By Becky Ryan (Associate Director - Archaeology)
Excavations in Wandle Road Car Park, Croydon, were not as exciting as those in the car park in Leicester that revealed the remains of King Richard III in 2012, but they were interesting nevertheless.1 Working on behalf of our client, Brick by Brick Croydon, we managed a programme of fieldwork by AOC Archaeology that analysed structures and finds stretching back from the recent past into distant prehistory.
Archaeological works were ongoing in advance of the construction of new residential development just outside the modern centre of Croydon between 2018 and 2019. Historic mapping told us that terraced housing and yards were located along street frontages, and footings were found during the initial trial trenching (evaluation). Rather intriguingly, an earlier chalk wall also came to light. Previous archaeological work adjacent to the site had revealed similar chalk walls dating from c.1500 to c.1700, and our chalk wall seemed to be a continuation of this activity.
We then moved to archaeological mitigation (excavation) works in three protected areas, allowing construction to continue unhindered across other parts of the site. A full “strip, map and sample” exercise was undertaken in these three areas. Chalk walls and foundations of two buildings were excavated, including boundary walls and yard surfaces - remains of an industrial nature, and perhaps domestic use as well, dating from a time when Croydon was still a detached settlement in the landscape surrounding London.
Evidence of Georgian and Victorian activity was also identified along the eastern frontage. Surviving cellars dating to the late 18th century and early 19th century were recorded, one of them including a complete Singer sewing machine! We know from historic mapping that these houses were extant until the 1960s, prior to demolition. There is something fitting about finding such personal artefacts as part of the process of returning the site to modern housing.
The icing on the cake came at the end of the fieldwork. Post holes and small pits provided evidence that a wooden structure might have stood here in the prehistoric period. Finds included worked stone tools dating to the late Mesolithic and early Neolithic periods, roughly 6,000 BC to 3,000 BC. Although this prehistoric activity was small-scale, it is a discovery of regional importance, telling us about the transition to settled farming in the early Neolithic - something poorly represented in the Greater London area.
So, for a seemingly uninteresting car park in urban Croydon, we were able to manage the archaeological fieldwork effectively for our client, while adding significantly to London’s archaeological resource. Not quite the final resting place of a lost king, but locally important nonetheless.