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Severn Vale National Mapping Programme project

This aerial survey covered a part of the Severn Vale from Cheltenham in the north to Bristol in the south, an area that is likely to see new building development in the near future. This survey identified the archaeology that new development might affect and enabled a better understanding of it.

Colour aerial photograph showing the edge of a town with substantial areas of flooding from the river extending into farmland
A view, taken on 24 July 2007 during the floods, looking northwest across Gloucester towards Over Bridge with the River Leadon and River Severn beyond (NMR 24640/42). © Historic England

Urban growth

The major population centres and communications infrastructure of Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire are located in the central low-lying area of the Severn Vale and around the fringes of Bristol.

The region contains extensive protected areas. These include the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the Wye Valley AONB and the Forestry Commission woodland in the Forest of Dean. This means that development pressure is concentrated in the vale to the east of the River Severn and Severn Estuary.

Various other factors concentrate potential strategic development allocations to conurbations, other principal settlements and near to major road and rail corridors. These include flood risk, environmental designations and local policy issues.

Colour aerial photo showing a shopping mall with car parks and further retail outlets and domestic housing in the distance
Cribbs Causeway shopping mall on the outskirts of Bristol photographed on 19 February 2000 © Historic England

The medieval landscape

As well as numerous examples of ridge and furrow cultivation, shrunken and deserted settlements, many moated sites were also identified during this project.

One such example is the moat just outside Elmstone Hardwicke village. Seen as earthworks on aerial photographs taken in 1955, ploughing since that date has levelled it.

Another possible medieval site identified during the Severn Vale aerial survey is a possible Deer Park at Leckhampton Court. The remains were similar to other known deer parks. The only documentary evidence to support this interpretation, however, is the field name 'Lower Park' marked on the 1835 tithe map.

Two aerial photographs showing a moat as an earthwork in 1955 and as a cropmark in 1988
The moated site at Church Farm, Elmstone Hardwicke village. Seen as an earthwork in 1955 (left) it had been levelled by 1988 (right). RAF 58/1705 F21 0042 01-APR-1955 Historic England RAF Photography; OS88104 V 016 16 MAY 1988 © Crown copyright. Ordnance Survey

The Severn Vale at war

The Severn Vale was a hive of military activity during the Second World War. There were airfields, aircraft factories, military camps, supply depots, anti-aircraft batteries, barrage balloon sites, prisoner of war camps and radar stations.

Wartime usage dramatically reshaped this landscape. Though most of the military bases built on farmland have been decommissioned, few have been returned to farmland. Most have been redeveloped for commerce or housing.

The project also identified and recorded three accommodation sites built for the civilian wartime workforce including that at Bishops Park, Bishop's Cleeve. This site was built in 1942 with advice from the Billy Butlin, who had opened his first holiday camp in 1936. It housed the workforce for the nearby Smith's Industries aircraft component factory.

The site consisted of identical prefabricated bungalows and had a shop, canteen and a dance hall-cum-cinema. Married employees were accommodated inside the loop roadways and single employees on the outside. The estate was demolished by the 1960s and is currently the site of a business park.

Black and white vertical aerial photo showing numerous buildings laid out in a regular pattern along streets with gardens
Bishop's Park estate built in 1942 for Smith's Industries civilian workforce and photographed by the RAF on 16 January 1947 (RAF/CPE/UK/1929 F20 3039). © Historic England. RAF Photography

Project details

The project took place in three phases. The first phase of mapping identified archaeology around the fringes of Gloucester and Cheltenham, within the proposed development areas. The second phase recorded archaeology on the northern fringes of Bristol, between Filton and Falfield. The third and final phase extended from Falfield up to Moreton Valence.

The information obtained from the project will contribute significantly to Historic Environment Record (HER) enhancement and development control advice. It will also inform advice given by the HERs to the successor of the Environment Stewardship agri-environment scheme.

An Archaeological Survey in the Severn Vale, Gloucestershire

An Archaeological Survey in the Severn Vale, Gloucestershire

Published 1 June 2016

A summary report on the air photo and lidar mapping undertaken for the Severn Vale NMP (6585)

The images used on this page are copyright Historic England unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project, please contact the Historic England Archive.

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