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Not Brentford

High Street Excavations in the 1960s


Quentin Pickard provided contemporary notes from the 1966/7 excavations on the south side of the High Street, near to St Lawrence's Church.

'2000 years of Brentford' by Roy Canham records details of excavations at this and other High Street sites, during a programme of road-widening and rebuilding in the mid 1960s. in February 2012 a copy of Roy's book was available via Amazon.

Excavations at 141-147 Brentford High Street: Provisional Report

Trial-trenching on this site September - November 1966 revealed a field scatter of 4th century Roman pottery. Prolonged excavation during 1967 has shown a wide area of late Roman material on the immediate west of St. Lawrence's Church. Where undisturbed, this deposit appeared as a 4-5 thick layer of dark silt containing a large quantity of pottery and bone. Over 40 Roman coins were found, an exceptionally large number for such a site. This implies frequent handling (and therefore loss) of coinage, and thus a trading post or stopping place on the Roman road is more likely than a farmstead.

A large trench opened in Summer 1967 produced evidence of Roman settlement over a longer period. A ditch 6 ft. wide x 2.5-3 ft. deep was excavated for a length of 20 ft in an E-W direction. The ditch silt contained pottery of late 1st early 2nd century A.D. and the gravel layer sealing it 2nd century finds. This ditch and the 2nd century layer were cut in turn by a second ditch (4 ft wide x 2.5 ft deep), traced in a NNW-SSE direction for a distance of 41ft. Owing to the problem of a high water table, full excavation of it was only possible in the large trench (XII). In the NW. corner of XII the filling of the later ditch had been cut by a rubbish pit and two postholes, also of Roman date. Over the pit was a layer of the 4th century occupation refuse identical to that found elsewhere on the site.

The evidence of Medieval occupation was widespread, but poor in character, consisting mainly of small shards of 14th century (and some 13th century) pottery. In trench IX (close to the Church) the edge of a small 13th century structure was revealed in the form of four aligned postholes. A foot to the south was found the robber trench of an L-shaped wall. All but a 3 ft length of its N-S portion was obliterated by a drainage ditch running E-W direction, and since the wall did not reappear on undisturbed ground to the south, the building must have been narrow: its southern wall may well have been totally removed by the ditch.

The last-mentioned feature seems to have been cut originally in the late 14th/15th century, and suffered numerous recuttings until the 17the century. --It-is worth noting that 17th and 18th century maps show the area gridded by a network of dykes, of which this may be one. A narrow gulley in trench XII ran N-S towards the line of the ditch and probably drained into it.

The very thick loan deposit which contained all Medieval structures and potsherds was sealed off by building layers in the 17th and 18th centuries, evidencing the encroachment of the town on to farming land. The earliest brick structure of this phase was a 17th century house wall found close to the High Street in trench XIV.


Basis of Future Excavations

In spite of the evidence from the Thames and its foreshore, no sign of prehistoric Brentford has been brought to light by excavation. However, work conducted to date has been in an area where natural ground consists of alternate layers of silt and gravel, undoubtedly marking an early course of the Brent. This river course had silted up entirely by the Roman period, yet may have been uninhabitable until late prehistoric times.

The Roman occupation is now shown to be long, covering most of the Roman period. Even so, the size of the settlement cannot be large. Travellers' itineraries dating from the Roman period, list the London-Silchester-Exeter road, which passed through Brentford; the first recorded town on this route is named as PONTES which, by virtue of the quoted distances from London, lies at Staines, If Brentford had a settlement of any size, then it too would be mentioned. But the quantity and scatter of finds does indicate something more than a single building.

The position of the Roman road has not been found (the early E-W ditch is of the wrong size and shape for a road ditch). Rebuilding of Brentford Bridge in c. 1446 and 1824 made slight diversions in the highway necessary, deflecting it apparently to the south. The original route must be sought to the north of the High Street.

In 705 A.D. the rulers of the East Saxons and West Saxons met at Brentford to settle their quarrels. The town is again mentioned in 716 when King Aethelbald granted portions of his land at 'Branesforde' to Evesham Abbey. In 780 Offa, King of Mercia, held a meeting of his council there, and was again present at the Synod of Brentford in 781. A Saxon settlement of some importance is clearly indicated. Continuity between this and the Medieval town should be close. Before redevelopment of Brentford begins in earnest, there is still time and space for a number of excavations between the present site and the town centre.


Published February 2012