Collage of three Dig for Victory posters from World War II. © IWM Art.IWM PST 17009, IWM Art.IWM PST 16807, IWM Art.IWM PST 0059.

Air raids and allotments, excavations at Clitterhouse Playing Fields

Katherine Newton
25.11.2021

If you’ve been around Brent Cross and walked through Clitterhouse Playing Fields recently, you may have seen us digging some trenches.

So why are we digging all these trenches? What are we looking for? And what are we learning about the people who used to live around this part of London?

Why all the trenches?

The playing fields are going to be regenerated as part of Brent Cross Town, led by Argent Related and Barnet Council. These new plans for the Playing Fields give us the opportunity to revisit the history of the Clitterhouse Playing Fields and look at it through the archaeological record.

We started by researching the history of the area and discovered that there once was an Anglo-Saxon manor nearby, as well as an important Roman road. Therefore, we want to make sure we record any evidence of these periods where it still remains below the playing fields. However, finding archaeology from so far back is time is rare and it’s possible that evidence of the past may already have been disturbed due to farming in the Later Medieval (1066 to 1485) and Post-Medieval period (1485 to today).

The best way to evaluate the potential for archaeology is digging ‘evaluation trenches’. We take a quick look at what is under the ground, record anything we do find, and then close the trench again. If we find anything important, we can then return to certain areas and excavate them archaeologically. So far we have mostly found evidence from the past 500 years.

Photo of glass bottles excavated from trench
Photo of glass bottles excavated from trench

What did the playing fields look like 75 years ago?

Today the playing fields are a great place to relax on a hot summer’s day, but once they looked very different.

During the Second World War, Nazi Germany attacked ships bringing food to Britain, so food was rationed. To deal with these food shortages, the government launched a ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign, encouraging people to grow their own fruit and veg. Lots of parks, like Clitterhouse Playing Fields, were turned into huge allotments. We are hoping to find some evidence of these in the form of ditches, pits and perhaps even tools related to gardening and farming.

London was also bombed heavily during World War II, and the best protection was for people to get underground. Air raid shelters were built across London, including in people’s back gardens and public parks. So far we’ve found evidence for at least two shelters in the Playing Fields.

Growing carrots during the day, hiding from air raids underground at night – the playing fields were a very different place 75 years ago.

If you are interested in the current plans for the Brent Cross Town Redevelopment on the site, find out more at https://www.brentcrosstown.co.uk/vision.  

  • Post-medieval
  • Excavation

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