Archaeology (2) How It COULD Be Done
It’s an ill wind that blows no one any good, isn’t it. Or in this case, ill rain. While the rest of us were cursing that bloomin’ awful weather last August, over in a secret location in Greenwich Park, Rosie was getting rather excited.
The soil is so thin up on the hills there, that given a bit of footfall – or, in this case, rainfall, stuff starts to appear. Greenwich has been occupied at least since Roman times, probably before that, and you just never know when – or where – curiosities will turn up. In this case, it was a double line of what looks like medieval bricks.
Rosie started photographing them when she realised that these weren’t just random – that they, along with hundreds of shards of broken tiles, formed a sort of zig-zag pattern and extended for about 50 feet. She’s kindly sent me a few pictures – it’s worth clicking on a couple of them to see a bit more closely.)
Now. At this point I confess I would have just assumed that it was already recorded and that “someone” had done proper excavations and all the history stuff. Happily, Rosie wasn’t as complacent as I would have been (a lesson for us all.) She asked around, and realised that no experts she knew had any idea about it. She read whatever she could but found nothing mentioned. No map records anything at all there, and since the earliest plan is from 1676, it looks as though whatever was built there must be earlier (or too unimportant to be recorded, of course.)
Last week, a friend of hers suggested she ask an independent brick expert about the probable age of the shards. He said that in his judgement they are “in all probability Tudor.” BTW I read the other day that Tudor bricks are so small because they used to be sold per brick, as opposed to per square yard. The smaller the bricks, the more you had to buy.
“It’s been suggested that they might have come from the Tudor palace by the river after it was demolished,” says Rosie, “but this didn’t happen till after 1676 so is unlikely. It’s odds on that we are looking at the remains of a Tudor structure of some kind, in which case it will be the only one in the Park – apart from some underground conduits.”
If this is the case, it’s extremely exciting stuff. I don’t know where exactly the remains are – the site’s already in a very fragile state and Rosie’s keen not to have too much human (or equine) trampling with all the terrible weather we’ve been having. “Bits of tile are already getting kicked around so it needs some protection urgently,” she says.
But if nothing’s ever been found there before it just goes to show how historically fecund the park is – anything could turn up anywhere at any time.
So – what’s going to happen to it? Well – you can probably imagine that there’s nothing in the way of any cash to actually excavate the site, though English Heritage would like to see a community volunteer project supervised by a professional archaeologist to examine the site more closely, record it and then either cover it over or perhaps leave it fenced. It would then be available for proper excavation if/when the money became available.
That sounds like a plan to me – I’m pretty sure there are Phantomites out there who’d be interested in joining a project like that (especially if it was weekend-based, rather than weekday when so many people are at work…)
The Park is owned and managed by Royal Parks which are a sub-set of the DCMS but, perhaps surprisingly for such a very historic site, they have no-one specifically responsible for the archaeology as far as Rosie knows. English Heritage have no jurisdiction over it, their role is purely advisory. So – it seems that it’s up to the new Greenwich Park Manager, Graham Dear, to use his discretion over what to do about this new site. Let’s hope he does the right thing during his watch.
The obvious question is whether it’s in immediate danger from the Olympic plans. “It’s not on the route of the cross country as currently published,” says Rosie, “so shouldn’t be affected by the grass enhancement measures they plan to begin on as soon as they’ve got planning permission. There might be an issue over whether it should be surrounded by a spectator exclusion zone like the one promised for the Saxon barrows but that can wait until it’s been decided how best to protect the site.”
There’s more, apparently, to be read about the find in next Sunday’s Independent. What’s really important to remember though, is that this isn’t just a random event. Greenwich Park teems with history and we have no idea what’s lying just under the surface. It’s up to us, now, to make sure that there’s something left for future generations to discover…