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MoLAS 2003: annual review

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Selected projects 2002/3: Excavation

Capability statement: Excavation

Monkston Park (BU-MOK02)

 Monkston Park (© MoLAS)

Clients: English Partnerships

Author: Elizabeth Howe

Site supervisor: Simon Davis and Raoul Bull

MoLAS was commissioned to carry out archaeological excavations of three selected areas of the Monkston Park site, following previous evaluations of the site by Albion Archaeology and Northamptonshire Archaeology.

The site at Monkston Park had already produced exciting archaeological artefacts with the discovery of five Bronze Age gold torques and a hoard of Roman coins, which were found when the access roads for the site were constructed. The torques and the pottery vessel in which they were placed are displayed in the British Museum.

Monkston Park is situated to the south of Central Milton Keynes but, although the area around is gradually being built up, the site comprised a rural landscape. The excavated areas represent c one third of the total area of the 30ha site. A team of 12 MoLAS archaeologists plus support staff carried out the excavations over the winter of 2002–03 in, at times, appalling weather conditions. The largest of the three excavated areas was particularly low-lying and, as a result of very heavy rainfall, the area was under water for several weeks. Freezing conditions, which rendered the area inaccessible, exacerbated this. However, the team´s spirits were raised by the presence of songbirds and birds of prey, which flew over the site.

The site had greater survival of archaeological features than was apparent from the evaluations, including two unknown Roman cremation cemeteries. As the areas of excavation were stripped, the archaeological features were recorded using Pen Map, an on-site digital data capture. This allowed site plans to be produced rapidly during the excavations.

Archaeological evidence included several large Roman enclosures dating from the 1st to the 3rd century AD. Dating of the enclosures suggests that the settlement moved from north to south, down to the lower ground during this period. In addition to the enclosures at least one stone building was recorded, along with possible timber framed buildings. Two structures may represent corn driers.

The post-excavation reporting phase is underway and it is anticipated that the results of the excavation will be published either as a MoLAS Studies Paper or in a regional archaeological journal. The site is to be marketed following the successful completion of the archaeological works.

Spitalfields Charnel House (SRP98)

 Spitalfields Charnel House (© MoLAS)

Clients: Spitalfields Development Group

Author: Chris Thomas

Site supervisors: Andy Daykin, Nick Holder

A medieval charnel house, a repository for storing bones, was found surviving to a remarkable degree of preservation at Spitalfields in 1999. Although Scheduled Ancient Monument consent to excavate all the archaeological deposits had been granted by DCMS, it was felt that such a rare and well-preserved building should be preserved and displayed to the public.

Consequently, Foster and Partners came up with an innovative design which would allow for the monument to be viewed in its own separate chamber beneath the proposed offices and square. However, to achieve this, major foundations and bridging beams were required which entailed excavating parts of the surviving medieval cemetery and removing small sections of one wall of the charnel house to provide space for supports for the floor above. The excavation provided convincing proof that the mass burial pits that had been excavated previously were earlier in date than the charnel house and that, indeed, the charnel house might have been built to accommodate the large number of bones that were being disturbed. The period when the mass burial pits were in use probably dates to c 1300 and we currently think that the large number of deaths may have been the result of famine. The charnel house was built shortly afterwards, perhaps c 1320.

The charnel house has now been consolidated by Holden Conservation and construction has started on a new multi-million pound office development which will regenerate a large area of east London. The preserved charnel house will, once the development is complete, provide workers, residents and visitors with a positive reminder of the rich history of the district.

RAF Fairford (GL-FAD03)

 RAF Fairford (© MoLAS)

Clients: Alfred McAlpine Construction Ltd/Warings/Lawrence

Author: D Seeley

Site supervisor: S Hoad

Following the upgrading of the main runway, taxiways, stands and services around the airbase, with the results of the excavations and watching briefs now being prepared for publication, further development within the airbase has been ongoing since June 2003. A new maintenance hanger and stand for B2 aircraft are being installed on the north side of the base and a new fuel installation is being built within the north-eastern loop.

The archaeological work involves the monitoring of topsoil stripping over areas up to 1ha across and assessment of the extent of archaeological remains that occur within those areas. High densities of archaeological deposits are subject to excavation prior to handing the areas back to the main contractor.

The significant discovery in the area of the B2 hanger and stand was a large stone basin or trough with a drain hole carved from a single piece of shelly limestone, which had been deliberately broken into five pieces and deposited in a well when it was being backfilled. The basin or trough is thought to be of Roman date. Its origin is unclear as there is no evidence for any Roman occupation in the vicinity.

In the new fuel installation, areas of topsoil stripping have revealed numerous features of Iron Age or Romano-British date including part of a double ditched enclosure. The results are further evidence for the occupation of the area during these periods as witnessed on other nearby sites. Monitoring work will continue to the end of 2003.

The project has been successful in dealing the archaeological remains during the construction programme without causing any impact on the critical path of the overall programme duration.

Blows Yard, Winchester Square (BYI03)

 Blows Yard, Winchester Square (© MoLAS)

Clients: Fisherking Developments Ltd

Author: D Seeley

Site supervisor: Bruce Watson

A small site being redeveloped to house an electricity substation to provide power for a number of new buildings in the vicinity is within the precinct of the medieval Winchester Palace, London residence of the bishops of Winchester from the mid 12th to mid 17th centuries. The area to the north and east of the site are within the Winchester Palace Scheduled Ancient Monument, and include the remains of the hall, of which the west wall with rose window and part of the south wall with doorways still survive to roof level, the kitchen range, and the east, west and south ranges that enclose the internal courtyard to the south of the hall, that is still reflected by modern Winchester Square.

Previous evaluation of the site revealed a medieval masonry wall directly beneath the east boundary of the site, a wall that may be part of the west range enclosing the internal courtyard, and Roman deposits in sequence from the early through to the late Roman period. A single square base constructed of reused tile was the only evidence for Roman structures.

Following the insertion of contiguous mini piles to form the perimeter wall of the basement level substation and during ground level reduction to the surface of the archaeological deposits recognised in the evaluation, a substantial medieval wall foundation constructed with mortared stone was revealed. It ran west from the southwest corner of Winchester Square and returned to the north towards the kitchen range. These foundations are interpreted as part of a previously unknown room or range of rooms, built on the outside face of the west range.

The Blows yard excavation is one of a number of redevelopment sites within the former Winchester Palace precinct which have had to combine requirements of preservation in situ of medieval structural remains and engineering solutions, to put forward schemes which are desirable to regenerate the area but which also protect and manage the nationally and locally important heritage.

Merton and Bennetts Mill (MMY99)

 Merton and Bennetts Mill (© MoLAS)

Clients: Countryside Properties Plc/Copthorn Homes

Author: D Seeley

Site supervisor: D Saxby

This large redevelopment site lies within the precinct of Merton Priory to the south of the priory church excavated in the 1980s and the chapter house, which is currently preserved in situ in a room beneath Merantun Way. Part of the area is designated a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The development proposals are for a mixed use development to include a hotel and leisure centre, residential blocks, restaurants and heritage centre.

For over four years various methods of assessment have been used to determine the location and quality of the archaeological remains that might be present on site, particularly those relating to the medieval priory. Using that information, the project team devised a redevelopment scheme that preserved all medieval structural remains in situ and minimised the impact on other significant archaeological deposits where possible. An appropriate mitigation strategy in other areas where preservation in situ was not possible was prepared to ensure the archaeological deposits were adequately investigated and recorded.

The first phase of development commenced in October 2002 and is ongoing. In advance of ground works the site of Bennett´s Mill, built in 1802 and an important feature of the industrial mill complex on the River Wandle, was excavated. The mill was latterly associated with Liberty & Co. The entire ground plan of the mill building including the mill race was recorded, providing evidence for the activities carried out within this particular building. Dye vat furnaces, a dye paddle, textile fragments and the remains of dye plants all confirm dye production on the ground floor of Bennett´s Mill.

In advance of piling for the hotel and leisure complex, an area known from previous evaluation to contain dumped painted medieval window glass was excavated. This was an opportunity to recover more evidence for the window decoration and possibly other elements of the structural appearance of Merton Priory, which was largely demolished c 1538 and many of the materials used by Henry VIII to construct Nonsuch Palace. Medieval window glass with lettering or stylised borders was recovered along with stone architectural fragments. Other medieval items include part of a preserved wattle fence panel, head of a wooden shovel, floor and roof tiles, stone mortar and iron key.

The redevelopment continues into early 2004 and is an example of a multi-disciplinary project team working towards a design that would allow development of the site, whilst also preserving and managing the heritage of local to national importance.

City Lit, Keeley Street (KEL00)

 City Lit, Keeley Street (© MoLAS)

Clients: City Lit

Authors: Elizabeth Howe and Bruce Watson

Site supervisor: Bruce Watson

MoLAS carried out an archaeological excavation in advance of redevelopment of the City Lit's Keeley Street campus. The college buildings comprised a 19th-century former school and a 1950s–60s classroom block. The Keeley Street campus is an important part of the City Lit, an adult education facility. The new development will provide teaching facilities including music rooms, teaching rooms and tutorial rooms.

Following archaeological investigations of the site by MoLAS in 2000 an archaeological mitigation strategy was proposed. After demolition of the college buildings in 2002 and prior to the commencement of piling and construction, the excavation of selected areas of the site took place during July and August 2003. The Keeley Street site is in the London Borough of Camden and is located towards the periphery of the Middle Saxon settlement of Lundenwic (7th–9th century AD).

A team of up to six MoLAS archaeologists carried out the excavations over four weeks and revealed evidence of Lundenwic and 18th-century tenements.

The Saxon features consisted of one probable well, a number of cess and rubbish pits, and structural evidence consisting of shallow postholes. There were two superimposed areas of gravel yard metalling, plus external dumps of rubbish, including dumps of daub and charcoal. Saxon finds included fragments of loom weights and quern stones. During the medieval period the site would have been fields and this is represented by a thick accumulation of agricultural soil deposits.

In c 1630 a large residence known as 'Wild House' was built on the western portion of the site, while within the eastern portion of the site (where the excavations were carried out) formal gardens were laid out. The gardens are represented by the later topsoil horizons present on site.

During the 18th century 'Wild House' was replaced by rows of small, brick-built cellared houses, which remained in use until the late 19th century. The cellar walls of these houses and their internal features, including one well, several drains and various brick-lined cesspits, were well preserved. Finds from these features included masses of domestic pottery and a gold finger ring.

An open day on site was organised for staff of the City Lit and local community groups. Site tours were given by the supervisor, Bruce Watson, with a display of finds presented by the pottery specialist, Nigel Jeffries. Visitors to the site included local residents from the Peabody Trust housing and people from the adjacent buildings.

12 Arthur Street (AUT01)

 12 Arthur Street (© MoLAS)

Clients: Shieldpoint Ltd.

Author: Nick Bateman

Site supervisor: Dan Swift

Planning consent for a new commercial development at 12 Arthur Street was granted, with conditions attached for the preservation of all important Roman archaeology except where new piling was absolutely necessary. Working with Arups, the client developed a scheme that limited horizontal truncation of archaeological deposits to a bare minimum, whilst still achieving the desired new building.

The challenge for MoLAS was considerable. On the one hand, this part of the City contains some of the best surviving Roman archaeology and represented one of the last possible chances to investigate the development of the Roman harbour; on the other hand, excavation was, in the main, limited to some 30 rectangular shafts for new concrete piles, so it amounted to a very partial jigsaw puzzle.

The project extended over several months, in two principal phases, with evaluation leading seamlessly into excavation, followed by watching briefs. Up to 20 staff were employed at any time on the project, which lasted until summer 2002. The results were both visually spectacular – Roman buildings, mosaics, timber beams from the quays – and intellectually stimulating. In spite of the limitations of key-hole archaeology, the site has provided a vital `missing link´ relating the archaeological sequence of the Roman harbour as understood from recent sites to the west, with the sequence revealed at earlier excavations to the east in the late 1970s and 80s which first exposed the quays, warehouses, alleys and drains of the port of Roman London.

21 Lime Street (LME01)

21 Lime Street (© MoLAS)

Clients: Afon Properties Ltd/Nant Properties Ltd

Author: Sophie Jackson

Site supervisor: Lesley Dunwoodie

In April this year the excavation phase of one of the longest running and the smallest archaeological sites in the City came to an end. The Museum of London first became involved with 21 Lime Street in 1987, carrying out evaluation in 1990 and 2001. This site, tucked away at southern edge of Leadenhall market, has proved to be one of the more technically complex digs and also one of the most revealing.

The site lies over the eastern wing of the second Roman forum, which was the commercial and administrative heart of Roman London, constructed between 100–130 AD. Amazingly, very little controlled excavation has taken place within the forum ranges within the last 70 years and very little now survives of it. 21 Lime Street represented possibly the last chance to answer questions about what actually happened in the forum. Because of the rarity and importance of the archaeology, the Corporation of London and the project team made strenuous efforts to preserve as much as possible and to excavate only those areas where new foundations were essential.

The results have been very impressive. Different ranges and rooms have been identified together with sequences of floor surfaces, including the substantial opus signinum floor of the outer portico, the covered walkway around the forum. This floor was repaired on several occasions and then replaced altogether with further layers of gravel and mortar floors. Between the uppermost mortar floors there was evidence of metalworking, possibly indicating a change of use in the complex. It is hoped that the detailed analysis of the material from the site will help to answer questions about the use and decline of the forum as a public complex.

National Gallery, east wing project (NAN01)

 National Gallery, east wing project (© MoLAS)

Clients: The National Gallery

Author: Gordon Malcolm

Site supervisor: Alison Telfer

The National Gallery has long been known as an important site on the western fringe of the Middle Saxon town of Lundenwic. Previous work around the gallery and in the adjacent National Portrait Gallery has identified evidence for extensive quarrying of gravel and a possible farmstead at the edge of the town.

The east wing project is part of a major upgrade of facilities at the National Gallery including, in particular, a new refreshment area situated within one of the light wells. Evaluation work at the site had suggested that this area might be relatively undisturbed since the erection of the Barry fabric in the 1870s.

Provision for an archaeological excavation was made in the construction programme with a team of about five experienced MoLAS staff under the direction of Alison Telfer. The original aims of the project were targeted primarily on the recovery of evidence for the Middle Saxon town and especially on the question of whether any change between the urban area and the rural hinterland could be detected at the site. The results in this respect were rather disappointing, as there were relatively few Middle Saxon features and these were restricted to pits and similar features, since the truncation was greater than had been hoped. However, there were some interesting finds including a bone needle, a thread picker, spindle whorl and part of an articulated cow carcass.

This truncation was in the form of a succession of post-medieval wall foundations, drains and cesspits, which provided a glimpse into the more recent development at the site. On the northern side of the excavation area a part of the St Martin´s Workhouse was preserved, affording archaeologists with a precise location for a building known previously only from olds maps and documentary references. Outside the line of this building were the remains of De´s Court, the 18th- to 19th-century street that connected St Martins Lane to what were St George´s barracks. All that remained of the street were some of the culverts and drains, including one particularly large example thought to be contemporary with the workhouse. This culvert was largely intact and was left in situ for reuse as part of the new development scheme: a fitting tribute to the skilled craftsmanship of Victorian labour.

On the south side of the street fragments of 17th- to 18th-century tenements survived with associated cesspits. One of these has produced a very fine collection of glass pieces including wine and pharmaceutical bottles from the 18th century, and an important group of late 17th-century beakers, glasses and bowls in the Venetian style but with some Low Countries/German influences. The assemblage has caused great interest amongst acknowledged glass specialists as being of international significance, covering as it does the period of change from imported material to the development of new working methods in England. Analysis of the material is still in progress but the location of the cesspit suggests that the assemblage may have derived from the site of the Royal Mews and its publication is awaited with interest.

The project has been a model of good practice, showing the value of planning for archaeology well in advance of construction works. The results have provided clear evidence of the contrast that has always existed in London between the destitute occupants of the workhouse on one side of the street and those across the way who discarded a collection of what may be one of the finest archaeological assemblages of glass yet excavated in the capital.

Ashford Hospital (Surrey) (SU-ASH02)

 Ashford Hospital (Surrey) (© MoLAS)

Clients: United House

Site supervisor: Bob Cowie

A desk-based assessment and subsequent field evaluation of the redevelopment proposals for the nursing accommodation at Ashford Hospital identified the presence of prehistoric features on the site. At the request of Surrey CC, excavation was undertaken in advance of construction in a part of the site previously under grass.

The selected part of the site was stripped using a tracked excavator and a small excavation team then identified and sampled the features exposed. An area of approximately 2,000m2 was examined and nearly 200 features were plotted. Work continued through Nov and Dec 2002.

The features dated to the Neolithic to Bronze Age and comprised a series of field boundaries and watering holes. The discoveries were consistent with the pattern of landscape development seen elsewhere on the west London gravels and can be compared to discoveries made at nearby sites such as Feltham Yoi and Heathrow. Despite less than clement weather, the excavation was completed on time and the site was made available to the client to commence construction in Jan 2003.

An ongoing watching brief aims to examine those parts of the site not examined in the excavation which have been shown to have archaeological potential.

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