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Greenwich Revealed

Here is an update on the great works which are taking place in Greenwich Park as part of the NLHF supported “Greenwich Revealed” programme. I have been watching steady progress here in the latter months of 2023 - and in anticipation for some 35 years since I was first involved with early discussions on how to address tree planting and possible restoration of the “Giant Steps”… or “the Ascents” - as we say in the digital age!

Through January and February we have witnessed the laying down of formation levels for the re-created Ascents. This follows on from the autumn 2023 archaeological investigation led by Community Archaeologist Andrew Mayfield with the assistance of Greenwich volunteers. This has helped to establish working baselines so that re-construction will wholly above the original historic levels, thereby preserving those original levels and profiles just below the re-contoured surface. Now at the end of February much of the surface is at fished profiles and is being turfed.

As the finds from the initial excavation trenches and sondage are analysed, it may possible to discover more detail about the slumps/erosion and eighteenth and nineteenth century infilling layers which were placed over the original profiles. Andrew helpfully summarised initial findings of “the dig” on the Royal Parks website:-

“After carefully removing the turf, we came down to a topsoil full of finds dropped or lost on the hillside over the past two hundred years. These included everything from a mobile phone to a Royal Engineer’s cap badge, part of a sextant [a nautical navigational instrument] , clay pipes and beads from necklaces and dresses. Below the topsoil was a very compact clay layer that we think had been laid across the hills to repair erosion below.”

Andrew and the volunteers team now turn their attention to the parterre banks on each side of the Queen’s Lawn - the open fairly flat field which sits between the Queen’s House and the Ascents. In the main these banks have survived and are expressed surprisingly sharply although there are particular areas which have suffered some erosion or have been modified by later construction of diagonal footpaths. These investigations and repairs are expected to follow shortly. But initial finds from Andrew in the project include coins, rings, toys, mobile phones [! ] badges and buttons, and a couple of Royal Artillery Z Rocket cones which would; have been launched from Greenwich c 1942 in air defences.

We hope to hear more from Andrew in due course as the finds are analysed in the lab. and in write-up.

Meanwhile there is exciting progress on these “parterre” flanks where tree planting and replacement are taking place. This will be a longer term transition from the partly gappy planting which we have inherited on the Eastern flank and the anticipated issues of deterioration on the western flank. It is a carefully considered plan which will re-establish the overall form of the avenues and eventually we will see a more complete pattern reflecting the 1660s planting as indicated on Le Notre’s plan and in the various seventeenth and eighteenth century plans. Park manager Clare Lanes is keen to point out that there is also a return to using elm - as in the 1660s - with the introduction of the more resistant “Ulmus New Horizon” in these formations.

It is a brave but well-founded decision to go forward with this phased restoration of the avenues, necessarily removing a number of trees which were in poor condition or inappropriately sited: and the numbers bear witness to that process. In this initial phase for 2023-24 Royal Parks plans show that since work started towards the end of the 2022-23 planting season there were some 175 trees of various ages, species and alignments in these parterre banks. novas the 2023-24 planting season draws towards a close there are 208 trees - a net gain of 33 trees , representing some 45 losses/removals and 78 new plantings!

But the process goes on…… in future seasons it will be necessary to tackle the central and outer rows, particularly on the West flank, replacing the poorly preforming beech and Turkey oak with the more appropriate elm and lime. Overall it is a longsighted and very worthy project which will re-invest in our heritage.

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