On 15th November local residents hereabouts received a letter from Lewisham Council informing us that we had barely a month in which to send in our comments on the development plans for Convoys Wharf. Hutchison-Whampoa have also belatedly posted a mass of documentation on their PR website, including a report of the archaeological excavations carried out this spring, (on which see my earlier posts).
The report states that two trenches (nos. 33 and 34) were aimed “to refine and fix the position of the mansion house of Sayes Court”, and yet it’s obvious even from their own overlay plans (part of one, fig.71, is shown on the left) that neither of them were positioned anywhere near the marked site of the house. Small wonder, then, that they didn’t find it!
As for the actual garden, the report says (p.80) that they “failed to reveal any significant evidence” for it, apart from a “possible terrace” and part of a ditch in trench 38. Although not stated in the report, this appears to be situated over part of the Evelyn’s “grove” or thickly-wooded area, described in my second Garden Walk-through post. There was a layer of dark soil up to two metres thick sealing these features, and just underlying the modern concrete surface. Was this deep soil not likely to be connected with the woodland planted here?
The scattergun siting of the trenches over the Sayes Court area bears very little apparent relation to the detailed plans of the garden and manor-house as they have come down us. (See The key to the garden post) How then can they accurately evaluate the potential for their survival? Such evaluation was the stated purpose of the dig – and the outcome will be used to decide what further archaeology should be done (and supposedly taken into account in the detailed development design and construction).
Why, as I’ve asked before, was no specialist in garden archaeology involved in the excavation? The excavators claim to have been in close liason with English Heritage, and yet when a friend called EH this week, they made it clear that their garden archaeology consultant was completely unaware of the present situation. How shocking!
It takes interest and motivation as well as experience to identify garden archaeology.
Yet, out of a total of 52 trenches excavated across the site, only five were located on the Sayes Court garden area. If you share my concern that this is a paltry way to treat the remains of one of the most important historic gardens in the country, please write to Lewisham Council and tell them so. And if you would support the idea of restoring part of Evelyn’s garden, please mention this in your letter. The deadline for them to receive comments that will be taken into account in considering the planning application is 20th December, so we have to be quick! Here’s the address to write to: Emma Talbot, Planning Service, 5th floor Laurence House, 1 Catford Rd., Catford, London SE6 4SW. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Here, in summary, is what I think:-
1) Sayes Court is a site of national historical importance. Its archaeology has yet to be properly investigated and recorded.
2) Informed by a thorough archaeological excavation, the development proposals should include a historically-accurate restoration of a substantial part of the garden as a valuable local amenity, an economically-significant visitor attraction, and a worthy memorial to John Evelyn.
Lastly, if you like the idea of an exciting garden restoration project, and especially if you have experience of the planning process, garden history or design expertise, please do get in touch. My email address is on the “About” page.