HENDON AND DISTRICT ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY Supplement to Newsletter No 205
REPORT ON THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS AT STAPYLTON ROAD CAR PARK, CHIPPING BARNET
By Jennie Lee Cobban and Brian Wrigley
Our interest in this site was first aroused in 1984 when we heard of plans to redevelop. In January 1985 we asked the London Borough of Barnet if we could have the opportunity to explore the site by excavation and otherwise, between demolition and redevelopment. We had in mind that the development, close as it was to the ancient route of the Great North Road, might disclose traces of medieval Chipping Barnet; the nearer the road we could explore, the greater the chances, but from inspection we knew the most likely areas were under concrete.
In September 1985, the Chief Executive and Town Clerk told us that the Council had decided that HADAS and the Barnet District Local History Society should be invited to carry out a survey. We made it clear that we considered that trial-trenching was essential to any useful survey, and in March 1986 we enquired the possibility of doing some work that summer; in December 1986 we attended, as invited, a meeting with BDLHS and the Controller of Development Services, when we found that we would not be allowed to do any excavation once the developers had gone into occupation, and before this stage we could only be allowed to dig on land already open – in practical terms this meant the back gardens of empty houses.
The contract with the developers (although we were not told this at the time) provided for the Council’s nominee(s) to have reasonable access…. during site clearance operations, “but not following the completion of the link road and the temporary car parks” and as it turned out, the link road and car parks had to be completed before any of the original car park concrete could be broken up; thus we had no opportunity of excavation on the car park site itself. However, through the goodwill of the developers, Lovells, we were allowed on site to observe whilst clearing and excavating operations were in progress.
We can feel that in spite of the difficulties, with our few small trial trenches and our site-watching we covered the site fully enough to be able to say it is established that the occupation of medieval Barnet (which must have existed) did not extend to this area, except possibly immediately alongside the main high road, to which the redevelopment, and hence our investigations, did not extend.
We also had in mind that this was a site which could have been suitable for earlier than medieval, perhaps even prehistoric, occupation; a site on a headland (more noticeably so in the past before Barnet Hill was banked up to ease the gradient) readily cut off by a diagonal ditch across the headland as a defence in almost any period. (See the accompanying Plan 1). We did in fact find, in site-watching, a short length of ditch, across the SE corner of the development site, which would be in the right direction to do just this (see Plan 2). However, in the sections exposed by the contractors’ excavations, and in the two shovelfuls of sample fill we were able to take, we found absolutely no identifiable artefactual evidence, so there is no evidence for date or use and we have to take it as most probably a drainage ditch which might be of any period whatever.
EXCAVATIONS 28 March to 9 May 1987
We opened Trenches I to IV in the positions shown in Plan 2; Trench I was a flowerbed and the nearest point we could get to the main road that was not covered in concrete. In Trenches I, II, and III we found nearly a metre depth of black organic soil above the underlying natural sandy gravel; the black soil was all well mixed up and we were unable to detect any real stratigraphy, quite modern pottery sherds appearing all the way down.
Trench IV was in a position which, from historical research, we thought should be at the back of the former Green Dragon Inn dating from the 17 Century. Apart from disturbance from a modern drain, we found, about 15 cm below present surface, several layers of hard-packed brick rubble and gravel which would be consistent with their being hard- standing in the inn yard, renewed from time to time. Below these layers was a layer of black organic soil including some clay pipes and sherds consistent with a 17 Century date, and below the black soil (nearly 1 metre below present surface) was the natural sandy gravel.
There were no finds in any of the trenches earlier than post-medieval.
SITE-WATCHING 30 November 1987 to 29 February 1988
We were, of course, concerned to establish whether the appearances in our few, tiny trenches, were typical of the whole site. We did make some enquiries of the possibilities of trial-trenching by machine on the main area of the car park, after the concrete had been broken up, but this did not prove possible and we had to be content, through the good offices of Lovells, the developers, with being allowed access to observe’ whilst their clearance and excavation of the site took place. Jennie Cobban, wearing three hats as HADAS, BLHS and Barnet Museum, was appointed Co-ordinator.
The observations confirmed that the site overall was like our trial trenches – up to a metre of black organic soil over the natural sandy gravel; no structures (apart from the Victorian ones we knew about and had seen being knocked down) and no earthworks apart from a pit (which turned out to have Victorian sherds in the bottom) and the ditch referred to in the Summary above. Again, there were no finds earlier than post-medieval.
The post-medieval finds included some metalwork, discovered through the willing and helpful co-operation of the Herts and District Metal Detecting Society in searching spoil heaps; one of these finds was a farthing of William III and Mary.
The front part of the Methodist Church including the twin towers were not demolished, but within the towers the contractors excavated to below the concrete footings and in the south tower, below the concrete of the footings resting on the sandy gravel natural, we noted two U-shaped intrusions of darker earth, one in the E baulk and one in the S baulk, clearly indicating a ditch running at 45 degrees NE to SW across the corner below the tower. Later, when No 111 High Street (see Plan 2) was demolished, an excavation was made by the contractors at the rear, exposing the footings of the wall of No 109, which showed similar signs of the continuation of the ditch in the same direction, as well as a brick-lined well; the brickwork has been tentatively dated to about 1800, but as the hole was promptly concreted in we were unable to get any dating evidence from the bottom of the well.
The front part of No 111 had a deep basement which would have destroyed any archaeological levels.
FINDS AND RECORDS
In the terms of both our licence, and the developer’s contract, all finds are the property of the LBB who have agreed they should be passed to the custodianship of BLHS for the Barnet Museum, and this has been done. It is intended to lodge the original notebooks of the excavation and site-watching similarly with Barnet Museum.
Whilst the mainly negative results of this exercise are unexciting, they are useful, and the operation as a whole has been a splendid example of co-operation between HADAS, BLHS, and Herts and District Metal Detecting Society. We are grateful for the support and advice we had from the Museum of London’s Department of Greater London Archaeology, including a site visit to our open trenches by Harvey Sheldon and Peter Mills, and for the efforts by Lovells and their Manager, Cam Lavin, to help us within their tight schedule. Mr Nickolls of Linden Villas kindly gave us access to store tools (as well as tea!) whilst we were digging. Those from BLHS and HADAS who helped, whether by research, advice, digging, pot- washing, or site-watching include:
Brigid Grafton Green, Ann Trewick, Paddy Musgrove, Alec Gouldsmith, Marjorie St Clair, Esther Isaacs, Pat Allison, Michael Bardill, John Whitehorn, Gillian Gear, Victor Jones, Alan Lawson, Ned Oak, George Sweetland, Anne Young, John Enderby, Robin Ford, Joanna Stent, John Heathfield, and Howard Bowdler.