Our buried past

PUBLISHED: 10:25 18 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:53 06 May 2010

SIR – Given the phenomenal upsurge in interest in archaeology due to TV programmes such as Time Team, which blows away the myth that you need to be an academic with a string of letters after your name to be excited by archaeology, it therefore might be ex

SIR - Given the phenomenal upsurge in interest in archaeology due to TV programmes such as Time Team, which blows away the myth that you need to be an academic with a string of letters after your name to be excited by archaeology, it therefore might be expected that when a "significant" archaeological find in the heart of our city came to light, the relevant portfolio holder would be on the scene, like a flash, suitably garbed with a wide grin for the photo opportunity. Perhaps because the site of this "significant" find is close by to the proposed new leisure centre at Westminster Lodge explains the reticence.

However, at last Thursday's council's overview and scrutiny committee it was reported that a large complex had been found, with an associated ditch, which had been identified by our present and illustrious former district archaeologist as possibly being a Roman watermill and associated leat.

Although much of the buildings were severely damaged due to local residents doing their recycling bit back in medieval times, we feel really excited by this find as it will help increase our collective knowledge of the evolving landscape, including that of the path of the River Ver.

Despite being pressed hard to disclose just how significant this find was, the project manager for the new leisure centre ensured the district archaeologist remained rather unclear on this point.

We and councillors were assured at the meeting that this find, would not be affected by the proposed leisure centre, but interestingly further excavations were necessary on an unrelated find, which would extend for some 25 metres under where the new pool is proposed - how fitting!

Some fellow residents may be aware, we were not until we looked it up, that as far back as 1968 excavations had shown evidence that a Roman watermill may have existed on this site and the recent findings plus evidence of a leat must add weight to the initial theory.

At the meeting, one councillor asked, as the area of the possible watermill and leat would be preserved under soft landscaping, could this not be made more of a feature by possibly marking out the footprint of the remains at surface level with information provided about this Roman semi-industrial find.

We very much support this notion. The project manager said she would look into it, but we are unconvinced that much effort will be made, as clearly the existing plans are at a very advanced stage.

So why has the site of the new leisure centre been chosen before reference to archeological records and excluding the possibility of celebrating this within the plans?

After all if you are going to splash out on a spa to 'cash in' on our Roman heritage, why not celebrate some actual artifacts within the plans?

We are hugely disappointed that this really exciting opportunity to honour our rich past will seemingly be buried and forgotten yet again. According to George Orwell "He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future". How true this is in this case. As we feel we are positively spoilt for precious archaeology in this area, yet the council seems to us too blasé in the face of such riches; such as the Roman mosaic hidden under a carpet in the bar of The Alban Arena for over 30 years. If news of how and where our ancestors provided some daily necessities of life has excited other residents too, then the council can only blame itself if it gives them more grief over this contentious scheme.

JAMES & VANESSA

GREGORY

Tennyson Road, St Albans


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