Having obtained permission to clear the scrub on the principal Roman site in Wanstead Park, we essentially finished the job in two days – though we will be returning next week to do some tidying up. We had seven volunteers on the first day, plus the assistance of two keepers (one of whom was working in his own time), and six on the second.
The area we cleared was an irregular space about 50x25m maximum, on the north side of the Perch Pond, not far from the refreshment kiosk.
We didn’t remove everything – all of the mature trees and some of the smaller ones were left, as well as most of the evergreen bushes and hollies. The idea was to create a space that was open enough for us to work in, but still with a natural feel and containing vegetation that could provide useful food and habitat to birds and other wildlife. For that reason, a large patch of brambles and young trees to the north of the site was left untouched, even though it sits on a large rectangular feature revealed by a resistivity survey which we suspect may be connected with the villa.
The pictures were all taken on the second day, when we had glorious weather. Outgoing Mayor of Redbridge Chris Cummins (who is a member of the Friends of Wanstead Parklands), paid us a visit.
We regard the amount of work we did as a remarkable achievement, and hope to start our survey as soon as we are granted a licence by Epping Forest management. A licence is required to carry out any archaeological work in the park. Licences are time-limited and specify what we are allowed to do. Our intention at this time is to carry out a survey with ground- penetrating radar, which should give us a good overview of any buried archaeology.
Although some trial trenches were put down in the area by Frank Clark of the West Essex Archaeological Group in the 1980s – a very competent archaeologist – these were very small and only on those parts of the site which were relatively open. We hope that radar – which he did not have – will allow us to get a better idea of the “big picture”. Even if the surviving structure of the villa was completely destroyed by landscaping work in the eighteenth century, as seems possible, the disturbances to the ground where walls were dug out may yet give us some clue as to its layout and how big it was.