Leicestershire Fieldworkers (formerly known as the Leicestershire Museums Archaeological Fieldwork Group – LMAFG) was established in 1976 by the County Museums Service itself formed in 1974 when Leicester City and Rutland handed over the running of their museums to the new authority formed in the re-organisation of local government in 1974.
Central government funding allowed the formalisation of the Leicestershire Archaeological Unit run by Jean Mellor and Terry Pearce while a separate Survey Team was set up within the Antiquities Section of the Museum run by Bob Rutland. The Unit was to be responsible for excavation while the Survey Team (initially only one post, expanded quickly to three) was responsible for the Sites and Monuments Record and to enhance this also took on responsibility for fieldwalking, aerial archaeology and earthwork surveys. In time this expanded to advice to the planning authorities.
The first steps in the formation of the Fieldwork Group came from Jean Mellor and Terry Pearce, who realised that much more could be discovered if more people were looking for evidence, and called a meeting of people who had been involved in previous archaeological work early in 1976.
This led to a newsletter being issued. Initially titled ‘Fieldwork in Leicestershire’ it later became ‘The Fieldworker’. After the appointment of a Survey Officer, Peter Liddle, in August 1976, responsibility for the group was passed to him. The first project was in the Hamilton Area, north of Leicester. A core group of dedicated fieldworkers was established, many of whom had been involved in an informal group around Miss Edna Linford.
Interested members of the public were recruited and the first local fieldwork groups were set up in Newbold Verdon, Huncote and Hamilton. These undertook intensive study of their own local areas. In the 1980s ‘traverse and stint’ fieldwalking as set out in detail by Peter Liddle in a publication called ‘Community Archaeology’ was tested in a survey at Medbourne. An improved understanding of flint, associated with the arrival of Anne Graf at the Museum, greatly changed the classic perception of Leicestershire’s past as a forested county with few inhabitants until the Saxons arrived. If very few sites were expected then looking for them was thought to be a waste of time. Much of the early work therefore was adding sites to lists but after a while the need to find yet another Roman site was less important than working out the relationship between sites, how patterns developed over time and how nature and humanity interacted. It became clear that deforestation was a prehistoric phenomenon not an Anglo-Saxon one.
Individuals and groups in the county took on their areas. Some groups have faded away but then sometimes revive as a local history society gets going again and yet others are completely new.
Information on sites and finds by the local groups and individuals goes into the Historic Environment Record (HER – previously the Sites and Monuments Record) and is also used to inform the archaeological history of the County.
The Fieldworkers have run two conferences so far. The first, ‘Leicestershire Landscapes’, invited professional archaeologists to survey the current state of knowledge utilising the information from fieldwork as well as professional excavations (published 2004, now out of print). The second conference, ‘Medieval Leicestershire’, narrowed down the period discussed but also used evidence from fieldwork and excavations (published in 2015, see publications page). Local groups and individuals have also written up their work and a prize for the best essay was given each year up until 2008 (Miss Linford Award). It is hoped to revive this award in the future.
Not all members of the fieldworkers are, or perhaps can be, active. Some members like to receive the newsletter and attend the occasional meeting, or go on a trip or perhaps attend events locally. The number and strength of the Fieldworkers means that the Group is a strong voice when lobbying local and national government on behalf of the historic environment.
The size of the Fieldworkers has gradually grown and now numbers over 410 households. All interested people are welcome to join and membership rates are kept as low as possible to encourage this.