Reflecting on Clitterhouse Playing Fields – stories past and present
When you think about archaeology you’re probably imagining the discovery of ancient ruins and great temples. However, sometimes it’s the excavations that take place at the heart of a local community that can have the most impact.
We’ve been speaking to MOLA archaeologist, Giulia Rossi, who has been digging at Clitterhouse Playing Fields in North London since they opened the first trenches in October 2021. She’s been telling us a bit more about what it is like to work on a site like this.
You’ve worked on many different archaeological sites, but what’s it like to dig here? You only dig small sections of the park before moving to the next. Why is that?
We are working in an open space that is much loved by the local community, rightly so. Our main goal here is to preserve the park. So instead of digging multiple trenches we only open a couple at the same time, fencing a small area around them to make sure that the rest of the park is still open to the public. We even look after the grass! We put boards under the machines we use for digging to make sure our impact is as small as possible.
You have quite a few people still using the park…Do they ever stop to ask you about what you are doing?
The public is definitely showing a lot of interest in what we were doing, asking us if we found anything interesting. Elderly people remember the World War II air raid shelters that used to be here and they stop by to ask us if we found them (we did! Read our blog to find out more). But they aren’t the only interested ones. A few local kids have also been excited about the dig, coming to observe and saying they want to become archaeologists. Some of them have been asking us if we found ‘the treasure’. I have promised to let them know if any is found!
You have been working as an archaeologist at MOLA since 2016. Is it something you are quite used to, having people stop by, look at what you're doing and ask questions?
It's usually not as frequent as it’s been here. Often archaeological sites are in quite remote locations or in the middle of construction sites. Here, on the other hand, we are working in a community park. People come here to relax, and they like to engage in small talk with us. It’s been lovely to have these more spontaneous face-to-face interactions.
Giulia (left) showing us some of the Roman pottery found at Clitterhouse Playing Fields (right).
So there were a few things you were expecting to find here when you started digging, like the WW2 shelters. But have there been any surprises?
Yes, it looks like the Romans were here! In two of our trenches we found some Roman pottery and traces of what looks like an enclosure, maybe the remains of a farm or an area reserved for agricultural activities.
Was this unexpected?
We knew from our early research and surveys that a Roman road was nearby. However, we weren’t necessarily expecting to find any evidence of this within Clitterhouse Playing Fields. As archaeologists we often have a fairly good idea of what we might find on a site through the initial work we do. Yet, there are often little surprises around every corner, which is part of what makes archaeology so fascinating.
Clitterhouse Playing Fields have clearly been an open area since the very start of their history, and they have remained so until now. Our excavations showed that this used to be a rural area dedicated to farming until about one hundred years ago. Now it is totally within the limits of the city. This tells us quite a lot about how quickly the city of London has been growing, and sites like this can play an important role in reconstructing the history of our city.
The playing fields are being regenerated as part of Brent Cross Town, a project led by Argent Related and Barnet Council. 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.