CBA Occasional Papers

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The erosion of history. Archaeology and planning in towns. A study of historic towns affected by modern development in England, Wales and Scotland

Carolyn M Heighway (editor)

CBA Occasional Papers No. 4 (1972)


Title page of report 4

The physical evidence for the history of the British people is being destroyed on an immense scale, at an increasing pace, and often without record. In town and country, by development and redevelopment, by the extraction of sand and gravel, by mining, farming and afforestation, the surviving remains of our past are being steadily eroded. This report is concerned with one part of the problem, the archaeology of towns.

The crisis in urban archaeology is particularly acute, not only because of the extent and archaeologically destructive nature of modern urban development, but also because each town is a unique expression of the history of its region. While rural settlements must be studied selectively if useful historical information is to be obtained, the destruction without record of the archaeology of any town will leave an irreplaceable gap in our knowledge of the evolution of its region. We are, moreover, today an urban people and an informed and intelligent understanding of the growth of towns is a vital element in the conservation of urban environment.

The seriousness of the present situation in urban archaeology cannot be overstated. The most important towns of all historical periods will be lost to archaeology in twenty years, if not before. There is very little time for action, but, as I wrote four years ago, town archaeology is 'a problem which must be solved by an unprecedented expenditure of money and archaeological manpower, unless the end of the century is to mark the elimination of a major source of evidence for the history of the British people' (Antiquity 42 (1968), 114). Government action is now needed without delay at the highest levels. Responsibility for the present situation cannot be easily apportioned. Much of it must lie with archaeologists themselves, but archaeology is a new discipline, and urban archaeology is barely two decades old. Some of the responsibility lies with historians for not often seeing the importance of other than written records. Some blame certainly lies with the government, whose spokesmen continue to assert, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that existing voluntary procedures and existing legislation are adequate and effective (Commons Written Answer, 30th March 1971). Most of the blame must however be attributed to sheer general ignorance, to a failure to understand that part of a town's archive lies below its pavements, and that archaeological sites are not just Roman villas and prehistoric barrows.

This report sets out to try and replace this general unawareness by an informed view set in a national framework. It is the first report of its kind to be produced by British archaeology, and will shortly be followed by a similar study of churches.


  • Title pages
  • Members of the Urban Research Committee (p v)
  • Preface (p vi)
  • Explanation of the study
    • The origin of the study (pp 1-2)
    • Summary of results (pp 2-3)
  • The importance of a town's archaeology (pp 4-7)
  • The content of the study
    • Scope (pp 8-10)
    • The method used (pp 10-11)
    • Information contained in the lists (pp 11-14)
  • The present position of archaeology in urban planning
    • Protection of archaeological sites (pp 15-16)
    • The archaeologist on the site (pp 16-18)
  • The present situation in urban archaeology
    • Urban archaeology in Britain (pp 19-22)
    • Urban architectural survey in Britain (pp 22-23)
    • Development in historic towns: results of the study (pp 23-45)
  • Special Cases
    • Abingdon, Berkshire (pp 46-48)
    • Cambridge (pp 48-51)
    • Gloucester (pp 51-53)
    • Kinston Upon Hull, Yorkshire (pp 54-56)
    • Ruthin, Denbighshire (pp 56-57)
    • Stirling (pp 57-58)
    • Comments on the special cases (pp 58-59)
  • Recommendations (pp 60-63)
  • Appendices
    • Appendix I: lists of towns in England, Isle of Man, Wales, Scotland (pp 64-117)
    • Appendix II (a) and (b): forms sent to local authorities requesting planning information (pp 118-119)
    • Appendix III: forms sent to local societies requesting information on archaeological and architectural work in progress (pp 120-121)
    • Appendix IV: bibliographical note (p 122)
    • Appendix V (a): list of small towns where no archaeological work is being done (p 123)
    • Appendix V (b): small towns in need of archaeological investigation (p 124-126)

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