Geology Site Account
Temple Mills Gravel Pit (site of), STRATFORD, London Borough of Waltham Forest, TQ380854, Historical site only
Gravel pit in the 19th century yielding Palaeolithic artifacts and fossils, particularly an exposure of the Lee Valley Arctic Bed'. Other excavations in the vicinity could yield further artifacts and fossils
On the left bank of the River Lea, immediately north of Stratford railway yards was the Temple Mills gravel pit which was being worked in the late 19th century. It yielded two Palaeolithic flint hand-axes which are now in the British Museum but they were not in primary context and have probably been brought to this spot by river currents.
The pit is most noted, however, for the occurrence of peat ‘rafts’ sandwiched between layers of gravel which were found to contain cold climate or ‘full glacial’ plants assemblages and referred to collectively as the ‘Lea Valley Arctic Bed’. This bed was first discovered by Essex amateur geologist Samuel Hazzledine Warren at Ponders End (see site record for Ponders End) but here it occurred in smaller masses about a metre long. The Arctic Bed has been carbon-dated to approximately 28,000 years ago. It contained a distinctive vegetation which has no precise modern equivalent. Known as ‘tundra steppe’ this grassy vegetation covered much of Europe, northern Asia and North America during the Devensian stage (100,000 to 10,000 years ago) and was the main habitat and diet of the woolly mammoth.
Warren led a field trip to this pit for the Essex Field Club in October 1912 when members were shown the Arctic Bed. Warren reported that the bones of Ice Age mammals had also be found in this pit such as mammoth and woolly rhinoceros.
Warren described the pit as being on the north¬eastern border of the Hackney Marshes, immediately south-west of the railway, at a point about half-way between Stratford and Lea Bridge Stations. The exact site is not known but it was probably just south of Temple Mills Station, within the boundary of the 2012 Olympic Park.
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Reference: Wrigley 1912, Warren 1916 (p.170), Wymer 1968 (p.306), Wymer 1985 (p.301).
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