The following article is reproduced from issue 54 (Autumn 2001) of the Review. It was written by Joe Prentice, a Project Officer with Northampton Archaeology.
In the early summer of 2001 archaeologists from Northamptonshire Archaeology, part of Northamptonshire County Council, arrived at Battersea Park at the invitation of Jennifer Ullman, Park manager and Dr Hilary Taylor, Historic Landscape Consultant to investigate two areas of the Park that are to be restored as part of the on-going restoration project. These are the Sub-Tropical garden and the Rosary Garden (now part of the deer enclosure) both of which have been altered since the original creation of the Park. These areas were known from contemporary illustrations and maps, but it was felt that archaeology would establish their locations exactly so that any restoration would be as accurate as possible.
The Sub-Tropical Garden was once an area of island beds, richly planted during the summer months with exotic and tropical plants, often newly introduced from far flung reaches of the Empire. Many were planted out in their flower pots and in the winter taken into greenhouses which used to be situated in what is now the Office Yard at the west end of the Park. The plants included ferns, tree ferns, India rubber trees, banana’s from Abyssinia ‘recalling the expedition to Magdala’, papyrus from Egypt ‘the veritable bullrush of the Nile’, the large-leaved tobacco and many more.
These Tropical beds survived until the Second World War the area has simply been grassed over with a few trees and shrubs. The archaeological investigation involved two main areas of work; geophysical survey which locates buried features without excavating, and traditional excavation to establish the depth and make-up of the features. Both methods worked very well at Battersea, the Victorian gardeners had been very thorough when preparing the beds, introducing large quantities of organic material to make good growing soil. Some of the beds had layers of brick around the edges, part of a system introduced by Gibson for trapping heat, though whether they worked or not is unclear. Where the ground is very clay (the underlying soil is made up of material brought in from the East End Docks), clinker was introduced to aid drainage.
The Rosary Garden has similarly changed a great deal; it is now incorporated within the deer enclosure and nothing remains of the Rose bed and surrounding paths. The work here was to locate the bed and the route of the original paths along the perimeter of the original deer enclosure. The paths were easily found, when the area was altered they were simply grassed over. Excavation revealed the gravel surface and even parts of the original deer enclosure fence, and located the precise route which appeared on different maps to be in slightly different places. Unfortunately the Rose bed was not found. During the work for the 1951 Festival of Britain celebrations, a road was put through the centre of the bed and a deep gravel layer had destroyed all of the evidence, though the bed can be restored from map evidence.The work at Battersea was very enjoyable, since in contrast to most sites we had contact with the people who use the park daily. They could be entertaining and useful; we even met two ladies who remembered the Sub-Tropical garden as it was before the War. Archaeology isn’t just about dead bodies and buried walls, and hopefully our work at Battersea will help to make the Park even more enjoyable and varied for the people who walk there every day.