Roman remains revealed on Houghton Regis site set for new school

• A positive spin is being put on yesterday's news that the new Houstone School in Houghton Regis won't be ready in September as originally hoped.

• Read the briefing below from Central Bedfordshire Council.

Houstone School in Construction

Completion of the new state-of-the-art Houstone School in Houghton Regis will be delayed after the archaeological discovery of Roman, Neolithic and early Bronze Age remains dating back 4,500 years, Central Bedfordshire Council has revealed.

Advantage Schools multi-academy trust will run the new school which is the first new secondary school to built in the town by Central Bedfordshire Council. Houstone is  a fitting name for the school as it is the historical name for the area, as recorded in the Domesday Book. The school was hoping to have its doors open to over 200 pupils from the start of the 2022/23 academic year in September. 

Children and young people will now be temporarily educated in the former University Technical College(UTC) building on the same Kingsland Campus site.  This is being refurbished to accommodate classes from September until spring 2023 when Houstone School is expected to be ready. 

The national shortage of building materials, and a now resolved drainage concern, have been among the challenging modern-day issues around the construction. More historically significant has been the uncovering of ancient settlement activity and human remains. 

The discoveries include: 

A 'ring-ditch' which is part of a late Neolithic/early Bronze Age barrow or funerary monument, around 4,500 years old.

A human burial. The skeleton was placed in a crouched position within a pit near the barrow, suggesting it is likely to be of a similar date.  This will be confirmed by radiocarbon dating. Specialist analysis will determine the individual’s sex, age at death, and whether they were suffering from any diseases. 

A line of 11 Bronze Age pits, around 4,000 years old, which represent an ancient boundary stretching for at least 30 metres. They contained fragments of Bronze Age pottery and animal bone.
 Various other late Iron Age/Roman (200 BC–AD 400) ditches and pits are associated with a large settlement previously investigated within the Linmere development to the east of the Houstone site. Pottery, animal bone, and other domestic artefacts were found.

Above: Bronze age burial skeleton. The skull is at the top of the photo, facing to the right, and the legs are drawn up (in a flexed/crouched position) at the bottom of the photo. 

The archaeological discoveries add to historic artefacts previously found at the nearby Linmere housing development, which together give an insight to 8,000 years of human life in Houghton Regis.

The UTC building will be used until the new school is ready.

Central Bedfordshire Council Executive Member for Families, Education and Children, Cllr Sue Clark, said, “We’re very sorry that Houstone School will not be able to open in September as we’d planned, but we have worked hard to ensure pupils will be able to begin their secondary school education right next door, in a refurbished University Technical College building while we work hard to deliver the brand-new school building. I am sorry there have been a number of issues outside of our control that have held up progress on the new school, including significant archaeological discoveries.”

Talking of the discoveries, Albion Archaeology Project Manager, Wesley Kier, said: “The results of the archaeological investigations at Houstone, together with those of the investigations carried out elsewhere within the Linmere development, provide a unique and regionally significant insight into the ancient land-use and landscape of the area which stretches back at least 8,000 years.”

Stuart Lock, Chief Executive of Advantage Schools, said: “The new school building is going to be fantastic and we are going to provide pupils with the highest quality of education. But a school is much more than a building, and we will take our high expectations, academic ethos, excellent behaviour standards and be ready to run this school in temporary accommodation in September 2022.

“The principal, Elizabeth English, and myself have visited the UTC building and it is of a high standard. Pupils will get a good deal from September, and we look forward to moving into our brand-new building early in 2023.”

Elizabeth English, Houstone School Principal Designate, said: “I’m currently working with the Trust team to ensure the education we deliver in our temporary accommodation is matched to the standard we will deliver in the new building and all of our pupils will thrive at school.

“Whilst I share families’ disappointment over the delay to the build, I’m confident we will run a fantastic school at the UTC until the move to our new home is complete. I will work with our pupils and families to ensure the transition into both the UTC and new building will be smooth and successful. I look forward to inviting you in to see our school in action from September.

• Further reading on the archaeological discoveries elsewhere in Houghton Regis: