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INMATES at a youth offenders' prison near Rugby got a surprise when they went digging in the grounds by the perimeter fence.

The curious foursome uncovered a cache of World War Two ammunition - and finds even older.

But this wasn't totally unexpected. The enthusiastic group at the Young Offenders' and Remand Centre at Onley were taking part in the national Big Dig event for TV's Time Team, presented by former Blackadder actor Tony Robinson.

Peter Ellis, senior officer at Onley, registered the prison for the event, which aimed to uncover hidden archaeology across the country.

The project asked viewers to become amateur archaeologists and turn pieces of their gardens into excavation pits.

As the young offenders' centre is next to the site of an abandoned medieval village, Onley's aim was to see if any of the village extended into prison grounds.

Dr Stephen Hill, resident archaeologist at Warwick University, supervised work in the prison's market garden.

Medieval pottery, building debris and remnants of a World War Two ammunition dump were found and logged.

Dr Hill said: "The prison asked for an archaeologist to help make the dig into a learning project. We worked to develop planning skills and team work."

He will now coach the youngsters through a short archaeology course.

Mr Ellis said: "We want to give the lads qualifications they can use when they get outside.

"Just before Christmas three lads got NVQs in waste management.

"If they get life skills and real work skills hopefully we won't see them here again."

Time Team's series producer, Jeremy Cross, said: "A tremendous number of people took part in the Big Dig from Orkney to the West Country.

"The Onley dig was certainly one of the most unusual.

"It's so important that people are given the chance to learn new skills and we were struck by the enthusiasm of the prison staff who wanted to set up something positive."

Evening Telegraph solves mystery

THE mystery surrounding a strange object Alfred Mann found in his garden has been solved - with the help of the Evening Telegraph.

Mr Mann was digging in his garden at Moseley Avenue, Coundon, Coventry, about two years ago when he came across a small stone-type object with a hole in it.

Unable to identify it the father of nine left it on a window sill, but he spotted a story in the Evening Telegraph which solved the riddle. The tale told how 82-year-old Ron Bailey, of Whitley, Coventry, found an object in his garden and discovered it was a whorl after archaeologists on Channel Four's Time Team programme identified a similar object.

A whorl was used to weigh down a spindle when weaving and dates back to the 12th century.

Mr Mann, aged 71, who was an engine fitter and tester at Coventry car companies, including Jaguar, said: "I was looking at the Telegraph on Friday, and it's identical. It's amazing."

To the manor born

VIEWERS across the country took part in the national event, with 1,300 test pits being laid.

Among those taking part were some famous faces, including ex-Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, who gave the Big Dig film crew exclusive access to the grounds of his 15th century manor.

TV gardener and 1980s pop star, Kim Wilde (left), who lives in a 400- year- old barn, also took part.


WHAT'S THIS?: An inmate at Onley examines one of the finds with archaeologist Dr Stephen Hill, and (above) Time Team presenter Tony Robinson; IDENTIFIED: Alfred Mann and wife Ruth with the whorl they found
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jul 3, 2003
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