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…

17 Comments to “Archaeology (2) How It COULD Be Done”

  1. greenwich sandwich says:

    Is there a local archeology group in or around Greenwich?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Not quite sure why Rosie thinks it would be the only building within the park. From 1433 there would be ample opportunity to build pavilions, stables, lodgings, barns, whatever, and pull them down again, some leaving much slighter traces than bricks and tiles. Then there is the question of how many people were displaced when the park was enclosed (we know about the road closure, of course). And with the earlier occupations, the whole of the park is an archaeological glory – worthy of being a World Heritage Site.

  3. scared of chives says:

    "…worthy of being a World Heritage Site"

    nah, much better to invite thousands of people, lorries and diggers – and loads of horses to gallop around the place…

  4. greenwichite says:

    Hi Phantom,

    On the topic of the Olympics mentioned in this post, I jsut recieved this email in repsonse to mine to LOCOG -

  5. greenwichite says:

    Dear Adam,

    Thank you for contacting London 2012.

    We are sorry to hear your concerns regarding the use of Greenwich Park as a venue for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and we appreciate you taking the time to email us.

    We wanted to take this opportunity to respond to the points you raised in your email and provide you with information that clarifies our plans.

    Access to Greenwich Park

    With regard to access to the Park in the years leading up to the Games and those following, we want to reassure you that the majority of the Park will remain open until July 2012. The total Park closure will only be four weeks, although the Children’s Playground and much of the Flower Garden will remain open every day, with the exception of the one day of the Cross Country event.

    In the lead up to the Games any preparation work in the Park will be kept to an absolute minimum. Park users will still be able to access the majority of the Park until July 2012. This will be subject to discussion with The Royal Parks who will monitor and supervise our activity.

    Subject to planning consent, all of the structures we would be putting in for the Games are temporary and would be removed by November 2012.

    After the Games, The Royal Parks will implement an Acid Grass Restoration and Enhancement programme, which will be funded by LOCOG. This is a substantial three-year programme to improve the quality and extent of the acid grassland in the Park, leaving a lasting legacy for Greenwich Park.

  6. greenwichite says:


    Protecting the Park

    Mitigation for all of our activity is built into all our plans and we are committed to returning the Park in the condition we receive it, or better, after the Games. We will be managed and supervised at all times by The Royal Parks.

    We understand your concerns about increased vehicle movements and the disruption this may cause in the borough. However, this was robustly assessed as part of our Transport Assessment within our planning application and this concluded that the vehicle movements associated with set-up and removal of the temporary venue would not have a discernible impact on the operation of the local highway network. We will work closely with the relevant authorities to ensure that any disruption is kept to an absolute minimum.

    You mention protection of the heritage of the Park and we want to assure you that we have been very clear in our planning application – if we find anything of archaeological significance, we will protect and record it in line with best practice national planning guidelines.

    We are committed to protecting the Park, and any items of historical importance that are discovered during our preparation for the Games. We will be guided and managed by the experts, including English Heritage, and The Royal Parks, and will have an archaeologist on site as part of our plans.

  7. greenwichite says:


    A legacy for Greenwich

    The legacy of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Equestrian Events in Greenwich Park will be to increase the global profile of the borough, inspiration for its residents, and to bring sport to a new audience across the borough and London.

    Moreover, the Children’s Playground in the Park will be upgraded and the local community will also benefit from new sports facilities and initiatives including a riding project. Hoof, the Olympic legacy project set up by the British Equestrian Federation has just announced that they will provide up to £200,000 of funding towards the construction of a new riding facility in Greenwich at Shooters Hill. This will not only introduce thousands of London children to horse riding, but will also provide educational and training opportunities – leaving a sporting, community and education legacy which will benefit Greenwich for years to come.

    Greenwich is already seeing tangible benefits of the Games coming to the Borough, benefitting from £80 million direct investment in the Docklands Light Railway contributing to the extension of a service to Woolwich and an increase of 50% in passenger capacity across the network by 2010, including the Lewisham branch through Greenwich.

    We believe that Greenwich Park will be a stunning venue for the Equestrian and Modern Pentathlon events in 2012. We take our responsibilities very seriously and our planning application shows the detailed work we have carried out on all aspects of our plans for Greenwich Park. We will make sure that we return the Park in the condition in which we receive it, and we have fully involved The Royal Parks and English Heritage in the development of all studies and plans.

    As you will know, we have now submitted our planning application to the London Borough of Greenwich Council and the planning application is available in the public domain on our website and for you to comment upon to the London Borough of Greenwich.

    Thank you again for your email we have passed your views on to our team. We hope that you find this information helpful.

    Yours sincerely,

    London 2012 Team

    PS, sorry about havving to split it up!

  8. Anonymous says:

    Oh yes, S of C, silly me. I was forgetting that option, with – possibly – a T shirt and baseball cap to remind us of the glory of the three days.

    Anon 12.14

  9. scared of chives says:

    @ anon 12:14

    I wonder what the T-shirt could have on it "Greenwich Park 2012 – royally ****ed"

    Perhaps we should run a design competition?

  10. Sunay Modesto Khan says:

    Aha! So that's where I left me bricks! My rockery will be the best in Blackeaf once I get 'em back…

  11. Indigo says:

    From the LOCOG message quoted by greenwichite,

    "to £200,000 of funding towards the construction of a new riding facility in Greenwich at Shooters Hill. "

    This news has been received badly by Mudchute and the Ebony Horse Club riding school (in Brixton). Mudchute is located in a "Olympic borough" which is also one of the most deprived areas of London and yet has been overlooked for legacy funding; 34% of Mudchute's riding clients come from south of the River; and Ebony Horse Club will not open in October 2011 if it can't find another £600,000.

    It is a real kick in the teeth to these two, to set up a direct competitor with free money. Also, it looks as if £200,000 won't go very far. More window-dressing, if you ask me.

  12. kate says:

    I wondered what £200k would buy in the riding facilities line – not my area of shopping expertise – but I suspect not very much.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Couldn't seen anything in the Independent on Sunday. Was I looking on the wrong pages?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Maybe we'll have to ask Seb Coe and the demolition crew to photograph any items of historical importance they uncover when they dig the park up next year. Or perhaps if they do find anything they'll just ignore it rather than have the trouble and time wasting of investigating it. Once the Olympics circus has been to town we won't have to worry about there being anything of historical importance being found in good condition in the park again. Its always such a good idea to erect huge stadiums on sites of historical importance – just wait til next year when Greece opens a Tesco in the Acropolis. Oh, sorry, its only here in the UK that we don't care about our heritage

  15. methers says:

    I think many of felt saddened that Greenwich Council passed the planning application for the Olympic events in Greenwich Park, but had our fears for the park tempered by the number of planning conditions which the council attached to the application. At least someone would be keeping a eye on LOCOG and making sure they looked after the park properly.

    Update: LOCOG has applied to have a whole swath of planning conditions removed.

    I’ve yet to check through all those conditions to see what they refer to, but my opinion so far is:


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