A Folk/Community Heritage hunters beginner’s guide on how to research community heritage
As part fo the network you might want to research community heritage and this how to guide will help you make the first steps. You think you might have heard tell of one or encountered one but where do you go to ask to find out more and what can you do? The Woven Land Network Focuses On Holy Wells And Springs, Standing Stones and other Ancient Sites, Monuments And Meeting Places and if you’ve decided to look for significant sites like these in your local area then great!
This short guide is aimed at starting to get you under way and provide resources about where you might start to look. Its by no means has all the answers but might help.
First steps – What have we here?
So first off, you think you may have found something significant, but you aren’t sure. Or you may just be curious if there is anything in your local area. Well, ponder no more, in Scotland we are lucky as we have all of the archaeology and other information provided in a combination of online sites. This is the Canmore info and all the stuff on past maps. This is a great place to start exploring not only if the site is recognised through the Canmore database but also if it had any kind of name given to it on older maps on past maps. Both sites have a great how to pages so I won’t go into it here.
I have spent many an evening just scrolling around looking through these sites for things long gone. Honestly, it becomes addictive!
Next steps – Hmm so there’s a thing, what is it?
So, you found a thing, but still haven’t made it out your house yet. This is where other people’s research can come in very handy. Known in the trade as archival research but kind of not really at this stage as we are going to explore other people’s work online. Feel free to ask on the woven land facebook group but there are other avenues that might be more successful for your questions.
There are many groups and websites dedicated to community heritage sites such as sacred wells, springs and stones. These are a good place to go start nosing around and asking questions.
These are but no limited to:
- https://insearchofholywellsandhealingsprings.com/it also has a supportive Facebook group Holy wells and sacred springs of Britain.
- The Northern Antiquarian (https://megalithix.wordpress.com) run by the ever so lovely Paul Bennet.
- The Megalithic Portal (https://www.megalithic.co.uk) is another great resource.
In fact, if you do a quick group search on Facebook for sacred wells or holy springs etc you will come across a number of groups. Go have an ask and let them know why you are interested. I’m sure they will be pleased to help.
So once I have had a look through all of this stuff I then start to look for more archival material as by now you should have a bit of a sense if its known about by others and some of the lore attached to it or not as it might be little known.
My usual next stop is the Antiquities books written usually about certain counties. For instance, the one on my area that has turned up some amazing info is “The History and Antiquities of Roxburghshire and Adjacent Districts from the Most Remote to the Present Time – Alexander Jeffrey” (1855). A lot of our local Antiquities or local history books are now digitised by the National Library of Scotland. You can contact the National Library of Scotland and they will be happy to help you find a digital copy where one exists or alternatively you can go to https://www.nls.uk/collections/digital-collections. Some you have to sign up for and then have a search or just use good old google scholar and search for your counties name and antiquity and any combination thereof. You can also just try to search google generally for info but this can be a bit more hit and miss and its worth knowing how to search google scholar and other parts of google for good info.
This is a modern form of archival searching in its truest sense, but we still haven’t left the chair. Who says modern technology isn’t amazing!
At this point you might be armed with a wee dossier of information, tales and lore or maybe not very much. Either way your well on your way to becoming a Folk Site Detective. Next steps are all down to moving out into the community and accessing resources in your local libraries and speaking to folks out and about.
For the Intrepid Folk Site Hunter
Ross Parish of In Search Of Holy Wells and Springs has a great resource here (https://insearchofholywellsandhealingsprings.com/2013/03/19/researching-our-sacred-and-healing-springs-a-guide/) which I don’t think I have to repeat as it covers pretty much everything you may need to know.
I will add to what Ross has covered in Scotland. The country code still operates but we have the right to roam i.e. there is no trespass law. Getting to the sites might not be as awkward as it can be in areas in England “get off me land” and all that. You can be there as long as you do so sensibly and follow the rules.
Now a warning
In addition to the information Ross provides, you’ll need to be aware of Scotland’s predators. These are no joke.
If you go in midge season, be prepared when looking through long grass to be overwhelmed with midges, especially if you are up North. Honestly, it’s horrible. You’ll know if you have ever encountered swarms of them. Bring tights to put over your head. A life saver and a folk site hunters main protection of choice J.
Also, please be aware of Deer Ticks. Check for them once you get home and are in the shower. Remember they can be the size of a poppy seed. Go here to find out more about them and what to do if bitten.
Share your discovery with us on the Woven Land network. If you want, write a wee blog post about it and we can place it on our site for folk to go and visit if that’s your wish or share the knowledge with people about the great conservation work you are doing. Perhaps you’d like to become a site monitor or a custodian? Contact us and we can help you explore this.