The Bristol homeless heritage team come to York!

20 Jul

With some funding from the Department of Archaeology’s Research Development Fund (University of York), we were able to bring three of the Bristol team to York for a couple of days, to expand the project to another city and explain – peer to peer – what exactly ‘homeless heritage’ is all about!

We were lucky enough to be hosted by Arc Light (link) who provided a fantastic spread of delicious homemade food and welcomed us into their cafe area with a big screen on which we could show our Turbo Island excavation film (see link).

Jane found someone in Bristol to look after Patch (the famous farting dog!) and was joined by Deano and Andy, who also travelled up from Bristol. We arranged to ‘do our talk’ and show the film in the afternoon which meant we had the morning free so we decided to visit the York Castle Museum.

Jane writes:

I was born a heroin addict and an alcoholic, cos my mum was. I was gutted when I saw that bottle of gripe water in the museum [York Castle Museum, ‘Cradle to Grave’] and the thing that explained what it was used for. I didn’t realise they put alcohol and opiumin there. My mother, well, she never brought me up because I was in care at six weeks, but in my record from Social Services, you know where they tell you what your diet was and that, it says that she gave me Gripe Water and that was in the sixties. I was gobsmacked they allowed alcohol and opium in something you gave a baby! No wonder there’s so many alcoholics and addicts and that! In a way, it made me feel better too though because now my eldest daughter is an alcoholic and I’ve always felt guilty about it. But I used Gripe Water with her in the 1980s and they was still putting alcohol in that stuff until 1992! It just made me think, you know, seeing that written down there in the museum.

Also, in the bit of the museum where there’s a Big Issue seller, he’s spot on with what he says. People do look down on you. I sold the ‘Issue for years like and, well, it is better than shoplifting.

I thought Arc Light [homeless centre in York] was amazing! When I got back to Bristol, I told everyone about it. We had this big conversation about how there should be them kind of places all over the country, not just in York. It was like a palace compared to Jamaica Street [St Mungo’s homeless hostel, Jamaica Street, Bristol]. Thing is, usually I feel really uncomfortable going into hostels but that Arc Light, I felt really welcome and there was all this nice food and it was really clean. Amazing place. Shame not more people came to our talk but it’s a new thing for them, isn’t it.

After we left, me and Deano went for a walk, you know, around the city walls. You can walk all the way around York on the old walls. It’s so beautiful isn’t it? We was trying to work out like which buildings was Georgian and which was from Victorian times and we even found a place that said it was built in 13 something or other. Amazing! There was this one place where, because we walked around at night, the moon was full and we could see the full moon and the old city walls, like a photograph really. I was saying to Deano, ‘you have that one and I’ll have that one!’ about these lovely old houses and he was in stitches saying, ‘how will you find the money to buy a house like that?’ and I said, ‘well, I don’t know, maybe I’ll just win the lottery!’

We had a great time up in York. Just a shame we couldn’t stay longer. It’s such a beautiful old city. I’d like to go back and take my time.


Is homeless heritage (culture) different in different cities?

20 Jul

In Bristol, I had come to know homeless people organically because I’d lived and worked in a part of the city where homelessness was the local ‘industry’. Stokes Croft had several hostels for homeless people, services for people with drink and drug problems were sited there and the area (at the time) had a reputation for being ‘rough’; property prices were at rock bottom and many shops were boarded up. There were lots of squats and derelict buildings in which homeless people had created ‘home spaces’. I have two dogs and smoke rollies and I found either the dogs or tobacco acted as ice breakers in speaking with homeless people. My approach in Bristol was simply to strike up conversations with homeless people, explain I was an archaeologist interested in public space and how people use cities – the routes and journeys they make, the places they feel ‘attachment’ to – and see whether anyone would be interested in joining me in archaeologically mapping and recording contemporary homelessness.

In York, a city I am very new to, I felt I should try a different approach. I made contact with Arc Light (a centre for homeless people) and asked whether I might work with residents to map and document homelessness in York. Initially, I met with several residents and ex-residents and support workers and we began with a short two hour walk around the centre of York. This was a ‘getting to know you’ exercise and we’ll update the blog as we undertake fieldwork.

Something that was immediately obvious to me is that homelessness in York is less ‘visible’ than it is in Bristol. York is a smaller city, of course, but it is also a heritage city, that is, a large proportion of York’s economy centres around tourism and I’m keen to explore whether this impacts how homelessness is dealt with.




A History of Stokes Croft in 100 Objects

19 Jul

In December 2010 we took on a squatted space – the Emporium – at 37 Stokes Croft, Bristol and turned it into an interactive archaeological exhibition for a few days. The exhibition was curated and staffed by the team and attended by people from all walks of life.

The show included artefacts we uncovered at the Turbo Island excavation (2008), photos, films and audio pieces where visitors could listen to homeless people describing places, routes and sites of significance to them – places of contemporary homelessness in Bristol, UK (listen to the audio in ‘Films and Audio’).

Alongside the contemporary history, the excavation revealed an ash layer that contained window glass, roof tiles and evidence of a fire. MA student Gillian Crea offered to undertake a finds report for us and using historical documentation, was able to ascertain that there had once been a building – Holdcroft’s shoe shop – on what is now called Turbo Island. Scouring the internet for people called ‘Holdcroft’, Gillian tracked down Mr John Holdcroft who told us the story of the day his father’s shop was bombed in April 1941 (listen to the audio in ‘Films and Audio). John is an artist and kindly loaned us a painting of his impression of his father’s shop after the bomb.

This exhibition was a landmark. Working together as a team of equals we were able to reveal previously unknown local history to the wider community and include homelessness – its existence, its shapes and forms – in the heritage interpretation of Bristol (UK)

Exhibition flyer ‘History of Stokes Croft in 100 Objects’.

TAG 2010, University of Bristol

19 Jul

In December 2010, the team spoke at TAG (Theoretical Archaeology Group) at the University of Bristol. Sadly, Andy was too unwell to join us this time. The team consisted of Jane and Patch (the dog), Whistler, Deano and Danny and Baby Bitch (Dan’s enormous Rottweiler).

We called our talk ‘Punks & Drunks’ and everyone took it in turns to speak about a place they knew and had spent time homeless. Jane talked about her ‘hot skipper’ which happens to be very close to the Wills Building, Park Street, in which the conference was held. Dan discussed his form of homelessness which, in Dan’s words consists of ‘sites, squats and sojourns’. Whistler told the audience about a place he has regularly slept in an NCP car park in the centre of Bristol and showed a photograph of himself stashing his bedding in a grit bin in the hope that no-one would discard it while he was out selling The Big Issue.

Deano played guitar and explained how he often thinks of himself as ‘home-free’ rather than homeless. To the surprise of the audience, Deano said there are times when he is grateful not to have a place ‘because I have no’s after me for rent or gas money. I have nothing to fix, no responsibilities. In the summer anyway, it can be quite nice to be free of all them ties.’

Five go to the University of Cambridge

19 Jul

In November 2010, Andy, Deano, Jane and Patch the dog and Rachael travelled to Cambridge to give a lecture on homeless heritage to the students at the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge.

We were made very welcome despite the fact Patch farted throughout the lecture! This was Deano’s first time joining the team as a public speaker and he decided, as he busks for a living, to contribute to the session by playing ‘The Boxer’, which he did beautifully.

On the way back to Bristol, we stopped on an old drove road and made a delicious stew. Jane and Deano collected fire wood (in the dark) while Andy constructed a shelter from string and tin foil that was big enough for us all to climb into and stay warm (it was November). Jane was very happy to be back out in the countryside ‘like being back on site’. She danced around the fire and remembered her children fondly and life as a New Age traveller in the UK in the 1980’s.