Showing painstaking consideration after unearthing an historic rare Roman sarcophagus

Tower Demolition touched upon a rare example of history during its demolition work for the former Southwark Crown Court, uncovering a fine example of a Roman burial coffin which is now in the Museum of London.

Tower’s recent project on Harper Road near Borough Market, Southwark, London, proved to be their most exciting yet, when the 1,600-year-old sarcophagus was found several metres underground.

Detailing the discovery, Tower Demolition Ltd’s Health and Safety Director, James Bibbey said: “It was apparent that it had already been plundered in the eighteenth century—there was a ‘robber trench’ around the coffin, the lid was half open and only the bones remained inside, along with soil, but no precious items which would have been buried with the body.

“Despite that, it’s a remarkable and fascinating historical find, now at the Museum of London, where experts will test and date the bones and soil samples. Through their research, they’ll learn more about Roman Southwark, which served as a burial area, with countless religious and funerary monuments used to commemorate their dead.”

A “privilege” to uncover history

James continued: “Tower Demolition worked in close collaboration with a specialist archaeological team from Southwark Council, which champions policies to ensure the borough’s ancient history is identified and preserved for future generations.

“By putting archaeology at the heart of our project plan from the outset, we can factor in the time needed for delicate excavations, so that any potential impact on the developers’ schedule is known well before work commences.”

Tower Demolition was the principal contractor on the 17-week £304k Harper Road project, working on behalf of client Galliard Construction.

As part of the contract, Tower Demolition had to ensure the following contract services:

  • Site establishment and site security
  • Scaffold and hoarding erection
  • Asbestos removal
  • Reinforced concrete breaking and removal works, using a variety of methods in order to minimise disruption and reduce environmental impact
  • Environmental management and noise/ dust/ vibration monitoring
  • Temporary works design and installation
  • Remote demolition methodologies
  • Excavation management and reinstatement operations
  • Archaeological works – archaeological dig management
  • Level crossing installation for footpath diversion

James Bibbey explains all about this project and what was involved:

“The site accommodated the former Southwark Court House and a Boxman storage facility – two and three-storey buildings respectively – with a small hardstanding area in between where a UK Power Networks sub-station was located.

“The Boxman building shared party walls and access with Hotel Elephant and Southwark Police Station, an issue which needed resolution before works commenced.”

Asbestos removal

Removal of asbestos was Tower Demolition’s first task, followed by soft stripping of internal furnishings.

To create a safety screen and dust barrier, scaffolding and hoarding were erected along Swan Street and Trio Place. Foundation and ground floor removal were undertaken using controlled breaking methodologies, the implementation of sound insulation measures and noise reduction management, in line with Health and Safety Executive and Southwark regulations.

Archaeological findings

Much of the work Tower Demolition carries out is in London, a city that first came into being in 50 AD under the Romans, who thought it would be a perfect location for a port. It’s Tower Demolition’s privilege, on occasions, to dig through layers of London’s rich history, discovering a wealth of fascinating stories and artefacts.

Work suspended

The findings meant that work had to be suspended on parts of the site while artefacts were retrieved. Demolition resumed once the archaeologists had completed their excavations, as well as the removal of foundations to a depth of two metres. The Court House basement was retained with temporary works, then backfilled to ground level, with demolition arisings crushed on site.

What are the benefits of being registered with the Scheme and how does the Scheme’s Code of Considerate Practice support your company’s values/CSR policies or ethos?

“The benefits of being registered with the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) are manifold; CCS banners, posters and branding instantly convey confidence to those unfortunate people who, in the past, may have been adversely affected by construction works carried out by unregistered or unprofessional companies.

“CCS does what it says on the tin, setting a high, but achievable standard for the kind of image that the construction industry should be presenting to the general public.

“For us as a company, it provides a blueprint for best practice when considering the neighbourhood and local residents, our own workforce and the environment; matching our own codes of conduct and ethos of safe, professional and sustainable demolition with minimum impact on the community.”

How does Tower Demolition incorporate the requirements of the Scheme into your working practices?

  • Site management personnel all receive environmental training that is communicated to the on-site workforce via monthly environmental forums and toolbox talks.
  • Daily site perimeter inspections are carried out.
  • Fortnightly community news letters.
  • Where practicable, local schools or community projects are invited to submit ideas for hoarding decor.
  • Site contact numbers and emergency/out of hours contact details are prominently displayed at suitable points on the site perimeter.

What particular challenges have you faced in relation to the community, environment or the workforce on this project, and how have you overcome these?

“The demolition works were in close proximity to residential flats and business premises, and local residents had voiced understandable concerns about the possible impact in terms of noise, dust and dirt, and increased heavy vehicle traffic.

“To build a good relationship with the community, we issued monthly progress reports and held meetings to explain the current and upcoming demolition works. We outlined the measures we were taking to reduce disruption and impact, such as noise, dust and vibration monitoring, and installing acoustic sound barriers when undertaking the slab and foundation removal.

“We also clearly displayed Health and Safety noticeboards at the main entrance, which provided further information about the project works.”

How do you feel the Scheme is improving the image of construction?

“It helps in many ways, but mostly by adding an image that is respectful and non-confrontational towards the community, promoting good practice when interacting with residents and local schools. “