The remains of homes from over 2,000 years ago could be destroyed to satisfy the need for new houses today after an archaelogical dig revealed a small Iron Age settlement at Ridgeway Farm in West Swindon.
And there are now calls that the area should be preserved for future investigation and not built upon.
The dig has been taking place since the end of April, as part of a detailed investigation required by planning permission for 700 houses awarded in 2012 to Taylor Wimpey.
The developers’ planning application required an archaeological survey of the whole Ridgeway Farm site and the report by consultants Wessex Archaeology in 2011 identified an area to the west side of the track entrance to Ridgeway farm house which needed more detailed investigation.
A Taylor Wimpey spokesman said: “The archaeological investigation at Ridgeway Farm has been continuing for several months and we have now decided to extend the project to cover a wider area.
“The investigation work began on land where the second phase of homes is set to be built and we are now extending the area for the project by 0.5 hectares to the north and north west of the area where we have been focusing.
“The work is being carried out by specialist contractors and we will be updating residents with information about their finds on-site in future editions of our Ridgeway Farm newsletter, which is distributed to homes around the area of the site and is also being posted on our website.”
Amanda and Clive Heard and their daughters, who live opposite the excavation, saw the work start. “We were alerted when the top soil was stripped away from the field on the other side of Purton Road,” said Amanda. “We saw the archaeologists start their work by surveying the area with geophysical measuring equipment to locate the best places to dig trial holes and were told there was evidence of an iron age settlement.
“We immediately pulled out our Ladybird history of early British peoples and have been finding out more about how Iron Age people lived between 600BC and 48AD. I don’t recall the information about archaeological remains being made public but I eventually found the Wessex Archaeology report from 2011 after some hunting on the internet.
“The staff on site showed us the evidence of a roundhouse on the site and told us that they had found a copper brooch and some bones that needed further analysis.
“We’ve been told the site is interesting but not outstanding, but we think that Taylor Wimpey should look at how to incorporate the site as open space when they submit their detailed application for the west side of Ridgeway Farm.”
County Archaeologist Melanie Pomeroy-Kellinger said: “Several features of interest have been found at Ridgeway Farm including the remains of an Iron Age round house, a burial and several other features. It looks like there was a small rural farmstead here.”
However she made it clear that the findings will not stop the Taylor Wimpey development from going ahead.
Right, could the Ridgeway Farm roundhouse look like this?
But Purton based environmentalist Dr Richard Pagett believes there is reason to delay house building in the area of investigation and Taylor Wimpey should find a way to preserve the site rather than build on top of it. He said: “It is disappointing that although several features of archaeological interest have been found on the site of the Ridgeway Farm housing development, including the remains of an Iron Age round house, a burial mound and several other features, it is just taken for granted that the development will proceed.
“These days many sites are simply re-buried so that in years – perhaps decades – to come new generations of archaeologists with far more sophisticated techniques and tools than we have at present are able to extract more of the story of these finds.
“Just digging them up now and cataloguing them and building over the site stops the story from being fully known. At least what should happen is that the site should be re-covered and not built upon; the houses will need to go around these sites. Of course given what we know so far, the entire development site should be subject to investigation.”
Kevin Fisher, chair of Shaw Residents’ Association, said leaving the site as open space would only reduce the number of new houses by a few. “It is a sad indictment of the country we live in where ‘progress’ means a tragic disregard for our environment, be it sensitive land at Moredon Bridge or an Iron Age burial ground at Ridgeway Farm.
“In approving the 50 houses at Moredon Bridge, the planning inspector argued that it is such a small piece of sensitive grassland that the impact will be inconsequential. Why can’t a similar argument be used the other way around?
“Wiltshire and Swindon will build about 60,000 houses over the next decade. Whilst I do not know how extensive the archaeological find is, if the build at Ridgeway Farm was to be reduced by just twelve houses to allow for the preservation of the Iron Age site, it would equate to just 0.02% of the total house build in the county – an inconsequential number.
“And by the way, who would want to live in a house built over a graveyard? I trust house buyers would be made aware of this"
Moredon Bridge environmental site ‘swapped’ for site in South Wiltshire
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Ridgeway Farm is being marketed by two different Taylor Wimpey offices.
Photo below by Ross Davidson: The Ridgeway Farm site, in the foreground on the far side of the railway track, looking south to Peatmoor, Sparcells and and beyond. Moredon Bridge is on the far left