Excavations at Three Quays

MOLA team

Museum of London Archaeology are carrying out archaeological excavations, over a period of about sixteen weeks, as part of the redevelopment of the Three Quays site on Lower Thames Street. The new building, replacing early 1960s offices, will consist of 158 apartments (with a split of 97 luxury serviced apartments and 61 private AST apartments). These are being built for Cheval Residences, London’s market leader in luxury serviced apartments, who will own and operate the building, and who are fully funding the archaeological investigations and subsequent analysis and publication of the results.

These works are being monitored by the City of London’s Historic Environment Manager to ensure compliance with the conditions for planning consent. The investigations comprise excavations at the locations of new foundations for the building so that remains can be recorded prior to construction. The foundations have been designed to avoid significant historical features on the site, which include a section of the foundations of London’s Late Roman (3rd Century AD) river wall. Other features that may be encountered include earlier Roman timber revetments/waterfronts, medieval timber revetments (likely to date from the 13th century onwards and advancing ‘into’ the Thames over time) accompanied by possible evidence of shipbuilding or other riverside activity. Post-medieval remains will also reflect the site’s riverside setting and, in the end, comprise the brick warehouse foundations of Galley, Brewer’s, and Chester Quays, which were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, and the 19th-century, brick river wall.

Given the waterlogged nature of soils comprising in-fill dumps behind the waterfronts and riverbank deposits a wide range of artefacts, including the timber waterfront structures are likely to be found in very good states of preservation. Early findings include a medieval timber-lined drain and the tops of medieval timber waterfronts. The archaeology of the majority of the site, unaffected by new foundations, will be preserved in situ beneath the new building.

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Excavations are now into their third week on the eastern part of the site, comprising twelve shafts at the locations of piles for the new building. Unsurprisingly, remains of medieval timber waterfront revetments, as shown here, have been found in nearly all of them. The post and plank structures nearly all appear to date to the 14th century AD and some incorporate re-used boat timbers.

The waterfronts were constructed for individual properties along the riverside and were apparently being advanced out into the river at fairly frequent intervals. Rubbish and other material, used to backfill behind them after construction, is proving to be rich in wooden (including a turned bowl) and metal (including keys and candle holders) objects, with leather, including shoes, and even fabric also being preserved in the waterlogged conditions.

At the north of the site the foundations of a late 3rd-century AD Roman river wall, comprising piles and a chalk raft, as shown, have been revealed as expected from earlier investigations. The foundations will be preserved under the new building, but the City of London’s Assistant Director for the Historic Environment, who monitors archaeological work throughout the City has approved the sampling of one of the piles, which may allow close dating of the structure by dendrochronology (“tree ring” dating).

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