Residential Property: KingsOak Go Back to the Future

Article excerpt

Byline: Marsya Lennox

Brownfield site use is turning the commercial job of housebuilding into an archaeological treasure trail - and a whole new speciality for developers.

The men in hard hats who plan new homes on recycled land are learning how to unearth the past - under the watchful gaze of the experts.

Latest in the growing line of housebuilders to come face to face with the medieval Midlands is KingsOak, currently involved in redevelopment at Minworth Greaves near Sutton Coldfield.

KingsOak South Midlands, who are based in Meriden, are planning conversion work and new build apartments at Minworth Greaves and as a matter of course, Birmingham archaeologists were given a watching brief on initial excavations of the former farmyard site.

Things became more exciting by the minute as the historic significance of the immediate area began to unfold.

The housebuilder had acquired the Grade ll listed Minworth Greaves farmhouse and its outbuildings in a total of nearly two acres of the semi-rural fringe close to the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal.

Experts were already aware of previous finds in the vicinity over recent years including prehistoric, Roman and medieval artefacts, the most important, a hoard of Roman coins found in an urn, just to the north.

'We had to have an archaeological evaluation of the site and appointed a couple of field archaeologists who stand by and ask us to dig through various depths,' said John Booth, project manager for KingsOak.

'So far we have found some medieval pottery, roof tiles, a number of post holes, a medieval boundary ditch, some pieces of 17th century pottery and a horse's jawbone.'

Even more exciting is the likely importance of a timber framed building on the site, formerly part of the farm outbuildings and initially thought to be 16th or 17th century.

'The building is a rarity and our consultants have not seen anything like this in the county before,' said Mr Booth. Included within the structure is an important king post truss indicating a high grade construction and some status for the site. And samples recently sent off to Warwick University for dendrochronological testing date timbers to 1452, making the barn building possibly older than thought.

English Heritage are now also involved and experts are exploring a possible ecclesiastical link between the building and the Diocese of Lichfield.

'They think it is important and are trying to establish its original use bearing in mind a relatively low floor to ceiling height,' said Mr Booth.

The area thought to be most crucial to the site's long history is that of the listed farmhouse itself and the entrance area from the Kingsbury Road, the most likely spot for an original medieval dwelling.

'What we are probably in was the garden land to any earlier habitation.' KingsOak cannot build on these possibly sensitive areas but will have to excavate for their access road - with an archaeologist or two breathing down their necks. …