Many archaeologists like to visit the pub for a post-excavation pint or two, but this TV series – making its terrestrial premiere tomorrow night – has taken the tradition to a new level. Pub Dig follows comedian Rory Mcgrath and archaeologist Paul Blinkhorn as they explore what lies beneath some of Britain’s historic alehouses – and sample a few beers along the way. CA caught up with Paul to learn more.
‘The great thing about pubs, archaeologically, is that they’ve always been a focus of the local community, along with the church, and old pubs are often in the core of historic towns and villages.’, Paul told us. ‘Because of this, there’s often evidence of important past events that’s otherwise been lost as the settlements around them change. They’re also often places which archaeologists rarely get to examine, at least below ground!’
The four-episode series opens on April 3 with a visit to the Command House in Chatham, Kent. Built near the docks that played a 400-year-role in Britain’s military history, this Georgian building was once the headquarters of the Storekeeper of Ordnance who was in charge of naval armaments.
‘The Command House at Chatham was in the middle of a potential World Heritage Site which had never been examined archaeologically, and was thought to be the site of Henry VIII’s first royal dockyard and the base from which the Armada was defeated,’ Paul said. ‘Our task was to go in and see what evidence remained, if any, and what condition it was in. A classic evaluation excavation, but one which would have otherwise never have taken place. As Gus Milne said to me over lunch one day there: “You only ever see research excavations take place these days when there are TV cameras around”.’
Three other pubs also feature in the investigation:
Ye Olde Smugglers Inne in Alfriston, East Sussex: Digging beneath the patio and garden of this evocatively-named pub uncovered the building’s 750-year history.
The Six Bells in St Albans, Hertfordshire: Promisingly situated within the walls of the old town of Roman Verulamium, the dig at this 16th-century pub did not disappoint.
Ye Olde Reindeer in Banbury, Oxfordshire: A young Oliver Cromwell was once a regular customer at this alehouse, the final destination of the Pub Dig team.
Rory and Paul’s excavations have intrigued local communities and delighted the publicans that hosted them.
‘The programme’s a bit more knockabout than Time Team,’ Paul said, ‘but I like to think that amongst the beer and leg-pulling, there’s also some really valuable archaeology going on.’
Paul Blinkhorn went on his first dig aged 14 while on holiday with his parents in Yorkshire, and later studied Archaeological Sciences at Bradford University. Since then he has worked for almost 30 years as an archaeologist specialising in Anglo-Saxon and Medieval pottery. A visiting lecturer at the Universities of Cambridge and Leicester, he has published numerous archaeological reports and papers and has appeared as a guest expert on Channel 4’s Time Team since 1998. His interests outside archaeology include art, music, beer, football, rugby league and motorbikes.
The first episode of Pub Dig can be seen on Channel 5 at 8pm, April 3.
Visit the programme website