10,000 Years of Brentford

Jon Cotton is a former senior curator at the Museum of London and is a particular expert on all things relating to West London. John got the inspiration for his talk at Pier House from a book published in the 1960s by archaeologist Roy Canham, entitled ‘2,000 Years of Brentford’.

Jon set the scene by explaining the ability to time-travel within Brentford is all thanks to its unique position. The town is sited next to the River Brent and the Thames, and it is this confluence that has drawn man to Brentford for thousands of years. Brentford has also gone much development in recent years (indeed, this still continues), which has given archaeologists the chance to dig under it’s streets, supermarkets and car parks. Brentford is also the first point on the old roman road out of London that meets the Thames. It was for this reason that Roy Canham started excavating in Brentford during the 1960s and was able to find the original roman road. Jon showed us photographs taken upon its discovery, which showed that the road has been resurfaced several times during its lifetime. No roman villas have ever been found in Brentford (or anywhere in West London). Jon explained that Brentford during this time would have been a village of artisans, making goods to ship up the river to London, and would have resembled a shanty town.

Jon then took us further back in time and showed us a Neolithic pottery bowl which had been found under the site of Thomas Layton’s house in Kew. Layton was himself a hoarder of artefacts and at the time of his death in 1911 his main residence and 31 sheds were full of objects he had collected over the years. His ambition was to create a British Museum on the Thames. One of the most exciting finds within Layton’s hoard was the Kew Tankard, a communal drinking vessel dating back to the Iron Age.

After a whistle-stop back to the present day, which included Saxon fish traps and late Bronze-age swords, Jon concluded that Brentford did not deserve it’s maligned reputation. Jon revealed that even as far back as 1754 its high street was labelled the “worst public road in Europe” and some might say that not much has changed since then. But Jon, and many other archaeologists disagree and find Brentford to be one of the most fascinating parts of London.

Upcoming ‘Talks by the Thames’