Archaeology in West London (1981-2)

by Jon Cotton and Phil Philo

Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 3 (1982)

Field archaeology in the London Boroughs of Ealing, Hillingdon and Hounslow is the joint responsibility of the Museum of London’s Greater London Archaeology Department and the West London Archaeological Field Group. Currently based in Brentford, these two bodies work in close collaboration with the local history museum for the Boroughs of Ealing and Hounslow, Gunnersbury Park Museum.

The aim of all three organisations is to safeguard the history and archaeology of the west London boroughs and to record, research, publish and display material found within these areas. Below is a summary of our recent work .

Public participation in excavation and post-excavation work is encouraged, as is the reporting of local finds and the writers welcome information from anyone who can help with this.

(1) In its role as local history museum for Ealing and Hounslow, Gunnersbury has accepted from Dover Museum a Palaeolithic flint handaxe of about 250,000 BC, found in the middle of the last century on Ealing Common, Gunnersbury Avenue.

flint ficron axe

Flint ficron hand axe (Wymer Type Ma/i) found Ealing Common, Gunnersbury Avenue, c 1850, Gunnersbury Park Museum (82.17)

(2) A report is being prepared on a collection of struck flint and pottery held by the Museum since 1966, which was picked up by Mr Rivett Carnac and his family on the south-eastern corner of Chiswick Eyot between 1961 and 1963.

leaf-shaped arrowhead

This collection comprises several hundred waste-flakes together with a number of cores, utilised pieces and tools, including an awl, several poor scrapers and a leaf-shaped arrowhead. Analysis of the flintwork, and of the three sherds of pottery, suggests a date within the earlier Neolithic period (c 5th/6th millenia BC). The collection can be compared with other similar early material found near the Thames at Staines, Kingston, Twickenham, Brentford, Fulham and Putney.

Flint leaf-shaped arrowhead from
Chiswick Eyot (66.37/)

(3) A fine Middle Bronze Age bronze rapier (c 1200-1100 BC) was recently reported to the Greater London Archaeology Department by Mrs Pearce of Green Dragon Lane, Brentford, whose late husband found it on the Thames foreshore near Brentford Dock before the last war. Measuring 30.5 cms (1 ft) in length and belonging to the ‘Mortlake’ class, the rapier is the latest in a long series of finds to have been recovered from the river Thames at Brentford.2

(4) Trial excavations were undertaken by the West London Archaeological Field Group during May 1981 in Avenue Gardens, Acton, in advance of re-development work due to take place 30 metres to the south of the site. Here a Middle Bronze Age flat-grave cremation cemetery first found in 18833, revealed a series of intercutting Roman ditches and several probably contemporary rubbish-filled hollows. The features had been dug into the natural sands and gravels of the Taplow terrace and contained quantities of fragmented pottery, animal bones and struck and burnt flint. They presumably belong to a small Roman settlement originally situated on a spur of land lying between Stamford Brook to the east and Bollo Brook to the west.4

Notable Roman finds include a bronze finger ring and an almost complete decorated Samian bowl which has been dated c 100-130 AD. Other finds include a few scraps of prehistoric – possibly Bronze Age – pottery, together with an interesting group of narrow flint blades of Mesolithic type (c 8th/7th millenia BC).

The finds can be added to a number of others already known from the area – in particular the small Roman coin hoard from the Springfield Park Estate found in 1899, and an urn full of silver coins from Turnham Green, which is mentioned by the 18th century antiquarian, William Stukeley. In addition, it may be noted that the Roman road running south-west from London passes only about a kilometre (c 1,000 yards) to the south of the site, while the small Roman settlement at Brentford lies only three kilometres to the south-west.5

The finds and site records are currently held by the West London Archaeological Field Group.

(5) A report received by Gunnersbury Park Museum and passed on to the Greater London Archaeology Department enabled a complete stoneware Bellarmine bottle of 17th century date to be recorded from Church Street, Isleworth, during November 1981. The bottle was found by workmen digging the foundations for a new house on the south side of Church Street, at a point opposite Richard Reynold’s House. It lay at a depth of approximately 1.90 metres (c 6 ft 4 ins) below the present ground surface, and appears to have been associated with the foundations of a substantial brick-built wall which had been cut through by the builder’s trenches. The wall, of hand-made unfrogged bricks, presumably represents the rear wall of one of a row of probably 17th century cottages which occupied the site until their demolition around the middle of the last century.6

Judging by the presence of a number of animal bones identified as cow and sheep which were found near it, the Bellarmine bottle probably derives from a domestic rubbish pit or cesspit situated behind the cottages, and is unlikely to be a ‘witch-bottle’ as was initially thought.7

The owner of the site, Dr Waterston, to whom we are grateful for reporting the find, retains the bottle and a bronze spoon with the maker’s ‘touch-mark’ on the bowl which was found elsewhere on the site. Further finds, which include fragments of other Bellarmines and the animal bones associated with the complete bottle, together with a series of colour slides, are held by the West London Archaeological Field Group.

Footnotes:

  • See S E Warren Excavation of a Neolithic site at Sefton Street, Putney, London Transactions London & Middlesex Archaeological Society 28(1977), 1-13 for a recent discussion.
  • See G F Lawrence Antiquities from the Middle Thames Archaeol. Journ. 86 (1929), 78-81.
  • J C Barrett Four Bronze Age cremation cemeteries from Middlesex Transactions London & Middlesex Archaeological Society 24 (1973), 111-134.
  • N J Barton The Lost Rivers of London Leicester University Press, (1962), 38-39.
  • R Canham 2000 Years of Brentford (HMSO, 1978).
  • The cottages are not shown on the Glover map of 1635, although they appear on Rocque (1745). The Inclosure map of 1818 and the Tithe map of 1850 have yet to be checked, but the cottages had certainly been demolished by the time of the first Ordnance Survey map of 1865. Information kindly supplied by Andrea Cameron.
  • See R Merrifield The use of Bellarmines as Witch-bottles Guildhall Miscellany 3 (1953), 3-15.
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