​The ‘Middlefield’s Utopia’ project engaged residents of the Middlefield Lane council estate in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire in archaeological excavation and oral history exploring the temporal development of the estate, a product of post-war ideas in architecture and planning characterized as ‘utopian’ in their belief that cohesive communities could be planned. 

The estate was built on agricultural land on the edge of the town, which has a settlement history dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, but the name ‘Middlefield’ (derived from 19th century records) indicates a ‘nowhere’ place devoid of settlement before the modern era. 

Test pit excavations carried out by residents looked for contemporary remains, artefacts of former life on the estate in and around where the precinct used to be and in gardens as well as older, pre-20th century evidence.

Oral history has been used to record residents’ memories of life on the estate. You can read more about this on Ian Waites’ blog, ‘Instances of a Changed Society‘.

The project had a number of outputs, including:

  • artefacts (some unearthed and some given by residents to represent their life on the estate), 
  • archaeological reports, 
  • oral histories, 
  • a film shared with residents,
  • reconstructed objects made by visitors using modelling clay.

We are hoping to produce 3-D printouts of archaeological finds and a short leaflet about the dig. 

Unearthing finds and retrieving memories from within the community helped explore: 

  1. what can be learnt from past attempts to design Utopian communities; 
  2. how communities today might be empowered to achieve their future aspirations; 
  3. how temporally inflected thinking might help communities build resilience and avoid ‘dystopian’ futures;
  4. how communities wish to be remembered and what heritage assets they value and wish to pass on. 

The project aimed to reconceptualise Middlefield Lane as a mutable place not always in decline (and thus not inevitably so in the future); develop skills, connections, outlooks and aspirations to help the community contextualise its present and build for a better future; and champion council housing in a period lacking good, affordable, rented housing.​

Find out more about what we did and who joined in: