“Greenwich Park played a surprisingly important role in London’s Second World War. For example, most of the lower ground in front of the National Maritime Museum was given over to Dig for Victory allotments (which remained in use until at least 1948).
"There were also three air-raid shelters in the Park, capable of holding around 500 people. The location of the shelters was known, because they are visible on several aerial photographs - and even from ground level in very dry weather. It had long been thought that they were demolished after the War, however, and that the marks were simply from the backfilled trenches.
"Something didn’t quite ring true with this, so we decided to organise a community archaeology dig to see what we could find. This was done over five days, between 22 and 26 July 2019, in sweltering temperatures - an extra test for the fantastic team of 26 volunteers who jumped at the chance to work with professional archaeologists.
"The dedication and determination of our great team of local volunteers was brilliant, and all credit to them for learning the skills needed to be an archaeologist so quickly.
"Best of all, they had the amazing experience of actually finding the main air-raid shelter in front of the Queen’s House. It hadn’t been demolished at all - the pre-fabricated concrete walls, posts and ceiling beams all survived intact, both in the shelter and at the entrance to it. All that was missing was the roof, which must have been broken out so that the long concrete-lined trenches could be backfilled. It was amazing to see how well-preserved everything was - and to be the first people to see inside it for 70 years!
"The discovery is extremely important, not only locally but nationally, as many relics of the War have been lost since 1945. It has been exciting and a privilege for us all to reveal the shelter after so long - but that’s not all! The team also found several prehistoric flint tools, a few pieces of Roman pottery, and a larger amount of medieval pottery which predates the Park’s royal origins. But everyone’s favourite find was made (as is so often the way) almost at the end of our last day: a toy soldier made of lead, probably from the Second World War, was found in the air-raid shelter. We can’t help but wonder who lost it ...”
The community dig supports The Royal Parks’ bid to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for a multi-million-pound proposal called “Greenwich Park Revealed”. One of the aims of the project is to uncover the park’s hidden history and encourage people to explore lesser-known attractions in the park.