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Restoring and revealing Greenwich Park’s ancient past

We are carrying out a once-in-a-generation project to restore Greenwich Park’s Saxon Barrow Cemetery and protect its rare acid-grassland environment by removing a tarmac path which bisects the ancient monument.

As we carry out these important works, we will take the opportunity to find out more about the park’s fascinating past.

The Saxon Barrow Cemetery is an ancient burial ground and scheduled monument, which dates nearly 1500 years. It is located at Croom's Hill, south of The Avenue and west of the Meridian Line. With at least 31 upstanding burial mounds, the quality of the surviving archaeology is of national importance. We have appointed our first in-house archaeologist, working in consultation with Historic England to reveal the fascinating history of ancient Greenwich.

In the late 18th century, early archaeologists (called antiquarians) found glass beads, textiles, as well as a shield boss and spear. This suggests the burial mounds were pagan, rather than Christian graves. There were probably about 40 mounds originally, although many are now hard to see.

The path was likely to have originally been a small track known as a ‘desire line’ that was ‘formalised’ by the Victorians in the 1860s – first with a gravel surface and later, tarmac. The path runs from Croom’s Hill Gate towards the Observatory. We have found a photo that shows a metal fence running along each side of it in 1899.

Our experts will carefully peel back and remove the tarmac, providing a chance to learn more about the park’s past.

Discover 10 key dates in the Saxon cemetery footpath project

Once removed this path will be permanently closed to the public and the original grassland will be reinstated. Removal of the path will enable us to protect the park’s valuable and rare acid-grassland which provides crucial habitats for pollinators such as butterflies and mining bees. There will continue to be public access to this area, however we would ask people to ‘tread lightly’ and respect the valuable natural landscape hosted at this nationally important monument.

Works are scheduled for 2022.

Did you know: Plans for a reservoir in the 1840s caused local outrage when people thought the burial mounds would be damaged. Work stopped and the reservoir was moved further south, but not before several of the mounds had been flattened. We are still researching what happened to the finds from the 18th and 19th century digs, but will be putting any new finds on display, as part of the Greenwich Park Revealed project.

The work to remove the path, reinstate the rare acid grassland and research the monument’s history is funded through Greenwich Park Revealed – an £8m project to protect, restore, reveal and share the park’s nature and heritage for everyone. The project is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund.

To get involved and find out more please email greenwichparkrevealed@royalparks.org.uk

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