Thames Water archaeologist protecting hidden history

By Barrie Hudson - 23 February 2021

BusinessHeritage

Thames Water has named Dr Victoria Reeve as its new archaeologist.

Dr Reeve at Farmoor Reservoir

The company says preserving ancient burial sites and priceless treasures lost to time are all in a day’s work for her.

Dr Reeve will help ensure vital infrastructure projects at historically important sites are carried out sensitively and sympathetically. 

She will also look after Thames Water’s own heritage, from the 400-year-old New River in Hertfordshire to the architecture of Victorian underground reservoirs and the ornate ironwork of the Crossness and Abbey Mills pumping stations in London. 

Dr Reeve said: “The beauty of this region is that we’ve got everything: Stone Age, Iron Age, Roman history, you name it. In London you can’t stick a spade in the ground without finding something. 

“Most of us would love to find a ‘Staffordshire Hoard’ of gold coins and jewellery, but it’s the simple connection with a person I find most fascinating, like a clay pipe that someone once smoked.” 

Working with organisations such as Historic England and the Museum of London Archaeology, Dr Reeve has been tasked with ensuring Thames Water’s work to upgrade its water pipes and sewers doesn’t impact any archaeologically important sites. 

The company’s engineers regularly unearth fascinating finds under streets and fields, including over two dozen 3,000-year-old human remains while protecting a rare chalk stream in Oxfordshire and one of the best-preserved World War Two air raid shelters while tackling leaks in London. 

During the construction of Farmoor Reservoir in Oxford in the 1960s, evidence of human activity through the ages was found, including spear tips, axe heads and flints. 

Dr Reeve said: “Right at the very start of a project we’ll look at where it is and use sources like archive records and old maps and photos to determine if there’s the potential to find something of interest. If there’s something there, we’ll bring in a team of archaeologists to excavate and record everything properly - or change the plans completely. 

“It’s important we look after our history and do everything we can to preserve it because it’s a finite resource. By having someone at Thames Water who can oversee the whole process, we can make sure we’re doing it properly, and that our contractors share the same values. 

“We also have so many amazing buildings in our own portfolio. Archaeology isn’t just about stuff that’s thousands of years old, it’s places like our spectacular Victorian pumping stations and underground reservoirs. We’ve got so much of a story to tell people.” 

Henry Badman, Thames Water’s conservation manager, said: “Many people will be surprised to hear Thames Water has its very own archaeologist, but we have an incredibly rich heritage and have been providing essential clean water and sanitation to London and the Thames Valley for over 400 years.  

“I’m delighted Victoria has joined the team to help bring that legacy to life and make sure we meet our legal and moral obligations as the latest custodians of Thames Water’s history.”

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