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Story Taken From the Riddlesdown Recorder Spring/Summer 2014

A first hand account by Riddlesdown resident; Alison Carpenter

The Story of Our Driveway

When you move into a new house, you sometimes learn a bit about the previous occupants. We heard stories from the neighbours about how the gentleman who once lived here drove his car right through the back of the garage and into the garden by mistake!

But it had never occurred to me who might have been here before our house was even built. The recent discovery of an ancient skull and bones under our driveway by some landscape gardeners has opened up a whole new world – an historical one – that we had never even thought about. Who was this person and what was their life like? How did they die, and how did they come to be buried there without a grave? Was their life and death not worth marking, or was that just not the ‘way’ back then? It feels a little odd that we may never know the details.

The past week has certainly made history very real to our children. Many parents take their children to visit museums during the school holidays, but this Easter holiday, the museum (or at least one exhibit) has come to us!

We had an extension built when we first moved in, but like any building project it took a lot more time and money than we anticipated, so we were unable to finish all the work. Although we have walls, windows and a roof, for which we are very grateful, we still have work to do inside the house. However, as we needed to install a soakaway and manhole, and after 2 years of chalk footprints  through the hallway, we decided that sorting out our driveway was our next priority.

So we employed a landscape gardener, Terry Jobson, to carry out the work, and after waiting several weeks for him to finish off  other jobs he finally began to dig out the soakaway and take off the surface of the driveway with a digger. Within a couple of hours he came across what he first thought was a coconut, partially submerged under the ground. On closer inspection he realised it was a skull! He dug it out by hand and found fragments of other bones as well, including a Femur.

My husband was out with our children at the time, and I was at work, when Terry called me to tell me about his discovery. I phoned my husband to let him know what had happened and he went straight home to have a look and phone the police. Several police officers looked at the skull and agreed it was probably very old. They took the skull and the only large bone – a femur – away to be aged, and left two police officers to watch our driveway  and pile of rubble, as it was now a potential crime scene.

Several neighbours have now told us of other remains found in the area over the years – some thought to be plague victims - and of Saxon burial grounds nearby.

As I write, our driveway is still being guarded by police officers, until they get official confirmation of the age of the bones. If they turn out to be less than 70 years old then a criminal investigation will take place, and if they turn out to be very ancient then it’s a possibility that archaeologists will want to do some further digging. For the sake of our new driveway and getting on with our lives, we’re hoping for somewhere in between!

Riddlesdown History

RRA Editor Neil Tarrant’s Footnote

Alison Carpenter’s fascinating article on the discovery of human remains in her driveway reminds us of Riddlesdown’s long and rich history. As we go to press in early April 2014, Croydon police have announced that the bones found in the Carpenter family’s driveway have been carbon-dated. They have been shown to date from between 650-755 CE, that is from the Anglo-Saxon period! At the Recorder we hope to be able to update you with any further information that may be discovered about the bones in the next issue. Alison’s story also gives us a chance to consider how traces of our past are preserved. Sometimes it is by chance, sometimes it is due to a conscious choice.

We are currently in the early stages of developing a project with Riddlesdown Collegiate to make an archive of oral histories of the area. The proposed project would offer a fantastic opportunity for residents to contribute to the community’s collective memory. Oral accounts are an increasingly important means of recording history, which complement and enhance more traditional sources such as printed documents, photographs or indeed archaeological evidence like bones. This project would involve residents, especially long-standing ones, recounting some of their memories and experiences of living in Riddlesdown. Do you have a story to tell, or have some reflections on the manner in which the area has changed over the years? If so would you be prepared to have them recorded with a view to them be deposited in the RRA’s archives?

If you would be interested in contributing stories and memories to the project please contact Neil Tarrant

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