Report by Francesca, a Member of Astley & Dunley History Society (As seen on TV)


On 4th August 1919, nine people; two men, four women and three children, drowned while crossing the River Severn at the Hampstall Inn, Astley. There were seventeen people standing up in the punt which acted as the ferry boat and when the steamer, ‘May Queen’ went past, the wash swamped the boat and it overturned.

On Sunday 4th August 2019, residents of Astley and other interested people gathered at The Hampstall Inn, to remember those who drowned a hundred years ago. After an account of the disaster had been read, the plaque and information board were unveiled by Fred Greenhow and Terry Matthews. Prayers were said by Rev Mark Turner and roses were thrown into the river in remembrance. Finally a poem written by the poet laureate of Wednesbury was read out.

ferry pic 1

Introduction to the event by Clare Badham.

ferry pic 2

The unveiling by Fred Greenhows the grandson of Ellen Greenhow who rescued five people from the disaster; Terry Matthews the grandson of the brother of Harry Matthews, one of those who drowned.

Two years ago (ie pre Covid!) NWAG , along with several other groups, was invited by Nina O'Hare of WAAS to take part in the "Small Pits Big Ideas" project, funded by the National Lottery. This involved 20 testpits across the area of Wichenford being excavated over a weekend by volunteers of all ages from the local community.

On Wed 20th April teams of NWAG members went round deturfing the allocated Test Pits, mostly in residents gardens. Then between Sat 23rd and Sun 24th April  along with other volunteers they helped to excavate them. Some folk remained at the Cobb house (the Base) to sort and clean the finds as they arrived.

Thankfully the weather was a lovely, with lots of sunshine and temperatures rising to 18 degrees, and at the start and finish each day Nina from WAAS briefed everyone and her other professional colleagues shared instructions about what needed to be done and information about what was found. 

Due to the large number of finds that need cleaning this will still continue on for a few weeks, Volunteers, including NWAG members, will be  involved in this process before the finds then go off to the Hive in Worcester for recording and examining

We look forward to learning the results of this interesting exercise and the others that follow which, to quote the organisers, "will enable six rural communities across Worcestershire to explore the origins of their settlements and contribute to academic research through the archaeology hidden in back gardens."

It was so rainy last Wed that in Terry's absence Francesca was forced to cancel the weekly dig at the Orchard. Margaret and new boy Chris who had been allocated to go to Winnall on the same day to draw the area shown below, decided to change it and go there on the Thursday instead, which proved to be a fine day with just a few spots of rain now and then. 

winnall mill unloading area clean

This area near the wall was originally excavated back in 2015/16 when Terry labelled it the "Curve". Since then a set of very worn steps were discovered at the back (you can see the start of it in the photo below, off to the right) and, with the possibility of it being a cart turning area, it was renamed the Loading Bay. 

As the smaller area was nicely cleaned up for our recent Open Day it seemed the perfect opportunity to return to draw it. Carved out of the bedrock many years ago, the horizontal lines are natural, although the ones forming the wall do give the impression of being laid stone. Also the original tools marks are still visible!

It is quite a soft stone and as each year passes sadlyit erodes a bit more so that recording it, as seen below, is very important. Although it was nice and dry after all that rain, it was still tricky to draw and measuring it was difficult too. 

Margaret drawing unloading area

With no straight lines to work to and nowhere to fix a string line from which to take their measurements, Chris and Margaret had no choice but to use chalk lines for their points of reference. Quite a challenge! Also the area has since been further excavated so more of it is now exposed and the drawing done today of the original trench will need to be extended later. 

margaret and unloading area

Viewed from the above walkway, you can see where it steps down on the left and also on the far right (near tree roots!) see the beginning of the curved recess that houses the unusual sunken Cool House.

We would like to wish all our members (both past and present) and all our readers and supporters 



Stay safe everyone.