This article appeared in the Summer 1971 (Issue #24) edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.
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News from the Groups --
Southeast London Area.
During 1969 no less than three sites in the area were noted as being in immediate danger of destruction without there being any organisation available to excavate. As a result, a group of local people from KAS the Lewisham Local History and Natural History Societies and individuals, decided to dig despite inexperience and lack of expert direction, as the alternative was complete loss. The results were mentioned in an earlier issue of the KAR and at the end of the year the group dispersed.
However, in 1970, three more sites were reported, and as the same alternative applied, the diggers reassembled, along with fresh helpers from the Charlton Society, and expert advice from friends in Kent.
The first excavation was at Woolwich (TQ 431 792). Here the 30-foot high mound on which the parish church stands was to be cut back to allow for road widening. It was well known that between the present church and the riverside edge of the mound was the site of the mediaeval church which fell into decay, and was pulled down in the early 18th century. Despite a request to dig much earlier, permission was only given once the road works were started.
In the end it was possible to carry out three days' digging by the good offices of the Contractors' Agent, and the happy intervention of the Council's Agent who informed us that chalk blocks were being found on an otherwise sandy site.
The work was carried out in very hot weather on a small shelf ending in a 30-foot drop, and was complicated by smashed chalk, broken masonry from destroyed 18th century vaults, and numbers of 17th and 18th century graves which had to be cleared first, the traditional trowel was a long way behind the shovel! But we were lucky, and managed to identify the tower which was added to the church in 1401. A small amount of mediaeval tile and pottery was found, and 18th century material from the last use and destruction was spread around; although the bottom of the foundations was not reached, several unconfined burials preceding the erection were identified.
Two of the main aims of the dig were carried out. The exact site of Woolwich's earliest recorded church was found, and it was proved that the bulk of the site would remain untouched, protected within a bastion left by the contractors.
In October, work was started in Charlton Village (TQ 416 778) where three cottages had been pulled down before shop development. Here excavation pointed to circa 1740 as a date for their erection, and an earlier (1650?) brick building was found. This earlier building seems to have had a large ingle nook fireplace, and while the rest of the room was boarded, the fireplace seems to have been tiled.
The earliest feature on the site was a clay floor bounded by a dwarf wall of flint and chalk. Pottery of a late mediaeval character was sealed beneath the floor, while the floor itself was scaled by destruction from the 17th century building. The earliest pottery, from the top soil buried by the latter houses, was early mediaeval including a few sherds of coarse black shelly ware which may be 12th century.
The rest of the site contained a number of drains and cesspits from 1650 onwards. The Borough Engineer's Office kindly showed us the original application for main drainage which was passed by the Plumstead and District Board of Works in 1866; this contains a very useful plan of the site at that date.
The finds include what is fast becoming our standard collection of mid-18th century pottery, glass and clay pipes. Individual finds include tokens from around 1540, 1575 and 1750, three clay candle holders (very topical) and our first, whole, 18th century, red clay and brown glaze, chamber pot!
In December, "acting on information received" (from a newly joined Volunteer) two of us visited the back garden of a private house (TQ 428789), said to be the site of a pipe kiln. An hour's trial trenching in the garden which rises at about 30 degrees, produced a single fragment of a pipe bowl and a mass of brickwork. This is of red brick with a grey mortar with white specks in it which we have found locally in 18th century work. Whatever threat there may be from council workmen, a rescue dig will have to be mounted here before the planting season!
There is, you can see, a great deal of work to be done, especially in the realm of report writing. It has also been suggested that an exhibition of finds could take place in the 17th century Charlton House, and we hope soon to be able to pass over finds to the local museum whose assistant curator is yet one more of the experienced people our little band leans so heavily on.