The West Bridgford School

A Specialist Technology Academy

The Big Dig

When the school moved to Loughborough Road in 1938 war was in the air.  By the start of the next school year war had been declared and as pupils gathered they saw the fruits of rapid preparations which had taken place over the summer – twelve solid air raid shelters arranged around the perimeter of the Girls Hockey Pitch. But where are they now?DSCN0298
Most disappeared under new buildings in the 1970’s and are now under the dining hall, staff room and theatre.  But an aerial photograph in the school archives revealed the location of four along the hedge bordering Kingswood Road.  Interesting lumps and bumps on the ground raised hopes that something might still be there to give us a window into the past, and so the Big Dig was born.
Support from the Head and Governors, input from the Community Archaeology team, and a bunch of enthusiastic year 13 students, and we were in business.DSCN0276
So what did we find?  At first just a load of demolition rubble, but indications that we had found a substantial structure.  Some intriguing ‘finds’, including Victorian clay pipe fragments and 1960’s bottles, raised the excitement and took us deeper.  By the time the Press came to see what was going on we had gone as deep as we dared, with the potential instability of the rubble causing concern – so in came The Men With The Digger!  No wonder Time Team resorted to heavy equipment to meet their time limits.  Within a morning they had uncovered the whole end of the shelter, doorway, internal blast wall and even the metal supports where the wooden benching had been.  About 5 feet deep, it would have stood almost as much above ground but banked up with earth to give extra protection.  Each one was nearly 60 feet long and could accommodate two classes.  And according to former pupil Joan Rushton, wartime students grew vegetables, for the school kitchen, in front of the shelters – although it didn’t improve the quality of the school dinners!
Of course the team wanted to go further, uncover the whole structure and conserve it as a resource, but practical considerations and lack of funding for such a massive project had to prevail.  Our Dig was always intended as a ‘test trench’ and so now we have to write up our report with all the photographs and drawings, mark out the site with sunken kerbstones and put up a board recording the story - and maybe at some point in the future look for funding to uncover one of the other three shelters and turn it into an outdoor classroom.
This has been an exciting opportunity to learn new skills, work with professional archaeologists, combine historical research and practical excavation, and also hear at first hand from ‘old scholars’ what life was like at West Bridgford during the dark days of World War II.
Ailish D’Arcy, History Department

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8:30 am Mon 24 July 2017 - 2:45 pm Wed 26 July 2017

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