Wayside Archaeology

An introduction

I am walking along a narrow road, itself bordered by hedgerows, which slowly turns and rises. This is an old road, not a main road, with very little vehicle traffic. There is a chocolate wrapper, a crumpled beer can and a crumpled energy drink can. At certain points, the hedgerows are growing around dry stone walls, a sort of natural wall for mineral walls. There is a small house up ahead with a steep roof. I notice a ‘for sale’ sign and wonder if anyone is living there – there is a yard in a state of abandonment, a conservatory with no furniture. I wonder about having a closer look when I hear a clanking noise, perhaps the wind, but decide to investigate no further.

The wayside does not feature in guidebooks, has no queues or entrance charges. You don’t have to travel to a large city to appreciate it, although it is present there too.The wayside has the potential for delight and discovery in a way that is never possible for the Mona Lisa, or any other cherished museum object.

The wayside has its physical forms – car parks, lay-bys, footpaths, earthworks, spinneys, graveyards. It may be ancient, medieval, modern or just right now. More importantly, the wayside is also an idea, a means of thinking outside the museum and the heritage site. Rather than sticking to a script, an interpretation board, a leaflet, the wayside encourages going off on a tangent.

My interest in the wayside encompasses both the physical and the conceptual:

A chocolate wrapper that I picked up in an art gallery and wrote a review of

A series of photographs of hedgerows

The things that might live or reside within hedgerows

All the places which aren’t listed in guidebooks

The contents of drawers

The particular memories people associate with everyday objects

A house which is probably empty but has been recently lived in

The view from lay-bys of nearby fields and trees

The reframing of ‘negative space’ into a place of enquiry – what will this site be like in the future, or a past that has yet to be excavated

Thus I find myself as a champion of Wayside Archaeology, an ongoing enquiry into why everyday things should be noted, recorded and communicated to a wider audience. It is not a new form of classification, but an acknowledgement of the slippery nature of the past, and the desire to suggest alternatives for how the world is presented to us.