A local community archaeology project aimed at discovering and recording examples of medieval graffiti has won a prestigious national award. The Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey, which marks its first anniversary this month, was selected as joint winner in the ‘Awards for the Presentation of Heritage Research 2011’ at a ceremony held at the British Museum on Friday. These annual awards, sponsored by English Heritage, aim to encourage researchers to present their research on British and Irish archaeology, historic buildings and heritage conservation, to the wider public.
The Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Project began in January 2010 with the aim of carrying out the first large scale study of surviving medieval graffiti inscriptions in Norfolk churches. Although the project has so far only managed to survey about 50 of the counties 650+ medieval churches the results have been a surprise to all involved. “When we began the project”, stated project director Matthew Champion, “we suspected that medieval graffiti inscriptions were far more common than previously thought. However, even we were surprised by the scale of the findings. To date, having surveyed only 50 churches, we have discovered significant medieval graffiti in over 30”.
The project has so far been concentrating its efforts on the North Norfolk area but, over the coming months, it hopes to expand its coverage into central and eastern areas. “The quantity and quality of the graffiti varies greatly from church to church”, continues Matthew Champion, “and it tends to be located in certain ‘hot-spots’ within the building. So far we have discovered Latin inscriptions, prayers, ships, animals, windmills, caricatures and geometric patterns. It’s all very diverse and you really never know what will turn up next”.
The Awards take place each year as part of the ‘Archaeology Live’ Conference held at the British Museum. All the short-listed projects are required to present their work before a panel of distinguished judges, including television archaeologist Julian Richards, and an audience of the general public. “It’s quite a difficult process”, comments Matthew Champion, “particularly in the surroundings of the British Museum. However, Norfolk has a great tradition of success in these awards, having had a Norfolk based project amongst the shortlisted candidates every year since the Awards began”.
The projects most spectacular discovery, to date, was made a few miles from the North Norfolk coast at the impressive remains of Binham Priory. Whilst carrying out a graffiti survey in the nave of the church the project director uncovered a series of architectural graffiti inscriptions that appear to be the original master-masons drawings for the elaborate West Front of the Priory. Although investigations are due to continue at Binham over the coming months the discovery has already been described as ‘remarkable’ and ‘very significant’.
“To be announced as joint winner for this national award after such a short time is a great achievement for the project”, concluded Matthew Champion, “and it’s a real boost for all those involved. Sitting in cold and draughty churches staring at the walls can be a little dispiriting at times, so this recognition is a real morale booster”. Further information on the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey, and information on how you can volunteer to help, can be found on the project website – www.medieval-graffiti.co.uk
See also our previous article: Church discovery sheds light on medieval mystery