Planning for the future: GPO delivers discarded post after forty-five years

Ian Blair

Whilst attending ‘The Great Museum of London Reunion ’ at London Wall in December 2022, I got talking to fellow archaeologist Toria Standfield from Pre-Construct Archaeology (PCA), who had recently concluded their excavation along the west side of the former General Post Office site on Newgate Street (GPO75).

05A3C097 3E4D 417E 80DA 73D693C6638A 550wGroup photo of the PCA archaeologists on the Newgate Street site. Standing (left to right): Toria Standfield, Tamsin Cornelious, Phil Jefferies, Bob Bazely, Ferdi Lentini, Pat Cavanagh, Natália Klimašovská, Adrain Wimcek. Kneeling (left to right): Kathy Davidson, and Ben Lang. Photograph: Strephon Duckering

The site was my first excavation with the Department of Urban Archaeology (DUA) in the City of London and holds many memories for me, so I had a natural interest in learning what had been discovered during the latest works which clearly had some spatial overlap with the earlier excavation.

Fig 2 550wThe Newgate Street site under development in January 2023, with Christchurch Greyfriars in the background. The photo shows the east half of the former GPO building stripped back to its retained concrete core, with the west side fully demolished in the area where the PCA excavation was undertaken (looking north-west)

Having previously written a post:‘The traces we leave behind: uncovering the archaeology of the archaeologists which detailed a growing number of former DUA sites that had in recent years come up for redevelopment and been subject to further archaeological works, I was intrigued to hear that they had recovered some ‘finds’ associated with the original DUA excavation.

In May 2023, I got the chance to hear Kathy Davidson, who supervised the works for PCA, talking about the site at The Spring London Archaeological Forum at the Institute of Archaeology, and learnt more of the latest DUA related ephemera to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of our former excavation. The most substantial and telling item to be found was a multi-context plan on a large sheet of permatrace: the attribution box in the lower margin showing that it had been drawn by one ‘PAUL HERBERT’.

Paul Herbert permatrace dug up by PCA at gpo75 500w‘PAUL HERBERT Woz Here 1977!’

With the consequent passage of time since it was buried, the plan is not surprisingly now somewhat crumpled and grubby, but Kathy peering through the dust of ages nonetheless commented on how nicely drawn it was, so there is a belated plaudit to Paul (Paulo) who will hopefully see this post at some point.

DB10C6DA 23B4 4487 88DD 728794551231 plan 550w‘Can you see anything?’ ‘Yes, wonderful things!’ – peering through the dust of ages, planning for the future

Thinking about the high standard of draughtsmanship amongst the DUA archaeologists at the time and given that this plan was discarded, makes you realise how beautifully drawn its replacement must have been. Testament to this being that the final version titled: ‘The GPO Site’ by Paul Herbert now hangs in the Tate Modern in Southwark.

** I would like to thank Kathy Davidson from PCA for her communications and for kindly sending me photos of the plan and a group photo of her team. The latest excavations on site were undertaken in two phases: November 2021–February 2022 and October 2022–November 2022.


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