Monday, 4 May 2009

Bulletin 28 (May 2009)

Great War Archaeology Group Site Report

One Tree Hill (likely Anti-Aircraft Gun Site)
Honor Oak Park, Southwark, South London. SE23. NGR: TQ 354 742

Survey and Excavation
25-26 August 2007 and 13-14 September 2008

Site Code: OTH07 and OTH08


This is a non technical brief summary of the recent investigations of the One Tree Hill site by The Great War Archaeology Group (GWAG). A full report will be prepared and made available in due course.


During the First World War, London was the target of the first strategic bombing campaign in history.

Raids by German airships and aeroplanes were met by the development of a comprehensive home-defence system based on wireless direction-finding stations, observation posts, searchlights, anti-aircraft guns, and dedicated fighter squadrons. The conflict has been relatively little studied. Many archive sources have not been researched. Little oral history work has been done. Most material remains are unrecorded. Of the 20,469 sites recorded in the Defence of Britain Project, for example, only 322 are of First World War date, only 44 relate to the air war, and of these, half are airfields, with only one searchlight and six anti-aircraft gun emplacements recorded for the whole country.

The Great War Archaeology Group’s pilot ‘First Blitz Project’ in June 2006, carried out in association with BBC Timewatch, demonstrated the potential for further study. Our outer study area, centred on the Lea Valley, extended 40km east-west across West Essex and East Hertfordshire, and 40km northwards from the Thames. In this area alone, our desktop research identified 33 former anti-aircraft gun emplacements and 19 searchlight emplacements. Detailed survey, clearance and excavation at the Monkhams Hall gun emplacement north of Waltham Abbey revealed an observation post and an ammunition store as well as the gun platform itself. The project also demonstrated how archaeological fieldwork can act as a focus for oral history. The BBC recorded interviews with several people who remembered the air-raids as children, including one who had been present at the bombing of Upper North Street School in Poplar on 13 June 1917, when 18 five-year-olds were killed in the infant classroom.

In relation to these events, we are close to the centenary and on the cusp of living memory. There is a strong and urgent case for investigating, recording, preserving and presenting the material remains of the First World War in Britain. A community project centred on the surviving anti-aircraft gun platform at One Tree Hill would make a valuable contribution to this.

The archaeological investigation at One Tree Hill:

Over the weekends of 25-26 August 2007 and 13-14 September 2008, The Great War Archaeology Group investigated the site of a likely anti-aircraft gun emplacement at One Tree Hill. The team used field reconnaissance, archaeological geophysics, metal-detecting, limited surface clearance and excavation to identify, record and report on the condition and state of preservation of the obvious (and not so obvious) features.
The first task was to clean up, record and photograph the main feature which was believed to be the gun platform. Some of the invaluable local oral history collected over the weekend suggested that it was actually a band stand, and the ornate floor of the platform, consisting of concentric rings of well laid bricks, certainly suggested an origin other than military, as do the very ‘municipal park’ looking steps at each corner of the platform. However, once this brick surface had been properly cleared of many years of detritus, evidence was located of its potential military use. At the centre of the concentric rings of bricks we found evidence of where a guide ring could have been anchored to the structure which would have supported a gun (probably the usual 3” or 6-pounder). This type of metal ring, and evidence of, has been seen on other WW1 anti-aircraft gun emplacements around London, notably the one at Monkhams Hall. A narrow slot in the platform surface running from the centre out to one edge and through a small hole in the raised side was suggestive of a channel for a cable or an electrical earthing strip.
An archaeological trench was positioned directly to the north of the platform to investigate the condition of the foundations, and also to search for evidence of a metalled surface which may have encircled the platform. The platform appears to be in a fair condition, but with some evidence of subsidence, clearly demonstrated by the separation of several of the steps (apparently constructed as separate modules) from the platform and also a visually noticeable slant to the platform. At least one of the step modules appear to be contemporary with a laid path leading up to it. This laid path, in turn , appears to be contemporary with the metalled surfaces found elsewhere on the site.

A Geophysical survey was carried out across the site to look for remains of any associated structures. Several areas of potential archaeological interest were found and a series of test pits were used to investigate these areas. Some of the test pits came down on rough metalled surfaces, one with a clear edge to it. However, it is difficult to say at this stage if these surfaces are contemporary with the gun emplacement or with park landscaping. One surprise in a test pit was the uncovering of old service pipes, possibly gas, their source and destination unknown. One hypothesis is that the park may have been lit by gas at some point in its history. Several test pits opened with the assistance of supervised (and very keen) local children revealed iron loops secured into concrete bases, possibly associated with military occupation of the site or metal restraints from former park benches.

Metal detecting revealed very little in the way of military material, which is some cause for concern, as this type of site usually has a light scattering at least of militaria. Several early coins were recovered, along with the ‘usual’ metal detritus you would expect to find in a public space. What became clear from the metal detecting was that the rough surfaces found by the geophysics had ‘sealed in’ the earlier surfaces, and this is clearly demonstrated by the relatively recent metal finds located above the surfaces. As the metal detector survey moved off the surfaces then earlier material was recovered.

The investigations have shown that it is highly likely that the structure is an anti-aircraft gun emplacement. There is no reason why the structure should not have been used for other purposes since the First World War, although no evidence has yet come to light for military re-use during the Second World War. The idea that this structure, which was originally designed for killing, may have had a new lease of life as a band stand – a place to entertain and make people feel relaxed and happy, is rather fitting.
A full report on the work carried out at One Tree Hill will be available in due course, and this report will also address how this site sits within the much larger picture of the defence of London during the First World War.

The Great War Archaeology Group are very grateful to all the people and organisations, especially The Friends of One Tree Hill and Southwark Borough Council, who so willingly co-operated to help make this community based project the success it was, and we hope to possibly return to investigate the site further in the future.
The Great War Archaeology Group is very keen to hear from anyone who may have any information regarding the One Tree Hill site or other sites in the London area and other First World War sites throughout the country.

Contact details are:

Dr Neil Faulkner, 01727 834844 (h), 07974 679805 (m),

Dave Hibbitt, 01476 410622 (h), 07976 981027 (m)

Bulletin 27 (May 2009)

Upcoming Digs



Location: Norfolk. Run by: SHARP – the Sedgeford Historical and Archaeological Research Project. Dates: 5 July – 14 August. Cost: £125 pw inc food and campsite, £20 for day course, £100 for week course, concessions.

Contact: Brenda Stibbons, 4 Alfred Road, Cromer, Norfolk, NR27 9AN. Tel: 01263 510969, 07786 644980. Email: Web:

One of the largest, best-appointed, and longest-running projects for volunteers and trainees, SHARP is investigating the entire history of a Norfolk village and rural parish. Major open-area excavations on the Boneyard site of an 8th-10th century Anglo-Saxon cemetery concluded in 2007, and the main excavation site is now that of the associated settlement in the neighbouring Chalkpit Field. Two years of evaluative excavations have revealed good survival of ditches, pits, post-holes, and beam-slots, with abundant deposits of domestic debris, making it likely that this will evolve into a major Middle Saxon settlement excavation offering rich insights into the character and everyday life of the original village. Other work planned this year includes continuing post-excavation analysis of the Boneyard excavations, with work on human remains, animal bones, pottery, and small finds, and preliminary investigation of Sedgeford’s First World War airfield.
Full campsite and catering facilities are available. Participants can enrol as ordinary volunteers or take one or more training courses, including basic excavation, human remains, bones in archaeology, and modern conflict archaeology.


Digging Dad’s Army

Location: Shooters Hill, Greenwich. Run by: Digging Dad’s Army: the East and South-East London People’s War Project, 1914-1945. Dates: 13-21 June. Cost: £60 for weekend course, £150 for week course, concessions.

Contact: Andy Brockman, 72 Nithdale Road, London, SE18 3PD. Tel: 0208 316 6358, 07958 543518. Email: Web:

Digging Dad’s Army is a new multi-disciplinary, community-based research project centred on a study area in the East and South-East London boroughs of Waltham Forest, Newham, Barking and Dagenham, and Greenwich. Building on existing work on First World War air-war sites, mainly in North-East London, and on Second World War sites on Shooters Hill (Greenwich), DDA will use archives, oral/family history, field reconnaissance, survey, standing-building recording, and excavation to explore the militarised landscapes and popular experience of modern conflict in a densely populated urban area. Work this year will focus on both First and Second World War sites on Shooters Hill. There will be courses covering modern conflict archaeology, basic field skills, and standing-building recording.

Bulletin 26 (May 2009)

Zeppelins, Fighters, and Ack-Ack: an introduction to modern conflict archaeology

Dr Neil Faulkner and Dr Keith Robinson

Sunday 26 July – Friday 31 July

This course will provide a comprehensive introduction to the theory and techniques of modern conflict archaeology through the investigation of Sedgeford Aerodrome – a home defence and training airfield in the First World War, and a decoy airfield in the Second. Combining taught sessions, desktop research, and guided fieldwork, students will experience the full range of methods involved in the study of modern industrialised warfare. These will include: the use of archives, maps, old photos, and the internet; survey work using GPS-recording, geophysics, and metal-detecting; standing-building recording; and carefully targeted excavation. We will also cover the relationship between material remains in the landscape and memories, commemorations, family and local histories, and political and moral issues.