Time Team at Governors Green

Domus Dei, October 2007.

Domus Dei (Image via Wikipedia)

Well Time Team last night didn’t disappoint. Or rather, it did – but it was so disappointing from a historical point of view, it didnt disappoint my premonitions!

The expressed aim of the programme was to uncover the history of the medieval Hospital at the Governors Green area of old Portsmouth, adjoining what is now known as the Garrison Church, which has its origins as part of the Hospital complex. Known originally as Domus Dei, or God’s House, the Hospital was razed in 1540 during Henry VIII’s disolution of the monasteries. The chapel survived, however, and the adjoining land was used to build the Governors House.

The concept of a medieval hospital is very different from our image of operating theatres, accident and emergency et al. Medieval hospitals did exactly what they said on the tin – provided hospitality in a godly setting and manner. In particular pilgrims would use hospitals during their travels to shrines – such as nearby Winchester of Chichester, and places further afield such as Santiago de Compostela in Spain. They have a very rich and interesting social history, particularly in a port such as Portsmouth, a place that was so important to the defence of the realm too.

The feeling I had from the programme was that the team had not done their research properly at all. They were speculating about things that we already knew about, if only they had bothered to listen to people who tried to tell them! The geophysical survey told us everything that we needed to know, namely that there is an impressive range of buildings under Governors Green, and with some clever use of maps, documents and overlays it shouldnt take too much to interpret them, without the need for digging. I’m also surprised that they thought they could overlay an old tudor map on the current OS map without any errors at all – of course there are going to be anomalies. How you make such a cock-up in the most mapped town in the kingdom is beyond me.

What’s also disappointing, is that Time Team found plenty of interesting 18th Century finds, such as military uniform buttons and clay pipes, but these weren’t shown in the programme – probably because the aim of the programme was to look at the medieval hospital. Yet it would also have been interesting to find out more about Portsmouth’s history as a garrison town. All of the finds, incidentally, have been handed over to Portsmouth City Museums and Records Service, as the local Museum.

Predictably we also had the ubiquitous Portsmouth Grammar School kids turning up in their blazers, as always happens when anything of any significance happens in Portsmouth. You would think there aren’t any other schools in the city. A chance to involve other young people in Portsmouth’s history was missed.

So, essentially, much research, three days digging, much expertise and resources were spent telling us that what we already knew was there, was in fact, actually there all along! I’m really not sure what the programme achieved at all. It seems to be more about the programme than any kind of historical importance. Don’t get me wrong, Time Team have done some fascinating things over the years, and I used to love it when I was younger, but finding out about how the programme works behind the scenes has been kind of like meeting your idols, only to feel let down.

If anyone would like some light entertainment, Time Team at Governors Green can be watched on Channel 4 On Demmand here.

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14 Comments

Filed under Archaeology, Local History, Medieval history, On TV, Uncategorized

14 responses to “Time Team at Governors Green

  1. x

    Um. Sorry I recorded Glee after all……….

    Was the Navy completely expunged from the programme? No sweeping shots of the harbour or a quick pass of Warrior or Victory? I know the programme wasn’t concerned with that aspect of Pompey’s history, but it would have provided some context, filler, etc.

  2. James Daly

    The programme began with Baldrick stood in front of Victory, and some sweeping shots of the ‘yard. Then the programme was crammed with shots of the cross-channel and Isle of Wight ferries, so many that it got quite tedious – ‘oh look, another boat…’ There were also views of one of the URNU boats, a Hunt Class MCMV, and a foreign looking patrol ship.

  3. Are there no equivalents in Britain to the US National Geographic Society, or even our Discovery Networks (science-oriented cable TV channels)? It sounds like these gits need a background research staff to let them know where they are and when (what period in history) they are looking at. (Grief, that was a horridly phrased sentence. Forgive me, please!) Both NatGeo and Discovery do a lot of “digging science”; even our History Channels run series on various underground constructs that reveal our cities’ histories (all 200-some piddly years, granted). Most of these series have the decency to hire local experts as “tour guides” so the hosts don’t make complete fools of themselves!

    • James Daly

      We have the Discovery Channel, who show repeats of Time Team. They also have a much better but lesser known archaeology programme presented byt Francis Prior.

      • Do you get History Channel in any of its’ forms? They’ve done a great series called “Unknown Underground”. It started with old tunnels, disused subway lines, and supply routes for US cities, but they did a fantastic one on Berlin. They showed a number of air-raid shelters walled off since 1945, and a never-used subway tunnel built during WW2, with a unique dimension – the walls were exactly wide enough to pass a FW-190′s wings with a bit on each side to spare! You could even see the overhead crane-support beams. Eerie and awesome!

  4. X- You made the right move recording Glee. Enjoy!

    James – When the camera panned across the water, there weren’t any shots of 3 idiots in a pickup truck with an outboard motor on the back sailing by, were there? (Apologies if you don’t watch “Top Gear”).

    • James Daly

      Unfortunately not… although I would love to try the Hi-Lux and 250hp combo across the Solent sometime :P

      • If you do, get a bunch of ping-pong balls, then foam them into the body cavities. Better flotation. I know you are more intelligent than to put flammable foam around the exhaust headers. (C’mon boys, you made the same mistake TWICE!) :)
        Ah, Top Gear. Proof positive that you can take 3 educated, middle-aged men, surround them with the most cutting edge technologies, challenge them to have a coherent and erudite discussion of the finer points of motoring, and end up with incoherence from 3 brain-damaged TEENAGERS! How I love that show! Don’t really know why – I get the feeling they remind me of someone… (quickly hides the mirror) ;)
        Remind me sometime to tell you the story of riding on the spare tire on the back of a WW2 Jeep while the driver topped 50mph on a rough road.

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