Early in 2010 English Heritage approached Surrey Archaeological Society. They had been asked to assess the Abinger Pit Dwelling museum, owned by Cherry Clarke, as the passage of time had left the premises in a state of disrepair. For those of you not familiar with the site it was discovered in 1948 and excavated in 1950 under the direction of L S B Leakey, who was staying in the area. Owned by Major E Beddington-Behrens, living in Abinger Manor, it was regarded of importance and a museum was established, in the field, by the erection of an agricultural building over the site. The excavation, published in 1951 by L S B Leakey, has been visited by interest groups since then. As it is still visited it was decided we should take some action.
The first refurbishment was conducted in 1974 by the current owner, Mrs Cherry Clarke, assisted by family members and J Wymer, of lithics fame. The cabinets were relined with hessian and information boards developed, including the painting of a board, defining the animals of the time, by Cherry’s aunt. Rose Hooker grasped the nettle and presented the idea of refurbishment to the Lithics Working Group. The group agreed to visit the site and assess what was required. We found the museum to have suffered from ingression by birds, and marauding cattle, which had disturbed the displays.
The cabinets had suffered from the damp environment, and the cattle. The wall boards had also succumbed to the damp environment and were stained and peeling.
Prior to any work Alan Hall visited the site and took a series of excellent photos, a reference point for future work. These enabled us to plan the work with respect to the existing style and layout. At each stage we involved the owner, Cherry Clark, who naturally has a great sensitivity to the site due to her early involvement together with her family.
A three pronged approach was decided upon to spread the workload and allow us to tackle three main areas, repairing the cabinets and bird proofing the building, resetting the displays and re developing the wall boards. Ken Waters and Robin Tanner, both skilled in carpentry, were ably assisted by Keith Winser. They visited the site to repair the frames and hinges of the cabinets. A second visit was made to linseed oil the frames, and clean the glass. Keith and Ken also meshed the louvres and inserted corrugated foam into the gaps in the spaces in roof to prevent ingression by birds. Inside the cabinets new hessian was sourced (isn’t eBay wonderful!) to re line the displays. Alan’s photos of the cabinet signage were used to produce new laminated signs. The major task was to re develop the wall boards and retain the integrity of the 1974 refurbishment
It was decided to try to replace the boards with a modern Foamex type board which is lightweight and damp resistant. Budget being tight we researched the job and once again the internet supplied the solution. The group’s limited graphic skills were pooled to produce drafts for the printers. Using a montage of photos of the old boards, new pictures and script we produced eight boards to overlay the originals.
Delivering the boards September 2011
Throughout the works we hope we have been sensitive to the original nature of the museum and liaised on a regular basis with Mrs Clark, seeking her approval.
Part of the refurbished display
The concept of a pit dwelling has moved on since the 1950’s and we have referenced this with a new board showing the current thinking on Mesolithic dwellings, together with information on the major players. I hope we have enabled the valuable site to be informative and attractive to future visitors.
It is important to mention that without the time and labour, generously given over 18 months, it would not have been possible to complete this task, and leave the Museum fit for future visitors. Thanks go to Judie English, Rose Hooker, Ken Waters, Keith Winser, Robin Tanner, and Alan Hall for their contributions.
Should anyone wish to arrange a group visit please contact Cherry Clarke on 01306 730760 for an appointment.