Dig This

Jane asks:

“There is a large area which has been demolished in Greenwich High Road between the abandoned pub and the petrol station near the corner of Blackheath Hill. Roughly opposite the’ Golden Chippy.’ Something very old has obviously been uncovered there as the foundations are visible and it looks like they have been carefully excavated. I would be very interested to know what this find is. I have asked people who live locally and have searched on the internet, but can’t find any information.”

The Phantom replies:

The problem with finding up-to-date news about digs, especially where commercial construction firms have been obliged by law to bring in the archaeologists before they can actually build anything, is that the information is pretty sensitive stuff. They have to get the historians in, but they’re hoping against hope that nothing of interest will be discovered – it’s not only very, very expensive for them to do at all, but if something fab is found (as with the tide mill at Lovell’s Wharf) then the building work can be held up for months – or even years – as the place is investigated.

In some cases, the find is so important that the entire design of the new place has to be changed – off the top of my head, I’m thinking about the extra thick glass panel that had to be built over the medieval charnel house at Spitalfields or, even more extreme, the entire layer-cake of new levels that had to be built under the Guildhall to envelop the Roman Amphitheatre. That one held up proceedings for years.

The last thing that companies want is for the public’s imagination to be captured. So although digs have to be done, they starve them of any publicity they can – and I’m not entirely sure that the information isn’t formally classified. Maybe someone can clarify that for me?

Certainly I can find no record whatsoever of any commercial digs at all in London that have been carried out in the past couple of years by the Museum of London Archaeological Service, though digs are clearly going on all over the shop. (The Olympic site at Stratford is a bit of a special case – in that instance, they’re desperate for any good publicity they can get…)

So yes – I’ve been applying a spectral eye to the gaps in the gates at that site myself (I’m assuming it’s part of the water works (?) but what it used to be is anyone’s guess) but I have no idea what they’ve found. I always find the best people to ask are the actual workmen on sites like this. I generally prefer the Bob-the-Builder types than the real archaeologists – they’re usually happy for an excuse to chat – but I’ve never seemed to be passing whenever there are people there to grill.

Maybe someone here knows what’s being dug up – it’s just possible local historians will have been involved and can give us some clues (if you fancy spilling some beans, guys, your anonymity will be preserved, as always…)

However, in the meantime, I have found an interesting site that you may enjoy while we’re waiting to hear some news. It seems that after two years, official site reports are published by the Museum of London Archaeological Service; here is the list of Greenwich results.

Happy digging…

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