DIGGING DICK THE LOCK'S COTTAGE II
Archaeology at Ty Coch 2018
(With many thanks to Marie Bodin for her photography)
Last updated: 12th September 2018
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Why is this site important?
It may seem strange to be archaeologically investigating a building that was, at the most, 150 years old and was demolished as recently as the early 1960s. And to be collecting material culture that ranges from ninineteenth century ceramics through to 1980s beer cans and crisp packets. Yet there are a number of reasons why the lock keeper's cottage at Ty Coch is archaeologically important.
There has never before been an archaeological investigation of a canal lock keeper's cottage, anywhere in the UK. Many of these structures are still standing, and are still occupied, which makes research into their past difficult. Others are abandoned and unloved, and are deteriorating, forgotten. Because no-one has looked at the extant evidence, however slight, we know very little about the lives of those who lived beside and worked on the canal. At Ty Coch we know a few names, and a few passers-by have vague childhood memories of the cottage and its occupant(s) in the 1950s, but of the previous 100 years or so we know nothing. Yet these anonymous lock-keepers were a vital part of the canal network, and their lives are worth valuing.
At Ty Coch we are beginning to build a faint, out-of-focus picture of the cottage and those who lived there. We can start to imagine their living space, with its big coal-fired range, its gloomy scullery, its cold cement or flagstone floors, its damp walls. Outside, there was an extensive garden, with paths constructed using massive flagstones. There were, perhaps, herbs and flowers planted around the cottage, with vegetables growing a little further away. We have tangible evidence of the lock-keeper's bicycle, on which he pedalled up and down the Ty Coch flight of nine locks. We've found a few sherds of the colourful pottery that once stood on the cottage shelves.
There are of course many questions, a lot of which we will perhaps never answer. Why, for example, do we find objects that require electricity, when the cottage never had electricity, running water or gas? What was the purpose of the passage along the west side, and where did the steps at its north end lead?
Even the material that collected on the site long after the cottage had disappeared is of interest, evidence, for example, of 1970s picnics. The site was used for fishing, and for drinking.
The archaeology of the contemporary past is important. The material culture of the world that we have experienced and of which we have memories is just as fragile as that of the distant past. For example we know comparatively little about the lives of nineteenth-century working people, mostly because until recently they were not valued, and their homes were likely to have been destroyed by more recent developments and "slum clearance". The same is true of the twentieth century, and unless efforts are made to actively study and record its material culture, there will be large gaps in our knowledge of this period. A number of projects have been created to address this; for example researching the world-wide history of the aluminium can ring pull. These projects will not only inform us about the recent past, but assist future archaeologists as they come across these artefacts in centuries to come.
We of course have no idea what technologies might be developed in the distant future. Perhaps one day it will be possible to place a humble fragment of roof tile into a machine that will read its complete history, and everything that went on around it. So keeping what at first sight might appear to be simply rubbish could be very important...who knows!
We hope to return for a third season in summer 2019, to complete the excavation, answer some more questions and landscape the site so that it can be left open for public display.