MOLA archaeologists excavate 19th century rarilway tracks at the Somers Town Goods Yard (c) MOLA

No King under your carpark? All is not lost.

MOLA team

More and more property professionals understand that archaeological work required under planning can also reap benefits in terms of community engagement, positive PR and messaging around developments. This is reinforced in the NPPF and many Local Plans.  However there is sometimes a perception that you have to have a major discovery, think of Richard III under the car park, or extensive excavations like Crossrail, for this to be a valid exercise. It’s not true – almost every place has a past that is worth exploring and unlocking.   

Early in 2016 the £700m Francis Crick Institute building next to St Pancras will open – bringing state of the art biomedical research into the heart of London. We were involved in the very early stages of this exciting project, preparing the archaeological desk-based assessment reports required for planning and undertaking a small (4-week) excavation of remains of the 19th century Midland goods yard.  In its time, the goods yard played an important role in the everyday lives of Londoners. It was a massive centre for the distribution of fresh products, such as milk and fish. The goods were brought into London by train, early each morning, from the countryside in the east of England and the Midlands. The surviving archaeology was limited, consisting of a few areas of railway infrastructure. Nevertheless the Wellcome Trust, as funders of the project, seized upon the opportunity for community engagement. We put on an archaeology week, with site tours, history talks, and children’s digging activities all based around the important industrial history of the site.  It was a huge success and we think helped to allay some of the strong local concerns about the development.

In April this year we will be running another local history project – this time celebrating the history of Television Production in London at Teddington Studios. Starting in the early 20th century as an ad-hoc film studio it was expanded and named Teddington Film Studios Limited in 1931.  Some classic films were made here including Murder at Monte Carlo (1934) with Errol Flynn in his first major film role. In the 1950s it became a major TV studio producing entertainment programming. Many classic British series were recorded here including; The Benny Hill Show, Bless This House, George and Mildred, Man About the House and long-running light entertainment series such as This is Your Life and Opportunity Knocks. The Studios continued under lease to Pinewood Studios until 2014.  The site is now being redeveloped into homes. 

We have undertaken historic building recording work, required under the planning conditions for redevelopment. Unsurprisingly, much of the equipment has already been salvaged for use elsewhere and so recording of the physical remains has been relatively limited.  However there is a wealth of information about the Studios, together with fascinating stories from the people who spent their working lives at Teddington. So in addition to the recording of building fabric, we are also compiling an oral history archive, recording the intangible history of the place. The development team has understood the importance of acknowledging this element of TV history and have asked us to organise a party to get everyone together to reminisce and celebrate! 

You don’t have to have a king under your car park to celebrate the heritage of you site with the local communities and stakeholders!

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