Archaeology (1) How It SHOULD Be Done
I’m excited today, folks. I’ve just heard that the University of Greenwich is to begin a proper archaeological excavation of the Stockwell Street site. After so much heartache last year with the death of the village market, at last something good is happening – something that has been hotly anticipated ever since John Stone called for a dig in his seminal 1914 lecture to the Greenwich Antiquarian Society.
The university is currently waiting for the bizarrely-monikered Heneghan Peng architects to come up with a plan for the new building – which, if it isn’t truly innovative, exciting and architecturally meritorious, will not only be an embarrassment to Greenwich but a really bad advert for the Architectural School, so I’m holding out great hope.
But before they do anything that means getting out the buckets and spades, they’re going to be doing some pretty exhaustive surveys -geological, ecological, and the one that interests me, archaeological.
Obviously, the current buildings will have to go. Though to lose some of ‘scruffy Greenwich’ tugs at my heart strings – for me over-smartening the area will lose its character – we really can’t save everything. Besides, I’m desperate to know what’s underneath…
So bye-bye to those grungily-fab warehouses, seedily secretive stores and the uber-groovy Bee Gee garage. I didn’t know that was its name – I just thought it was an Esso job – but there it is in the 1976 pic below, courtesy, as above (from 1937) of Greenwich Heritage Centre. I’m not entirely sure what the little arrows are for.) Can’t you just see Barry tossing his layered, golden curls around the collar of his grease-spotted designer overalls before offering you a fill-up, whilst Maurice gives your big end a quick polish and Robin sells you a Magic Tree? Oooh-er, Missus. Sorry. Saturday Morning Fever seems to have struck at Phantom Towers…
They’re not sure if the old petrol tanks are still underneath the forecourt of the seventies supergroup’s day job, but if necessary, an expert team will carry out the clean up.
I’m told that “in order to preserve the streetscape for as long as possible, two large blocks on the frontage of Stockwell Street, John Humphries House and the disused storage unit at number 18-19, will remain standing for the time being.” Now, I have to say that John Humphries House has never really been part of the streetscape that I’ve ever thought worth preserving. If it was up to me, I’d rather look at hoardings than that ghastly, merit-free structure. I mean – it’s not as if we’re not used to hoardings round here at the moment.
Before they can start the fun bit of digging holes comes the boring stuff, like rubbish-clearing buildings surveys, sorting out services such as water, gas and electricity and detailed studies of the area (take one guess as to why the Phantom didn’t become an archaeologist…) They’ve already done much of the really tedious stuff, apparently, and are very nearly ready to start the exciting test pits to look at the archaeology of the site, which has been in use since at least the medieval period. They tell me
“Initial research indicates that building work over the centuries, and war-time bombs, have destroyed evidence from early periods, but the university will pay special attention to what remains of the 19th century maltings, which once supplied ale to the Spread Eagle Tavern.”
Coo-er. I’ve been promised a copy of the initial appraisal of the project, which will include some idea of what they think they might find, with some records of previous digs and some historical maps (they asked if I “might be interested?” Derrr!) They’re also going to be keeping us updated of anything they find – so watch this space.