Greenwich Archaeology Day

On a strategic position on the river, with its high ground overlooking the broad Thames landscape, Greenwich has seen plenty of activity in the past 10,000 years. Today, its stunning history, archaeology, river, museums and park, make this World Heritage Site easily one of the best days out in London.

Greenwich foreshore (Alice Kershaw)

The CBA London archaeology day in Greenwich was so popular it was fully booked with a waiting list. Trustees Andrew Dismore, Lorna Richardson and Becky Wallower were on hand to welcome members and others to the day of walks and talks around the World Heritage Site. They were joined by Julian Bowsher – Greenwich expert, senior archaeologist at Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) and local resident – and Graham Kenlin, finds processing specialist at MOLA.

Starting in the morning to catch the low tide, the group spread out across the foreshore to spot the medieval (or earlier?) and Tudor structures that have been emerging in recent years and to do a bit of mudlarking, supervised by Lorna. Despite a bit of a muddy film over part of the shore, just about everyone found fragments of stoneware bellarmine jugs, including one with the trademark bearded figure and another with a crest. Plenty of other pottery sherds, mainly from the 16th through 19th centuries were discovered as well – including some pieces that even puzzled Graham (though we think it was some probably kiln furniture). Animal bones, shells, pipe stems, tiles and bricks were abundant too.

Discovering the Anglo‐Saxon burial mounds  (Jan Drew) 

The foreshore finds were then put into the context of centuries of occupation on the land above at a series of sites. First, Julian led us on a trip around what essentially became a virtual Tudor palace, built in our imaginations through his interpretations. He recounted the evidence from decades of excavations, describing how the original palace of Placentia had grown into a favoured royal residence, pointing out where Henry VIII would have been born and married, tournaments held, stables developed and gardens planted. The small but fascinating archaeology section of the new Discover Greenwich visitor centre added the physical evidence of finds and structural material, and a film of Julian himself.

After lunch and a swift hike up to the top of the park, Becky related the tale of the discovery and interpretation of the remains of the Roman temple lying under the surface there. First excavated in 1902 and further explored in 1978-79, by CBAL Trustee Harvey Sheldon (with Brian Yule) and 1999, by Time Team, the site had been published by Becky in London Archaeologist, She was able to place members of the group to form a living Romano British temple with ambulatory and give an indication of its scale, sited, as it was, on a prominent mound near to both Watling Street, the Roman road from Kent, and the river approaches. Finds typical of the site were available for handling and discussion by Graham, and a good discussion developed on the Roman road and possible reason for the temple’s location and the preponderance of coins found there (some 500). Finally, the group gathered in the hot sun to look at the 26 remaining Anglo-Saxon burial mounds and hear news of the Olympic equestrian events that would circle the area.