Newsletter-458-May-2009 – HADAS Newsletter Archive

HADAS DIARY: Forthcoming Lectures and Events

Tuesday 12th May: The Guildhall Roman Amphitheatre Stephen Brunning

Twenty-one years ago, archaeologists encountered a strange, curving wall at the very bottom of a trench that had been dug to explore London’s mediaeval Guildhall. Soon they realised they had stumbled upon a Roman amphitheatre: a building which conjured up visions of gladiatorial combat or religious persecution, and whose location had been the subject of antiquarian speculation for centuries. In this lecture we shall see how the amphitheatre was gradually uncovered, rebuilt on paper as a complete structure, and eventually opened to the public in a special gallery beneath the Guildhall Art Gallery.

The speaker, Francis Grew, is curator of archaeology at the Museum of London. He visited the amphitheatre excavations on many occasions and regularly leads tours of the surviving remains. He has ‘a particular interest in Roman art, religion and inscriptions, and has just completed editing a catalogue of Roman sculpture from Southeast England.

Tuesday 9th June: Annual General Meeting

Wednesday 8th July: Outing to Syon Park (see separate application form)

Wednesday 26th August to Sunday 30th August inclusive — HADAS long weekend in Hereford

Andrew Saunders by Peter Pickering

One of our distinguished vice-presidents, Andrew Saunders, died on March 23rd at the age of 77. He became a vice-president in 1973, at which time he lived in New Barnet. He had an international reputation as a historian of Britain’s coastal defences — in January 1976 he lectured to us on the subject of Napoleonic Defences and Martello Towers — though his major excavation project was at Launceston Castle in Cornwall. From 1970 to 1989 he was Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings — a post which no longer exists, having been abolished in 1989 as part of the trend to elevate management over professional expertise. In retirement he lived in Battle, and it was in the Great Hall of Battle Abbey that one of our other vice-presidents, Andrew Selkirk, attended the memorial celebration for him.

Membership Matters by Stephen Brunning

Renewals from members who pay by cheque have been arriving steadily. Many thanks to everyone who has already paid. Having the money banked by 5th April is a great help as it means we can claim the Gift Aid from the Inland Revenue this financial year. We do, of course, need a signed Gift

Aid Declaration to reclaim the tax on the subscriptions, and just over half the membership has done this. Gift Aid is worth in the region of £400 to us.

If you intend to pay by cheque this year and have not already returned the renewal form, I would be most grateful if you could do so as soon as possible. To request a Gift Aid form, or for any other membership queries, please contact me (details on the back page). Thank you.

The Royal Gunpowder Mills, Waltham Abbey by Peter Nicholson

The March lecture by Richard Thomas started with a brief history of gunpowder. In the 9th century China’s experiments with a variety of mixtures led initially to the making of fireworks and then to the first military use of gunpowder in about 1100. Inevitably news of this invention spread to Europe and in Britain Friar Roger Bacon experimented to find out the best proportions of the three constituents — saltpetre, charcoal and sulphur. He considered the knowledge to be so dangerous that he recorded the results in code in a document which still survives in the British Library. The first British military use was in bombards at Crecy in 1346. But they were less effective than bows and arrows and self-evidently remained so until some time after Agincourt in 1415.

A map of 1590 shows a fulling mill at the Waltham Abbey site, using the abundant water power provided by the River Lea. In 1640 this was converted to a powder mill. At that time, here and elsewhere, the manufacture of gunpowder was a private enterprise, but in 1787 the mill was bought by the government for £10,000 and £35,000 was spent on refurbishment and redevelopment.

Many precautions were taken to avoid explosions, but inevitably some occurred and lives were lost. The most dangerous process was the grinding together of the three components to form an intimate mixture. This was done by six-ton edge-running rollers, Initially water-powered, but after 1856 steam-powered by beam engines. The buildings where this was carried out, and others where gunpowder was handled and stored, were surrounded by earth banks or walls so that the force of any explosion was diverted upwards. Employees wore clothing and footwear designed to avoid harbouring grit which might cause sparks. It was necessary for transport round the site to be as smooth as possible. At first boats were used on an internal waterway system which was extended to a length of 10 miles. Later a narrow gauge railway was introduced, on which trucks on wooden wheels on wooden rails were moved by hand. Ultimately, metal wheels and rails were allowed and in 1916 a battery-powered locomotive was provided.

In the 19th century new explosives such as gun cotton and nitroglycerine were invented and the site was greatly expanded to accommodate their production. The, chemical reaction to produce nitro­glycerine was extremely hazardous. If the reaction mixture became either too hot or too cold it was likely to explode. A man was assigned to watch the thermometer continuously and to help his concentration he was given a one-legged stool to sit on.

During World War I the factory worked at maximum capacity with women providing over half the workforce. During World War II the manufacturing of explosives was stopped because of the greatly increased risk of bombing. In 1945 the site was converted to a research establishment which finally closed in 1991.

After decontamination the historic northern part was opened as a museum and visitor attraction. The southern extension was sold to provide an endowment, but unfortunately the proceeds were not well invested and, with a limited staff, it is only possible to open at weekends and a few other days. There is an exhibition and a 20 minute film and on many weekends social events are planned (see some listed under Other Societies’ Events, at back).

A tailpiece to last year’s long weekend at Beverley by Don Cooper

One of the surprises from our visit to the Hull Streetlife Museum was one of the largest thermometers I have ever seen. It was advertising Steven’s Ink – yes, he of Avenue House. It was on a reconstructed street of cobbled stones and replica shops including a chemist’s, grocer’s, bike shop, etc. The eight foot high thermometer stood outside the chemist’s shop and is another surviving relic of the Stephen’s Ink empire. Don’t forget to visit the Stephen’s Ink museum at Avenue House and see more exhibits from that great era.

Reappraisal of the Battle of Barnet 1471 by Don Cooper

Brian Warren, one of our members and a notable researcher, has produced this excellent booklet, which brings together for review all the known sources for the battle, ancient and modern. Brian reviews each reference with copious maps and diagrams and provides a fascinating overview of the tricky issue of where, on the actual ground, did the Battle of Barnet take place. This booklet should be required reading for all those interested in the history of Barnet. The booklet is published by the Potters Bar and District Historical Society and can be obtained for £2 plus £1 postage and packing from Mrs Mabel Hammett, 4 Heath Cottages, Heath Road, Potters Bar, Herts EN6 1LS.

Another Plea for Help by Don Cooper

Our Birkbeck course has been processing the finds from the HADAS dig at Burroughs Gardens in 1972. We have compared the diary entries with the finds we still have and it is clear we are missing a substantial number! Where are they? If anybody has a clue, or even a memory of what we kept, please give me a call on my phone number. 020 8440 4350.

Thanks very much.

Ancient Barnet from Brian Warren

Another proof of the antiquity of that part of Barnet which lies around the church has recently been brought to light by workmen who have commenced operations on the new building for the London and County Bank. In digging down to get space for a strong room, traces of ancient masonry were found. These consisted of large flints set in hard mortar which for a long time resisted pick and crowbar. The contractor, Mr PJ Baughten, a very competent judge of masonry, thinks the wall resembles in many respects the wall of Richborough Castle and also may be of Roman origin. (Barnet Press, 16.11.1878). I wonder what it really was?

British Museum: New Medieval Gallery

The British Museum has recently opened the Paul and Jill Ruddock Gallery of Medieval Europe and a new book has been produced: Masterpieces of Medieval Europe by James Robinson (British Museum Press 2009, £19.99 – for more details see

Mark Anthony and Cleopatra: Final Resting Place?

Zahi Hawass, Director of Egypt’s Superior Council of Antiquities, said there was evidence that the couple were buried together in a complex tunnel system underlying the Tabusiris Magna temple, 17 miles north of Alexandria. A dig has started (Times, 16 April 2009). Sceptics must wait and see!

Other Societies’ Events by Eric Morgan

Saturday 2 May — Monday 4 May: Waltham Abbey — VE Day.

Information & confirmation: 01992 707370 &

Monday 11 May 3pm: Hell upon Water: the infamous prison ships of England 1783-1815. Paul Chamberlain, Barnet/District Local History Soc. Church House, Wood St, Barnet, opp Museum

Wednesday 13 May 7.45pm: From Crouch Hall to Gin Lane Talk by Ruth Hazeldine. Hornsey Historical Society. Union Church Hall (corner Ferme Pk Rd/Weston Pk, N8) Visitors £1

Thursday 14 May 8pm: Discussion of on-going projects Finchley Society Local History Group Avenue House, East End Rd N3

Saturday 16 May — Sunday 17 May: Waltham Abbey Steam and Country Show Info: see 2 May

Saturday 16 May 10am-5pm: The Tudor Port of London: an archaeological investigation

Many interesting speakers, including Jacqui Pearce. West India Quay. Free, but book tickets: in advance from Gresham College (020 7831 0575 or enquiries

Tuesday 19th May 7pm: London Archaeologist Annual lecture/Meeting Institute of Archaeology 31-34 Gordon Square, WC1 Refreshments 6.30pm

Wednesday 20 May 7.30pm: Marylebone to Manchester, the old Great Central Railway route through Neasden. Talk by Peter Rousselange. Willesden Local History Society. Scout House, High Rd, NW10 (corner Strode Rd)

Wednesday 20 May 8pm: Supporting Community Archaeology Suzie Thomas. Islington Archaeology & History Society Islington Town Hall, Upper St, N1

Saturday 23 May — Monday 25 May: Saxon & Norman Event Waltham Abbey. Info: see 2 May

Monday 25 May until 5pm Both St Andrews old & new churches will be open, part of Kingsbury open day. Church Lane, NW9

Wednesday 27 May: RAF Museum: John Donovan Memorial Lecture by David Keen Friern Barnet & District Local History Society St John’s Church Hall (adj. Whetstone police station), Friern Barnet Lane, N20. Preceded by AGM £2

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