Secrets of the Temple

IMG_1974The Temple in Wanstead Park. ©Richard Arnopp

Richard Arnopp was one of several participants in last month’s Museum of London Archaeology workshop exploring the history and secrets of Wanstead Park’s Temple

Anything to do with the history of Wanstead Park is almost guaranteed an audience and, with that in mind, Epping Forest hosted two free archaeology workshops in the park last month as part of Layers of London, an interactive online mapping project. The events – led by Paul McGarrity of Museum of London Archaeology – took place in the Temple, a building dating from about 1760, originally constructed to house a menagerie.

Paul explained that archaeology isn’t just about digging – archaeologists record buildings which are still standing too. He said that the analysis of buildings is based on the same principles as other archaeological fieldwork. In excavations, archaeologists use the sequence of buried layers to reconstruct the history of a site, while the development of buildings is phased using the relationship between 3D structures.

Paul began by saying protection for archaeology had increased since 1990 with measures which had greatly increased the level of recording. In the case of a standing building, this would depend on its nature and the purpose for which the record was intended. Standing building records typically addressed location, form, function, materials, setting, context, phasing, history and significance. They ranged from Level I (a basic visual record) to Level IV (a comprehensive analytical record appropriate for buildings of special importance).

After explaining the principles involved, Paul took the group on a tour of the Temple, which is Grade II listed, commenting on a variety of visual clues to its development. The Temple has a complicated history, both of construction and use. It is possible only the central part, behind the portico, had originally been planned, but two symmetrical wings had been added early, possibly while construction was in progress. It was also possible the entire back of the building had been reconstructed when the plans changed. A small extension to the south had been added subsequently using a similar style and materials, and then a rather larger extension in the 19th century using London stock bricks. Paul pointed out the vertical sequences of cut ‘closer’ bricks, which disclosed the locations of successive end walls, as well as repairs from a bombing raid in 1917, changes to the windows and clues from old paintwork to alterations to the mound at the front. Participants also got access to the cellar space under the porch, which now serves as a plant room and is normally closed.

Following the tour, the group undertook an exercise in describing a single wall of the room they were in. Nobody managed to record all the features they should have done, which included temporary notices! All participants were very enthusiastic about the workshop and found it informative and enjoyable.

The Temple is open on the first full weekend of every month from 10am to 3pm (free entry). Visit wnstd.com/temple
Author: Editor