Jon Chandler: The day to day assessment of our cities

My name is Jon Chandler. I am Lead Consultant Archaeologist with the Heritage Consultancy team. I have various responsibilities, including quality assurance technical reviews of our archaeological desk-based assessments. Developers use these to support planning applications – anything from a residential development to major infrastructure projects. Recently this included the Thames Tideway Tunnel, Thames Water’s new sewer for London. For over two years I managed a team of up to 15 consultants and specialists in archaeology and buildings assessment, foreshore archaeology and geoarchaeology.

A broad range of archaeological, documentary and cartographic sources and geological information is consulted for our reports. We try to establish the archaeological potential of the site, taking into account factors compromising survival (e.g. existing basements, foundations, services and landscaping). The likely significance of any archaeological remains is assessed, along with the impact of the proposed development. We provide recommendations which the local authority planners will use to decide what must be done as part of granting planning consent.

This morning I am looking at a development site on the Isle of Dogs. This area is now heavily built over but in the prehistoric, Roman and medieval periods was all open floodplain marsh prone to flooding. Prior to rising water levels, the underlying topography would have comprised gravel islands suitable for prehistoric settlement, and deeper channels, crossed by timber trackways in the Bronze Age. Such remains are buried beneath a sequence of deep alluvium floodplain above which is a thick deposit of ‘made ground’ (artificial ground) dumped here from the excavation of the adjacent docks in the mid-19th century.”

We need to assess what depth the archaeology is likely to be at (possibly 3–4 metres down), and how the construction of the new building will affect any remains that might be present. We also need to know whether this is evidence of prehistoric activity or 19th century dockyard remains.

This afternoon I will start to review an early draft of our Portsmouth Harbour Hinterland Project, which is funded by Historic England. The Royal Navy established Portsea Island as its main harbour and base in the 16th-century. As a consequence, the surrounding rural hinterland was developed with an extensive supporting infrastructure, protected by a significant group of sea and land defences. Much of this survives today, but their heritage significance in relation to the docks is not always fully recognised. The aim of the project is to enhance understanding and heighten awareness of how the Portsmouth hinterland has developed as a result of the naval base. This helps to assist local decision making, planning, development and management of the historic environment.

As part of the project a survey toolkit and user-friendly guided will be created. This will help the local community and volunteers identify the presence of buildings, landscape and other heritage assets associated with the development of the hinterland. It enables the local community to further understand and add detail to the narrative.

Yesterday, the MOLA project team met with Historic England to discuss progress on the two-year London Urban Archaeological Database project. We are digitising, in a Geographical Information System (GIS), the location and extent of all past archaeological investigations in the historic centre of London. Thousands of investigations have been carried out (see the map). The information will enhance the data held by the Greater London Historic Environment Record.

MOLA Planning Services – Friday site visit

I’m out on site today, meeting with a client to look around a building at the start of a new consultancy project. It’s up in Highgate, which is always a great part of town to go and spend a bit of time in although it’s a shame it’s overcast so my site photos won’t look particularly good.

The site visit is the first stage of producing a Heritage Statement to accompany a planning application for the alteration of a mid-19th century townhouse including adding a rear extension. I’d say that maybe 75% of my work is on the alteration of Victorian townhouses and of those projects the vast majority are rear or basement extensions. Our role is to work for the client to try to spot where their plans might have an adverse impact on ‘heritage assets’ like listed buildings or conservation areas and then work with them to find ways that they can alter their designs to lessen those impacts or, where there are no adverse impacts, to provide full reasoning for that conclusion to assist the local authority in their decision on the planning application. In many cases (like my work today), contemporary developments are undoing the unsympathetic alterations of the recent past and are generally positive.

When I get to site, I’ll look over the building inside and out, taking note of the overall style and fabric and note any particularly interesting historic fixtures and features. With the assessment afterwards, I will write a description of the building then something called a ‘statement of significance’ where I explain what the heritage significance of the building is and what the specific aesthetic, historical, evidential and communal values are that add up to that significance (see Conservation Principles). The next stage will be to assess the proposed development in terms of what potential it has to impact on those values and, by extension, on the significance of the building, the settings of other nearby heritage assets or of conservation areas. That might sound like a lot of terminology – the term ‘heritage assets’ seems to really annoy archaeologists – but you have to write for your audience and in this case the audience for my report is the borough Conservation Officer and planning committee and those are the words they need to hear to be able to make a considered judgement on the application as it is the terminology of the planning guidance they will be working to.

Finally, if I conclude that the proposed development might have adverse impacts I can suggest mitigation. If it’s anything major, I would make the suggestion to the client and work to alter their proposal. If it’s smaller, I will in some cases suggest archaeological recording in advance of the work and if the Conservation Officer agrees it might become a condition added to the granting of planning permission.

So, for this Day of Archaeology, a pretty typical day really, but a walk around Highgate is always nice even if it is gloomy. I’ll be passing Trowelblazer (sort of) Mary Kingsley‘s blue plaque on my walk from the bus stop and last time I was working up that way I walked past Damien Lewis, Ashton Kucher and Kate Moss within a couple of hours of each other, I wonder who it’ll be today…

Archaeological Excavations at Northgate Street, Warwick

This blog entry has been written by the Warwickshire Historic Environment Record (HER) and is about the current archaeological work taking place in the centre of Warwick at Northgate Street by Archaeology Warwickshire.

 Introduction to the site:

The site (see plan below) is one of those fairly rare opportunities for archaeological work to take place within the centre of an historic county town such as Warwick. The area being examined is set between Northgate Street, the confusingly named Northgate Street South and the Butts, across an area that was previously occupied by large brick County Council buildings. The offices at the Butts used to be the home of the County Archaeological Information and Advice team (consisting of the Warwickshire HER and Planning Archaeology) the Archaeology Field Team (Archaeology Warwickshire) as well as the Ecology Service and the Warwickshire Habitat Biodiversity Audit. You will be pleased to know we were all re-homed within offices in Warwick (although for some reason not necessarily with the same amount of space!).

Map showing the development site area  (© Warwickshire HER, Warwickshire County Council, 2014)

Map showing the development site area (© Warwickshire HER, Warwickshire County Council, 2014)

Map showing the cotext of the Development Site Area  (© Warwickshire HER, Warwickshire County Council, 2014)

Map showing the cotext of the Development Site Area (© Warwickshire HER, Warwickshire County Council, 2014)

The frontage along Northgate Street and the buildings along Northgate Street South are being retained and it is the area behind this that has been cleared and where the archaeological work is taking place.

Seeing part of the old offices being demolished as development work started was an interesting experience particularly as the two ‘pavilion ends of the buildings at The Butts were retained (being a listed building), leaving old doorways leading to nowhere and leaving part of our old offices being used as a site office for the excavations.

Doors to nowhere at the old Butts Museum Field Services Building (© Andy Isham 2014)

Doors to nowhere at the old Butts Museum Field Services Building (© Andy Isham 2014)

Demolition at the old Butts Museum Field Services Building (© Andy Isham 2014)

Demolition at the old Butts Museum Field Services Building (© Andy Isham 2014)


Archaeological Process

Archaeological work, of course, never just happens and there is a process that has taken place that has got to the point of the site being excavated. This site is particularly complicated being in the centre of an urban setting and being surrounded by historic buildings which are to be retained. Much of the discussions and work related to the historic buildings (which are mostly listed) have been carried out by representatives from English Heritage, Warwick District Council Planning Officers, Conservation Officers, the developer, the owner and others.

Regarding the archaeological side, once proposals were brought forward for the site to be developed, then the Planning Archaeologist at Warwickshire County Council was contacted and discussions took place to agree a programme of works at the site. This process would have involved consulting the Warwickshire HER to help inform the background to the site, although because the site was our old home and in the centre of Warwick it is one of those sites that we had a fairly good grip on the site background to some extent already.

Map showing HER records for area  (© Warwickshire HER, Warwickshire County Council, 2014)

Map showing HER records for area (© Warwickshire HER, Warwickshire County Council, 2014)

Once a programme of archaeological work was agreed then this was started once the site had been cleared of above ground buildings. The archaeological work initially consisted of trial trenches in selected areas across the site and then led to full area excavation across  those parts of the site where archaeology survived that would be impacted by the development.

While archaeological work is being carried out the site is monitored periodically by the Planning Archaeologist.


History of the site and Archaeological Progress So Far

Prior to the recently demolished 19th century militia building and the 20th century council offices the site was occupied by the rear gardens of the fine town houses of Northgate Street. Archaeological evidence for this period has been found in the form of substantial stone drains and garden features which may tie into those illustrated on the board of heath map of 1851.

Stone Drains (© Archaeology Warwickshire, Warwickshire County Council 2014)

Stone Drains (© Archaeology Warwickshire, Warwickshire County Council 2014)

Stone Lined Well (© Archaeology Warwickshire, Warwickshire County Council 2014)

Stone Lined Well (© Archaeology Warwickshire, Warwickshire County Council 2014)

Pottery and other domestic rubbish of this date has been recovered. Prior to the town houses being built in the early 1700s we know from documentary sources that there were thatched, timber framed dwellings along Northgate street, which were burnt down during the Great Fire of Warwick in 1694. Currently evidence is being investigating that may date to this catastrophic event. The area has produced archaeological features from the entire medieval period – conquest to the reformation. Notable finds include a wooden box which could date back to the 15th century; It was too degraded to lift in one piece and had only survived to be identified as a box due to the mineralisation of the wood by the rusting iron bands which enclosed it. A coin believed to date to the short reign of Edward VI was also found.

Box (© Archaeology Warwickshire, Warwickshire County Council 2014)

Box (© Archaeology Warwickshire, Warwickshire County Council 2014)

Sealed below a layer of brown, sandy soil are a series of earlier features. Will these turn out to date to the 1100 year old (this year!) Saxon Burh of Warwick? We can’t wait to find out!

Different parts of the site have been excavated over the last few weeks and the excavation is not over yet! One of our members of staff went up St Mary’s Church Tower (adjacent to the site) to get some spectacular images of the site.

Post Excavation – What Happens?

Once the archaeological work on site is complete then a series of post-excavation processes takes place. This will involve finds processing, preparing an archive for deposition with the Warwickshire County Museum and the writing and submission of an archaeological report to both the Planning Archaeologist and the HER.

Once the archaeological report is approved then the HER is updated with information about the archaeology and history of the site, this information on the HER can then be accessed and used for further archaeological work that may take part as part of the planning process in the area, or by members of the public or local researchers interested in the history and archaeology of the area. It may even be used by academic researchers looking at particular periods, themes or areas for their research.

As you can see archaeology and particularly the way the HER is involved is very much a cycle of information, especially when it comes to commercial archaeological excavations as part of the planning process such as this one at Northgate Street. Information from the HER is provided and consulted to inform and help with the process at the beginning and then information is fed back into the HER once the archaeological work has taken place and the planning side has finished.

End Note

I hope you have enjoyed this blog entry and found it of interest. Feel free to contact the Warwickshire HER with any questions you have about this site or any archaeological or historic site in Warwickshire.

I would like to thank the following people for their help with this blog entry:

  • Caroline Rann (Project Officer, Archaeology Warwickshire)
  • Anna Stocks (Planning Archaeologist, Archaeological Information and Advice, Warwickshire County Council)
  • Giles Carey (Assistant Historic Environment Officer, Warwickshire HER)
  • Stuart Palmer (Business Manager, Archaeology Warwickshire)

Thank you all!

Ben Wallace

(Historic Environment Record Manager)


Additional Photos of the Site:

Nothing Interesting This Year

Annoyingly, without connecting the two dates in my mind, I accepted an appointment for a terribly boring meeting that lasted all of the morning of the Day of Archaeology.  Most people I know try to do something interesting but much of the time spent by a local authority archaeology officer consists of meetings, staring at maps and trying to work your way around the acronym soup of life in local government.

First thing was off to English Heritage to discuss proposals for reorganising Archaeological Priority Zones (APZs – keep up!) or Archaeological Priority Areas or many of the other names that these float around on maps issued by local authorities buried under a multitude of other coloured and bounded areas with their own acronyms.  View the joy that is the Southwark adopted policies map here, APZs, as they are in Southwark, can be found by ticking next to Design and Conservation.  Patrick, at English Heritage, is doing some very good work looking over a number of the boroughs and considering where we know archaeology to be, where we can expect it to be found in the future and drawing logical areas to connect this on the maps.  My contribution to the meeting was to try and get the acronyms to become Areas of Archaeological Significance, to match up with the new emphasis on ‘significance’ in many planning documents.  Think about it for a while, I feel it is more memorable.

Imagine my joy on getting back to the office and finding out that an area action plan had passed its first hurdles.  The Old Kent Road Area Action Plan is beginning to move forwards.  Archaeological, this area contains some of the more interesting and significant archaeology within the borough, not least the remains of a mesolithic tool making site that is now under a B&Q, other interesting and enigmatic areas of prehistoric archaeology and the main road into London from the Kent ports through the Roman and medieval periods.  Hopefully we will have the opportunity to do a full assessment of the archaeology of this road and look at what is happening in its hinterland.  I feel this is incredibly petty but the acronym formed from the name of the document gave me the greatest joy O KRAAP!

ABC of Swedish planning archaeology and an archaeological paradox

There are many kinds of archaeologist – some are specialized in a region or on a period others do contract archaeology, surveys, work at museums, laboratories or work with planning issues etc etc. We do many many things. We do archaeology!I’ve done it all – more or less: I’m an osteolgist so I do the odd osteolgical analysis. I’m an archaeologist so I’ve done surveys, contract archaeology, research archaeology and currently I work at the County board of Östergöland in Sweden doing what could be called planning archaeology.

Osteology, mesolithic skeleton, Övra Wannborga, Öland, Sweden

Osteology, mesolithic skeleton, Övra Wannborga, Öland, Sweden

So what is planning archaeology? Well lets say it’s a form of archaeological desk-based assessments – what kind of archaeology is needed in a certain situation – for example when someone wants to build a road or house. In Sweden the County boards are responsible for this part, we also order the archaeology and then let the developer pay for it – sounds sweet, it has its ups and downs. Of course I can’t just decide from the top of my head, the decisions are made according to law and praxis.

This is how it works in Sweden, in three easy (or not) steps!

Step one. Person A, the developer, submitting a notification that he or she is planning a development of some sorts. The County Board will make an assessment concerning if there are archaeological needs, based on archaeological records, previous digs, historical maps and other studies. If we find that we don’t have enough knowledge to make a decision or if the data points to the likelihood that one may encounter ancient remains – then we order a preliminary archaeological investigation.

Ismantorp ancient fortress, Öland, Sweden

Ismantorp ancient fortress, Öland, Sweden

During a preliminary archaeological investigation an archaeological contractor, a museum or other arhaeological institution of the County board’s choice is choosen. They do a review of historical sources, archaeological material as well as a survey (field walking) and, if necessary, do search trenches.

Excavation 2010, Västra Götaland, Sweden

Excavation 2010, Västra Götaland, Sweden

Based on the information from the preliminary archaeological investigation we then either say that archaeology in some form is needed or not.

Step two. If needed the next step in the process is an archaeological investigation. During this the ancient monument is to be defined geographically, decide its function, be dated and its scientific potential should be described. For this a limited archaeological excavation is needed. The result should give us the information needed to decide if the final step is needed, a full archaeological excavation, but also facts enough for others to be able to make an excavation plan and a cost estimate.

Excavation, Blekinge, Sweden 2011

Excavation, Blekinge, Sweden 2011

Step three. The final step, if needed, is a full excavation, meaning the ancient monument is to be removed and documented. If this cost is under 890 000 Swedish crowns, ca: 104000 Euro, the County Board can decide who will do the archaeology, if it costs more it needs to be procured.

In most cases the developer has to pay for all archaeology. Among the various steps in the process the developer can of course choose to cancel the archaeological process (and stop the development), they also aim to give the developer the opportunity to look at other opportunities or changes to lower thier costs. In the end the less archaeology being made the better we do our jobs – as the intention is to preserve monuments rather than make them disappear – a kind of archaeological paradox, wouldn’t you say.

A lot of what I do is this – is that boring?

– No, it actually is quite interesting and in many cases complex, and you get to learn new things along the way. I never thought I’d be doing make procurements when I studied archaeology, and by the way I wasn’t taught how to either!

Rock art, Hästholmen, Östergötland, Sweden

Rock art, Hästholmen, Östergötland, Sweden

Is this all that we do? No we do lots of other things concerning cultural heritage, such as signs at ancient monuments, small surveys, projects, meeting land owners, forest owners, looking into environments and landscapes etc. But when the sun shines outside I can feel the trowel luring me, but then again when its rainy/snowy, cold and/or wet it’s quite good to be sitting inside – looking out 🙂

Winter dig Sweden 2010

Winter dig Sweden 2010

Magnus Reuterdahl, an archaeologist at the County Adminstrative board Östergötland, Sweden and blogging at Testimony of the spade.


Coralie Acheson: Assessments and Risky Archaeology

It may sound strange to anyone not involved in archaeology or construction but heritage is considered to be a risk when looking to develop a site. My job is to identify ‘risky’ archaeology before a planning application is made. To that end I spent this afternoon creating a map of all the known archaeology in an area of west central London (a nice bit shall we say) to see what else had been found nearby, and tracing the history of the site back through four centuries of maps.

It turns out the site was arable farmland until relatively recently, some distance from Roman or medieval London, and not part of any of the outlying villages which today form part of Greater London. The maps show that it began to be developed in the 18th century, as wealthy types started to build big town houses. For some time there was a coffee shop on the site, a function it still has today, two hundred years later.

Using this information, and comparing it to surveys of the current buildings we are able to build up a likely prediction of what might survive on the site, and how significant it might be. And that was my ‘day of archaeology’.

Day in the life of an archaeological planning officer

I am Neil Maylan and I work as the Archeological Planning Manager for the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, based in Swansea, Wales. We provide advice to 13 local planning authorities in South East Wales and I hope to be able to provide a work diary for today.

I started my working day circa 7.30am. As part of my job I am responsible for the Trust’s IT network and e-mails, so my first job is to check the e-mails that have come in overnight, delete the vast number of spam messages that are sent to our open e-mail accounts and redirect any messages that have been wrongly addressed or sent to the open accounts and need to be answered by a specific member of staff.

I also check my own e-mails received over night, fortunately few today and read the weekly newsletter from the Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) Maritime Affairs Group, which always has some fascinating information on an area of archaeology I really don’t know enough about.