How can a drone and hot weather help us find medieval Greenlands?

If you follow the stories in the UK media, you would not imagine that anything good could come from a period of dry and sunny weather. But there are some surprising benefits to the heatwave that we can share which provide valuable insights into the history of our Greenlands campus.

An ongoing project is investigating the history of Greenlands before the present building existed, the findings of which will be reported later in the Autumn. We have previously discovered that the medieval Greenlands building, a manor house, existed on the same site as the current house, but was destroyed completely in 1644 during the Civil War (1642-51). After this, the site was used as farmland, and we know that River House, the oldest existing building, existed as a farmhouse by the end of the 18th Century. The main buildings were then developed over the 19th Century.

So how does the hot and dry weather help us find a medieval manor house? All we know from historical documentation about the manor house at Greenlands is that it was between the current house and the river – it is not integrated into any of the current buildings and occupied a completely separate footprint. But where could it have been? No maps exist noting its location and no archaeological surveys have ever been undertaken. It is therefore very difficult to find the actual foundations by walking around the current lawn in front of the house and beside the Thames – I know as I have tried many times.

But now, thanks to a drone and the hot and dry weather, we may have some indication. This kind of weather allows aerial photographs to reveal markings of buried foundations or ditches. A BBC story about hidden landscapes gave us the inspiration for looking at Greenlands and explains why the technique works.still 2-expanded-sm


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With drones becoming commonplace, we didn’t need to hire a light aircraft to fly over Greenlands to take some snaps. Two weeks ago, before the thunderstorms, we experimented and found the following markings which we think could be the possible location. Have a look – what do you think? We have put up two photos, the second to mark what we think we can see. It looks like a long rectangle – the lower end there looks to be a double wall, and there is an interesting square marking in the top half. It is a pity about the chess board and pathway which have been built over part of the right-hand edge!

This was not an area we would have expected to have seen the foundations in – we would have been looking in front of the main building itself. However, it does actually make some sense. It is in front of the oldest part of Greenlands, River House, and so maybe this farmhouse was built there close to the old building, which may have still had foundations showing above ground and may also have been a ready source of building rubble.

This is a start, but the markings are vague and hardly conclusive. Next, we would like to measure this imprint on the ground. We can then compare the dimensions with other manor houses from the medieval period in the area – does it make sense in terms of its overall size? Then we could look to commission an archaeological survey working with our colleagues in Archaeology, perhaps using geophysical survey techniques to see if the marks are revealed without the need for digging up our lovely lawn!

Written by Professor Adrian Bell

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