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HADAS dig at West Heath

By Daphne Lorimer.

The first phase of the West Heath dig, the full-time fortnight, finished with a flourish (and a special cake baked by Dorothy Newbury) on 16th May. By then 63 members had taken part; only on three days did attendance drop below 20 -- the average been 22.5.

The site was surveyed in advance by HADAS member Heather McClean (kindly released for the purpose by the Inner London Archaeological Unit) and laid out in a grid of 2 m squares orientated along a north-south (magnetic) axis and at an angle to the line of the eroding bluff. Excavation commenced in alternate trenches, labelled with Roman numerals (East/West) and alphabetical letters (North/South). No baulks were left between the trenches so that total exposure of the old land surface would eventually be obtained on excavation of intervening trenches.

Level 1, the top 10 cm of sandy, purplish, podsol-type soil, was disturbed; in some trenches however probably due to the action of tree roots, Level 1 yielded a fairly rich harvest of worked flints. Levels 2 and 3 were each 5 cm thick and passed through the lower part of the podsol. Level 4 usually penetrated the underlying orange-sandy clay, but in places a hard pan occurred, derived from the heavy leaching of the topsoil. Low in the podsol some very fine worked tools were found, also patches of burnt flint, porcelain-crazed pebbles and a little charcoal scatter indicative of fire. Leaching of the soil was too great to permit reddening or large deposits of charcoal. Possible post and stake holes were also found and some possible pebble alignments.

Over 1,000 worked flint flakes and tools had been recovered to date. Every worked flint, pebble, reasonable-sized piece of charcoal and possible stake-hole has been plotted three-dimensionally and entered in the trench note-book and on the trench plan. All soil from the trenches was placed in polythene bags, which were labelled with the trench number, layer and, in some cases, the quadrant of the trench concerned. Each bag was sieved through sieves with two sizes of mesh. Many microliths were retrieved in this way, but the standard of excavation was such that very few larger tools reached this stage.

It is too early for an evaluation of the site to be made, but the possible alignment of stones and the position of possible stake-holes may indicate the presence of some form of shelter. The traces of burning may indicate hearths. Desmond Collins now confidently dates the site to the Mesolithic; from the tool types (which include obliquely blunted points, backed blades and micro-burins) he is inclined to think it may date from about the time of Broxbourne, around 6,000 BC.

Three pits were dug in the waterlogged area of the spring which fed the stream beside which the camp was sited. Samples of organic mud were removed from various depths by Maureen Girling, fossil-beetle expert from the Department of Environment. From these samples not only fossil beetle analysis but also pollen and soil analysis and C14 dating will be done. It is hoped to build up a picture of the environment on the Heath from late glacial times onwards. This appears to be something of a coup, as little is known of the prehistoric environment of this part of London. Large quantities of wood were retrieved from the pits for identification as well as C14 dating. Miss Girling reports a microlith found in the preliminary sorting of her samples.

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It is unlikely that animal bones will be retrieved from the camp site, as the pH value is very low (3.5); but any bones recovered from the organic mud by the spring will be studied by Alison Gebbels, also of the D. of E.

Christine Arnott organised the processing of finds on-the-spot with a willing band of helpers and also acted as chief public relations officer. The public showed great interest and pleasure at the exciting discovery on their doorstep and HADAS has gained over 20 new members.

The Sunday Times, the Hampstead and Highgate Express and the Hendon and Finchley Times all gave coverage to the dig. The Director was interviewed for the LBC radio news bulletin and for the Royal Free Hospital internal radio news programme -- to which the Site Supervisor added her word! It is rumoured that early editions of the Evening Standard carried a photograph of the site at the end of the first week, and Thames Television spent two hours filming every angle of the dig for showing on Tonight on 17 May.

The site was visited by Irene Schwab, Director of the Inner London Archaeological Unit, and David Whipp, their prehistorian, Philip Walker of the D. of E. the officers of the North London Polytechnic Archaeological Society and such old friends of HADAS as Harvey Sheldon and Mike Hammerson.

In view of the all-out effort by many members of the Society, it would be invidious to single out individuals; none the less, we must express particularly our appreciation of the enthusiastic and patient guidance of our Director and Hon. Member, Desmond Collins.

HADAS Hon. Member Barry Martin kindly sited fresh datum points on the dig; and we are grateful to Tony Legge and the Extra-mural Department of London University for the loan of sieving equipment. Our thanks are also due to Mr. Clabon and Camden Borough Council for the loan of a most useful site hut. Above all, the comfort, convenience and well-being of the entire excavation team is largely due to the great kindness and co-operation of Mr. Challon, the Park Superintendent, and his staff.

The dig will continue on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays this summer, in order to excavate as much as possible of the area now at risk from erosion. It is hoped, during the winter, to do research on the finds, studying such problems as the origin of the flint from which the tools were made (which does not appear to be native to the site), tool typology, comparable assemblages and wear patterns. Members will be kept informed of the arrangements for this study.

It has been a happy, exciting and invigorating fortnight and it is hoped that the same drive and enthusiasm will continue to produce the same fascinating results for the rest of the summer. Any HADAS member who wants to help will be very welcome. Either come to the site, which is beside the Leg of Mutton Pond on West Heath, or if you prefer, check first with either Daphne Lorimer or Brigid Grafton Green.

The 15th Annual General Meeting

About a hundred members attended the Annual General Meeting on May 5. It was - as usual - a friendly and informal occasion, charmingly and efficiently chaired by Eric Wookey.

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The Reports from our Officers showed that HADAS goes from strength to strength. Membership stood, on March 31, at 294, the highest ever. Thanks to our noble fund-raisers (to whom everyone in turn paid tribute) the problems of inflation have so far been met, even though during the past year we have added considerably to our assets by buying such items as a complete set of Ordnance Survey 25 inch maps of the Borough and new exhibition equipment.

In his Annual Report, our Chairman, Brain Jarman, paid tribute to the many members who deploy their talents and time in the interests of HADAS. He emphasised our greatest need: for a place we can call a headquarters, "where we could store our possessions and work on finds and projects." He asked all members to think about this problem and, if they came up with any possible solution to it, to let him know.

The meeting passed formal resolutions which bring the Constitution into line with what is required by the Charity Commissioners. The way is now open for our Hon. Treasurer to apply for HADAS to be registered as a charity - a status which it might, in some contingencies, be useful to possess.

The slide show which followed the AGM business was a tribute to Dorothy Newbury's friendly organising ability and to the wide range of our members' interests. It portrayed many HADAS occasions and activities during the past year.

The following Officers and Committee were elected for 1975-6:

Chairman - Mr. Brian Jarman
Vice-Chairman - Mr. E. Sammes
Hon. Secretary - Mrs. B. Grafton Green
Hon. Treasurer - Mr. J. Clynes

Committee: Mrs. C. Arnott, Mr. M. Bird, Mr. J. Enderby, Mr. A. Gouldsmith, Miss E. Holliday, Mr. G. Ingram, Mrs. D. Lorimer, Mrs. D. Newbury, Mrs. N. Penny, Mrs. J. Porges, Miss J. Wade, Mrs. F. Wilkinson, Mr. E. Wookey.


Experimental Archaeology is an aspect of study which is steadily gaining acceptance. Increasingly, stress is being laid on the extra insights which can be gained from actually doing (or attempting to do!) what those who lived in earlier periods are conjectured, from examination of the remains, to have done. In this branch of archaeology houses and huts are constructed, flints are struck, implements used, animals farmed and other projects attempted, in an effort to reach a closer approximation to the truth than is possible by theorising alone.

At Little Butser, in Hampshire, Peter Reynolds is attempting to reconstruct, and examine in detail, the way of life of an Iron Age farm of c. 300 BC. Among the activities are the reconstruction of round houses, the breeding of "prehistoric" farm animal types, and the cultivation of early types of crops. The studies will result in important information being obtained on economy, diet and other matters.

On June 13 (a Sunday) the Society will visit Butser to see this work at first hand. It is hoped that Mr. Reynolds will be able to spend some time with the party. After Butser, we shall visit Portchester, to view the Roman "Saxon shore" fort (and take tea).

This will be an "outdoor" outing, with a picnic lunch on Butser Hill. Some walking will be involved, and please bear in mind possible wet weather. An application form is enclosed for completion and return to Dorothy Newbury.

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Further Outings This Year

Sat July 10 - Kings Lynn.
Sat Aug 7 - Chedworth Roman villa and Crickley Hill.
Sept 17-19 - inclusive - Weekend at York.

Industrial Archaeology

As we mentioned in the last Newsletter, BILL FIRTH hopes to reactivate an interest in this subject among HADAS members. He proposes to provide the Newsletter with a regular monthly "snippet" on some industrial subject, and below is the first of his notes:

Birmingham/Holyhead Road

Samuel Pepys wrote of the Great North Road between Finchley and Barnet "torn, plowed an digged up where his horse would often "sink up to the belly" (quoted in The Railway in Finchley).

In the early nineteenth century when the Holyhead commission reorganised the turnpike trusts on this road "the seventeen English Trusts were left nominally in control, although those of Whetstone and St Albans (those portions of the road were notoriously bad) the came to leel under threat of a special Act…" (Anthony Bird, Roads and Vehicles, Longmans, 1969, Arrow Paperback, 1973).

Does anyone have more information on the road through Whetstone, and why it was so bad? Answers to Bill please.

White Swan Site

The dig on the empty site beside the White Swan in Golders Green Road closed on 23 May, and back-filling has taken place. Jeremy Clynes, who directed the dig, reports that the site was disappointing.

The area had seemed promising for excavation because there is documentary evidence that an inn has stood on the White Swan site for at least 200 years, probably more; and an old weather-boarded building, its precise age unknown, was demolished on the actual excavation area only a few years ago. Even if no traces of occupation could be found, we hoped to pick up at least some further evidence for the medieval road found by Alec Jeakins at Woodlands a little further north.

However, the White Swan side yielded no evidence, in any of the three trenches which were opened, either of occupation or a road. The three trenches were taken down as far as natural. Jeremy would like to thank all the people involved in the initial opening up of the site, in the digging and in the back-filling.

Letchworth in May

A report on the last outing by John de F. Enderby.

The mounting of the joint excursion by the indefatigable Dorothy Newbury on behalf of HADAS and by Ruby Jobson of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute (she's a HADAS member, too) was crowned with success, and we hope will lead to more co-operation in the future.

The 53-seater coach left Hendon on a glorious early summer day, picking up eighteen members of the Institute Society in the Suburb and then speeding swiftly off to the Hertfordshire countryside. How pleasant it was for your humble scribe to have a chance, from a comfortable seat in the coach, to look lazily at our incomparable green and pleasant land instead of intently watching the dull surface of a metalled highway!

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The coach skirted Welwyn and pulled off the motorway at Lockleys. After a short walk, and a laugh over a well preserved example of the domestic bath used as a cattle trough, we went down through a tunnel 30 ft under the motorway embankment, the temperature dropping from 70° to 47°F in a few yards. Here, in the well excavated and preserved third century Roman Bathhouse, we were met by Tony Rook, had discovered and dug the site in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Mr Rook fascinated us all by lucidly and eloquently explaining the purpose and functions of the bath complex -- the modern sauna, minus the strigil's purifying strokes, seemed after his talk a poor imitation of the real thing! His word pictures made the low remains of the walls (some with plaster still adhering) seem at least 10 ft tall; one could easily imagine the box flues belting forth smoke from the fires in the huge, partially reconstructed furnace. We left feeling outwardly chilly, but inwardly aglow with the fire of new knowledge; and greatly encouraged that the Lockleys Archaeological Society had proved a match for motorway planners, persuading them to devote many thousands of pounds to preserving properly these square metres of crumbling stone.

At Letchworth Garden City we were met by Mrs. Cruse, daughter of Courtenay Crickmer, one of the well-known early architects who worked at both Letchworth and the Garden Suburb; and were received by the Warden at the small part-wooden single-storey "skittle house" which now provides accommodation for the Adult Settlement. The eye mischievously and inquisitively wandered over the notices detailing the many activities of the self-governing Settlement, and mused on such gems as "Mushroom Compost – another load behind the stage, 20p. per barrow" or "Room 2 – Piano Lessons and Marriage Guidance."

Mervyn Miller, a Herts Planning Officer, gave us an intensely interesting and well illustrated talk on Letchworth Garden City, founded by Ebenezer Howard and designed, in its early days, by the same architects who designed the original Garden Suburb -- Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin. The differences between Garden City and Garden Suburb immediately became obvious: at Letchworth 3018 acres, 32,000 people within an industrial area surrounded by a green belt, as against the HGS dormitory of 700 acres and 11,000 inhabitants. The spaciousness of Letchworth immediately impressed. The early houses of 1905, built for a "cheap cottages" competition at a cost of £150 each, contrasted with larger, finely designed Baillie Scott, Crickmer and Parker and Unwin houses; and yet again with the starkly functional Manor and Lordship Farm Estate built recently by Wates.

Surprise followed surprise, both in Mr Miller's slides and later on the tour of the Garden City. Working farms were still to be seen in the green belt area. There were man-made public parks and tree-lined common land which, we learnt, were the habitat of the rare black squirrel (and the name of one of the four pubs) and badgers. Over a new bridge we came on a "village type" station and then on Cecil Hignett's 1912 Spirella factory (described by Mr Miller has "the most remarkable factory ever built").

After lunch we went to the Museum to see a well-displayed collection of flora and fauna; and some of us visited Barry Parker's lovely thatched house, now being converted into a Museum of the Garden City movement. To see the actual studios in which he and his team worked was an experience; one could not help regretting that the chance had been lost to pay a similar tribute at Wyldes, in Suburb, to Raymond Unwin.

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After a lovely tea in the actual "skittle room" of the Settlement we drove from Letchworth along leafy lanes to the near-perfect village of Benington, near Stevenage: village pond, village green, pargetted half-timbered cottages and St. Peter's Church, its site dating from the time of Beortwulf (839-852) of Mercia. The present church is fourteenth century and possesses a peal of eight bells -- said to be the finest of their weight in the county -- and a churchyard with myriads of wild flowers that have miraculously escaped both modern sprays and mowers.

We explored the beautiful grounds of the Lordship and the remains of the Norman castle. We wandered through the village; some of us penetrated as far as the notable hostelry, "The Three Bells," but alas the landlord could not be prevailed upon to dispense his ale at 6.45 instead of 7.00 opening time, as P.C. Wellington Boot had been seen on his ancient bicycle in the village!

The coach left Benington with a site of rabbits at the roadside and a kestrel overhead. Everyone was satisfied; new friends were made, an excellent day was had in perfect weather and the greatest relief to me was that the coach arrived back too late to plant the French beans in my garden -- the back-aching task which had been scheduled for the day!

Constable's Hampstead

A new publication with this title, price £0.30, has just been published by our neighbours, the Camden History Society. The booklet marks the Constable bicentenary celebrations, and profits from the first edition will go to the fund for restoring Constable's tomb in Hampstead Parish churchyard.

The booklet contains an account of "Constable's Vision of Hampstead" by artist Olive Cook and "A Walk Round Constable's Hampstead" by Christopher Wade. There are two maps -- 1812 and today. Copies are obtainable from Christopher Wade.

The Stamps on Mortaria

A few weeks ago Raymond Lowe, who is particularly interested in the Roman period, wrote to Prof. Eric Birley to ask him why mortaria are the only Roman coarseware vessels to be stamped with the maker's name; and why, after c. 200 AD, mortaria are unstamped.

Mr Lowe has kindly provided the Newsletter with a copy of Prof. Birley's reply, which members will, we feel sure, be interested to read:

"My own belief is that mortaria, a type of kitchenware that was introduced into Britain by the Claudian invasion, called for various special skills if they were to prove good value for money; and various enterprising businessman appreciated that their products were superior to those of their competitors, and would be worth advertising: hence the stamping of them with the firm's name or its trademark. (The same applied, evidently, to the figured Samian bowls produced by various Central Gaulish potters, notably Cinnamus or Albucius or Advocisus).

By the same token, it is remarkable that after the end of the second century no more mortaria carried makers' marks; but it is also noteworthy that third century mortaria show far less variety in fabric and form, and I am inclined to suspect that there had been mass mergers (in effect), so that a very small number of firms were now producing mortaria, at least as far as mass production for a country-wide market was concerned. You may care to look at that paper which I wrote, in conjunction with John Gill in Archaeologia Aeliana, 4th Series, xxvi (1948) 172-204."