex-navy men this seems to make sense.

See next week’s Looking Back for the final story of the excavation.

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