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What Lies Beneath

I was flicking channels the other day when an image of our T&L office suddenly appeared on the screen. ‘The key to the mystery’, Tony Robinson was busy proclaiming, ‘may lie at the bottom of this smelly river.’

Turns out he was referring (in scandalously disparaging terms) to the Wandle River which runs past our office in Merton Abbey Mills, and the mystery of which he spoke was the question of where Arthur Liberty (founder of the Regent’s Street department store) had his Victorian textile factory. Over the course of the next hour of programming, Tony and his Time Team dug pits all over the site and found slightly less than you’d uncover excavating a kids’ sandpit. A dull 60 minutes you might think. But you’d be wrong. While finding a brass clothes pin in the muddy deposits of the Wandle hardly constituted a ‘hoard’, the forgotten legacy of the nineteenth century arts and crafts movement in this area was a treasure in its own way. William Morris and Arthur Liberty chose this site - where craftsmen had plied their trades since the time of Merton Priory - to make a deliberate statement about their own traditional textile techniques.

Unfortunately no evidence remains of the Time Team visit, nor of the archaeology they uncovered (though apparently a medieval tile the team found did make it to the Museum of London). It’s a real shame as archaeological digs like this can ignite a community’s interest in history. Take the recent dig at Fulham Palace where the archaeology was shared and celebrated by palace and park users, with the finds now on show.

So this Eye is really me inviting Time Team to reform and come back to have another go. Only this time, can they please leave us with the legacy.

Jon Watt is editor of the Clapham & Battersea and Fulham editions of Time & Leisure Magazine.