14 October 2021

The Lost Priory of Gloucester: An interview with Andrew Armstrong

After a busy couple of months filming our first ever full-length documentary for Dan Snow's History Hit, we sat down with host of Whitefriars: The Lost Priory of Gloucester, City Archaeologist Andrew Armstrong. In this interview, we discussed how Andrew knew of the project, and his experiences filming with Squeaky Pedal.

How did you find out about the archaeological site ?

A: One of the things I’m responsible for, is maintaining a really big database of every known archaeological site in the city, called the Historical Environment Record, that has been built up over the years and it includes every known reference to previous archaeological discoveries. So that included a reference to a discovery in 1974 which might have found parts of the Whitefriars friary so that was one thing I already knew. 

Then we had a historic map called Speed’s map of 1610 which shows a little image of a church and it just says next to it ‘WHITFRIARS’ 

We knew generally where the Whitefriars was, we knew where it ought to be, we knew from historic sources. What we didn't have any details or exact examples of where exactly the building complex was, what it was composed of and whether it survived, which is really the big question. 

What was it about Squeaky Pedal that made you want to work with them and what was your experience working with them on this project?

A: I worked with Squeaky Pedal on the Gloucester Looking Up project [From the Gloucester History Festival]. I haven’t done a lot of talking to camera and they’re very patient and very professional and very calm, which if you don’t talk to tv cameras regularly, is hugely beneficial because you know it's quite nerve wracking when you have to remember what you’re saying and sound interesting and talk to camera.

It was great working with them, very patient, very professional, very calm and I could always tell if I had something right or wrong because Jason would always go ‘Andy that was great… but’. They were brilliant, and I really appreciated that. 

I also liked how they were willing to allow me to talk about what I thought was important, because I am the city archaeologist, there are things I think people might want to hear about. What was lovely was that they always gave me the chance to talk about what I thought people would find interesting and then they would always feedback about how they as non-archaeologists found that, how it came across, whether it was interesting and whether it was understandable and that was a really helpful dialogue.

What did you find the most enjoyable when filming Whitefriars: The Lost Priory of Gloucester?

A: Filming the archaeologists on site and filming some of the discoveries was the most enjoyable because I think for television, it's important that you try to convey enthusiasm and it's important that you articulate why are things  important. I find that very easy with freshly found archaeological discoveries. I found that quite exciting, quite easy and that was something I wanted to communicate to people. Peter and Jason were interested themselves and that helped so that was fun. 

What did you find the most challenging?

A: We had to do an introduction sequence and I had to be walking. I had all the text memorised in my head, and we were doing it on the building site. We had to do it in one take and there were diggers, and dumper trucks, and just guys randomly driving round or  seagulls happening to one side. It would be very quiet and then half way through there would be this great almighty crash and we had to stop and do it again. Or I would forget what I was saying or I would miss-speak. I’d kick the ground in frustration and go back to the start, and do it again, so that was quite tricky but again, Peter and Jason were very patient. 

What are your feelings about the response to the documentary?

A: I was really pleased that people liked the form of communication. The thing that I was really pleased about, is people found it interesting enough and accessible because that's what we were trying to do. It's a big challenge with archaeology trying to find this level where you’re not being simplistic because people are much more clever than we give them credit for. People can follow complicated and difficult subjects but at the same time you want to be clear, so I was chuffed to bits that we had seemed to have found that level. I was very pleased that we got the history of Gloucester on a national stage. That was hugely important to me. 

 How do you feel about  the documentary being important in telling a previously little known part of Gloucester's story?

A: It's really good to have it out there telling the story because we struggle to tell people locally and nationally about Gloucester's amazing history. There is a lot going on in the city, there is a great story to tell there, and this is one way to do that. I really appreciate working with Squeaky Pedal on it. I think it's important and it's a great approach for Gloucester.

Would you be happy to work with Squeaky Pedal again in the future?

A: Yes very much so, I enjoyed working with them, they're nice guys, very professional. What was brilliant was that they gave me space to say what I felt I needed to say whilst keeping it ‘TV’. 

To watch Whitefriars: The Lost Priory of Gloucester, click here

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