Funny ha-ha? Excavations at Eastcote House Gardens

On the Day of Archaeology 2014, AOC Archaeology Group is working once again with London Borough of Hillingdon (LBH) and the Friends of Eastcote House Gardens (FEHG) to deliver an exciting programme of public archaeology in this lovely park. I’m Charlotte, AOC’s Public Archaeologist. AOC first worked at Eastcote House Gardens in 2012, when we ran a smaller evaluation excavation as part of the development phase of this project. You can read our Day of Archaeology 2012 post at:

The excavations at Eastcote House Gardens form just one part of a larger project, which is being supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Big Lottery Fund, through their Parks for People programme. This project, led by LBH and FEHG, will see significant changes to the Park including the repair and re-use of the historic buildings, the building of ancillary facilities, with a cafe, toilets and manager’s office, and the improvement and upgrading of the Gardens for educational and community use. The archaeological programme includes public excavations, training workshops, an open day, and a schools programme involving hundreds (literally!) of young people from local schools (primary, secondary and special), uniformed groups (Guides, Cubs and Beavers) and one youth charity. FEHG has a small army of volunteers who are passionate about the park and its past, and they play a key role in the school visits, giving learners a tour of the historic dovecot and stables as well as the smaller trenches current being excavated. Most days onsite are very busy, with lots of volunteers and young people working to explore the past at Eastcote House Gardens.

The Gardens, and its historic buildings, are all that have survived from Eastcote House and its outbuildings, which were demolished in 1964.  Eastcote House was a big white stuccoed house of many different periods, part of which dated from the 16th century. However historic records suggest that there was previously an even earlier building on the site, known as Hopkyttes. During the evaluation excavations in 2012 we opened only small trenches, confirming the location of the remains of Eastcote House, establishing the condition of any archaeological features, and assessing the value of any future work. This year, we have opened a much larger area, so that we can gain a better understanding of the layout and phasing of the house. We are very excited to have found (we believe) the remains of Hopkyttes, overlain by the Tudor structure.

However, on to our activities on the Day of Archaeology! As well as our lovely, ever-cheerful project participants – some old hands and some newbies – today we welcomed to site three classes from a local primary school, and a group of young people from The Challenge, a charity aimed at building a more integrated society. The primary schools and The Challenge group concentrated today on excavating the remains of Eastcote House and washing some of the finds, and we also focussed on the site’s funniest feature – the ha-ha.

Les, who is directing excavations onsite, informs me that his Chambers dictionary defines ‘ha-ha’ as a representation of a laugh. The second definition is ‘a ditch or vertical drop…between a garden and surrounding parkland’. We have one of these features in one of our smaller trenches, which is placed to investigate the southern end of a sunken flint wall with a steep sided ditch dropping towards it.

The upper levels of soil that had collected in the ditch contained 20th century finds, as we might expect.  We have a Tizer bottle with 3p due on return, a bottle which contained a chocolate milk drink – the ingredients include shagreen (sharkskin) – a stoneware mineral bottle, and smaller, broken pieces. Some of the finds are the result of accumulation, while others are probably from people seeing a handy ditch to throw rubbish, rather than recycling or taking it to the nearest bin. Fizzy drinks seem to be a theme on this site: last week we found a bottle marked ‘Eiffel Tower Lemonade’. After a bit of online research, we’ve discovered that this was a lemonade powder – tasty!

The ha-ha

The ha-ha


It looks as though our ha-ha ditch was originally 2m wide and 1.5m deep, and was probably a grassy slope. Some of the local historians think that this may be less of a ha-ha and more of a drainage ditch. At the moment, we think it may be both. In our excavation is a flat slab with flint blocks on top of it. This may be a secured entry to a drain inserted into the ditch: it looks later. We do wonder whether the slab may have been placed over the burial of a favoured pet though. We will know tomorrow.

Hard at work in the ha-ha

Hard at work in the ha-ha

This is just a small taster of everything we’ve been discovering at Eastcote House Gardens. Please do head over to the project website to find out more about the excavations: