Big Bang Reverberations
Keith Nurse on an urban archaeological undertaking in Blackfriars Bridge, London
On the site of a former school playground near Blackfriars Bridge, London archaeologists are engaged in what is, in effect, the start of a programme of excavations which will follow in the wake of decontrolled international free trading – the City's so-called 'Big Bang'.
The overall project promises to be the most intensive urban archaeological undertaking of its kind mounted in this country. The capital, now entering a dramatic era of urban renewal, will offer the Museum of London's Department of Urban Archaeology its greatest ever challenge.
It is expected that up to 70 per cent of city property will be rebuilt over the next ten to fifteen years to meet the demand for some 20 million square feet of additional business floor space. The need for vast trading floors for today's computer-based technology is already making obsolete many of the buildings constructed in the 1960s.
In the City, where the archaeologists have won the support of many developers in recent years, the implications are enormous.
Brian Hobley, the Chief Urban Archaeologist, says that, with the accompanying destruction of the remaining layers of history beneath the soil, the capital faces a totally new scale of threat to its archaeological heritage.
A formidable challenge, but to meet it, he says, his Department, in its demand for the extra resources, will need the understanding and support of the British archaeological community in general and the national funding agency, English Heritage, in particular.
The costs involved will necessarily be high and both developers and English Heritage, he promises, will be pressed hard for the required finance for digs and post-research and publication work.