Archaeological update: radar survey of the Temple garden

In March we were informed that the Corporation proposed to carry out works to the Temple garden.

Given that these works involved some excavation for the construction of new paths, to a depth in excess of 185mm, and were within the curtilage of a listed building, we urged the Corporation to arrange an archaeological watching brief. This would entail no excavation but merely the recording, by drawing and photography, of any pertinent archaeological features that might appear. Subsequently, the results, if any, could be submitted as a report. The City Surveyor’s Department agreed to this. Ralph Potter also offered to arrange a survey of the entire Temple garden using ground penetrating radar.

In the event, the work to the Temple garden was substantially scaled back – due, we understand, to issues with planning consent. The circular path round the garden was abandoned for the time being , as were two soak-aways and removal of the chain barrier. Minor alterations to the paths around the front of the temple and drainage in front of the ladies went ahead.

The radar survey was carried out on 12 March by Ralph Potter, with the help of members of the Wanstead Parklands Community Project and the West Essex Archaeological Group.

The image below is a composite of several “time-slices” at equal intervals. On the left hand side is the west garden fence. On the right, the survey continued up the mound as far as the mounting block. The garden is 37m wide between the fences north to south but we had to allow a metre to turn round so the transects are nominally 35m. Between the west fence and mounting block is coincidently also 37m.

We have found by experience that in gravelly areas of Wanstead Park, there is reasonable visibility down to about 1.5m. The ground in the Temple garden showed a lot of disturbance throughout the depth, but some buried features are visible. Ceramic cable ducting running roughly north to south may be seen just to the left of centre. The dark vertical feature to the right of centre is the foot of the mound. There are perhaps hints of what may be vestiges of Victorian flower beds. Also, a few frames suggested more of the circular features we have found elsewhere on the Plain. These are typically about 5m in diameter, and we speculate they may indicate early tree planting schemes – perhaps from the time of Richard Child, later first Earl Tylney.

Overall, the survey revealed nothing of very great significance. However, the whole of Wanstead Park is an archaeological priority zone, and the story of its development is poorly understood. It is accordingly vital that all work there that involves excavation by the park’s custodians or service providers is properly monitored.