I’ve heard of The Sweet Track, but….
SUGAR ME TIMBERS!
Archaeologists have come up with a sweet way of saving an ancient bridge.
Today, tonnes of sweet sugar syrup will be poured over the 11th century Hemington Bridge to help preserve it for future generations.
It is the third and final stage of a special process which uses the sugar crystals to prevent the wood from warping and breaking.
University of Leicester archaeologist Lynden Cooper says the timbers are an excellent window into the 11th century world.
He said: “The timbers are a rare testament to the engineering skills of the early medieval period and illustrate the importance of the road networks to the economy. They also provide unique evidence of Saxo-Norman woodworking methods.”
The remains of the Norman bridge were discovered in Hemington, near Castle Donington, Quarry in 1993 by a retired Leicestershire GP, the late Chris Salisbury.
The wet timbers were removed from the site and a painstaking conservation process has been taking place, which involves immersing them in tanks of liquid sugar.
British Sugar has donated the sweet stuff free to help the county council and the University of Leicester’s archaeology team with the project. The company has already supplied 40 tonnes of sugar in the past decade to the tanks at Snibston Discovery Park.
The sugar crystals gradually replace the water and prevent the wood from warping.
Once restoration is complete, the timbers – part of the largest medieval wooden structure in the region, after Lincoln Cathedral’s roof – could be put on display.
County councillor Ernie White, cabinet member for community services, said: “It’s amazing to think that timbers from a Norman bridge are being preserved with sugar – and that they could eventually be displayed to the public.
“I thank British Sugar for its generosity in supporting this project and for helping to ensure that future generations will be able to learn more about this fascinating find.”
The county council funded the University of Leicester Archaeological Services team to study and excavate the site. Sections of the 11th century bridge were so large that they had to be lifted by eight people.
The sugar solution has to be changed every few years, as water comes out of the timbers and dilutes it. The timbers will be immersed in a clean batch of liquid sugar for nine months and then dried under controlled conditions.
British Sugar used a similar method to preserve timbers from an Iron Age boat found in Poole in 1985.
The boat is now on display in the Waterfront Museum, Poole, Dorset.
Dr Julian Cooper, head of food science at British Sugar, said:
“This project has been a source of genuine pride for British Sugar. “Now we have reached the final stages of this 15-year conservation process, we congratulate the determination of those involved in safeguarding the bridge for generations to come.”
It is estimated that they will be ready for display in two to three years.
Sweet success for ancient bridge scheme