thames discovery programme
The zone is approximately 700m long and 60m wide. The only access to thesite is via a short flight of stone stairs in the centre of the zone; the stairs canbe slippery, especially at the base, and lack a handrail. The safest way toaccess the central part of the foreshore is through the reeds at the bottom ofthe embankment, where there is a solid concrete base. The upstream end ofthe zone is defined by a minewatching post and by the modern red pylondownstream. The ground conditions on the site are generally firm whereconsolidated by dumped material, however parts of the foreshore surface arevery soft and there is a danger of sinking into muddy deposits.
archaeological and historical background
A number of trial holes in the area of the site have revealed charcoal, burnt flint fragments,animal bone and struck flints sealed by deposits dating to the Late Mesolithic- Early Neolithicperiod. On the foreshore itself there are peat deposits and tree remains which probably date tothe Late Neolithic- Early Bronze Age period.
Excavations at the Thamesmead estate have revealed field systems and pottery dating to the3
centuries AD suggesting agricultural activity in the area during this period.
Towards the end of the Roman period it appears that the area behind the site was reverting tomarshland; a situation which prevailed until the land was reclaimed in the 19
centuries. On the higher ground to the south-east, Lesnes Abbey was founded in 1174 and paidfor by Richard de Lucy, Chief Justice of England, possibly to atone, in part, for the recent
murder of Thomas a’ Becket
While the area immediately behind the site remained as marshland for a long time, greatdevelopments were occurring to the south. In 1513 the Royal Dockyard was founded, while,
closer to the site, in 1671, the first Ordnance depot was established at ‘the Warren’ in Tower
Place. At Woolwich, the Royal Laboratory was founded in 1695 and the Royal Foundry in 1717.In the early 19
century what had become known as the Royal Arsenal was a hotbed ofscientific and engineering progress; such luminaries as Samuel Bentham, Marc Brunel andHenry Maudslay were driving the industrial revolution forward from one of the hearts of theburgeoning military/naval/industrial/ trading complex which temporarily raised Great Britain to aunique position in the world.
By the height of World War I, the Arsenal had expanded up to and beyond the area of the siteand now encompassed some 1,300 acres and employed around 80,000 people. Thisexpansion would have involved a large deal of land reclamation which may explain the fourhulked lighters deliberately beached on the site as a river defence.In World War II, the Royal Arsenal and the Thames were key strategic objectives for theLuftwaffe who, whilst attempting to bomb factories and cities out of existence, also targeted theriver for minelaying. As a result, a number of minewatching posts were established; an exampleof which still stands within the zone.The Ordnance factories closed in 1967, although the MoD maintained a presence on parts ofthe site until 1994.