No doubt archaeologists thought that all their Christmases’ had arrived at once when they first heard the breaking news of the building of Crossrail, Europe’s largest infrastructure which will be called the Elizabeth Line (and hopefully up and running in the first half of 2022) and the exceptional opportunities the excavations would bring. However, did they ever imagine in their wildest dreams the wealth of artefacts that would be unearthed ranging from bison bones, 68000 years old, found at Royal Oak, near Paddington, through the mediaeval period to Roman finds, including a burial site beneath the area that once covered Liverpool Street station. Since the work began in 2009 archaeologists have unearthed tens of thousands of items from 40 sites spanning 55 million years of London’s history and pre-history (1) The new railway will run from east to west through some of London’s most historical areas. It has been described as a ‘layer cake of history hidden beneath the city streets‘.
LIVERPOOL STREET STATION
Some of the most interesting finds were discovered beneath Liverpool Street station which stands right in the heart of what was once mediaeval London. Of particular interest was the south-east corner where the ticket office once stood for this had been built over the Bedlam burial grounds later known as Bethlem Hospital which had been in use since 1247 to 1815. Eighty archaeologists worked on this site retrieving thousands of objects. A total of 4000 burials were uncovered including a plague pit containing 30 victims from the great plague of 1665. DNA testing on teeth found in the burial grounds has also confirmed the identity of the bacteria that was behind the Great Plague. One of the most poignant finds was a necklace that was found on the skeleton of a baby.
Modern restringing of the beads found on the baby’s skeleton. The beads are amber, white amber, cornelian, glass and bone.
Plague victim from the mass pit aged 17 to 25 probably male.
Grave Marker for Mary Godfree, a victim of the Great Plague who died 2 September 1665.
Charterhouse Square and Faringdon
A large ditch was excavated to the south of Charterhouse Square. It may be the remains of Faggeswell Brook which flowed into the Fleet River. The ditch formed the southern boundary of the cemetery and Charterhouse Monastery, founded in 1371 and suppressed in 1538. Included in the items found, which had been dumped in the ditch to fill it in between 1580 and 1640 , were leather shoes, parts of a horse harness dating from the late 15th century, pottery and floor tiles dated to 1300 which were probably from the monastery. The remains of a cemetery were discovered containing the remains of victims of the Black Death c.1348/9. Twenty five skeletons were discovered buried in three layers.
TWO MEN IN THEIR 40S BURIED HOLDING HANDS FROM ONE OF THE LAYERS OF THE CHARTERHOUSE BURIAL SITE.
Horseshoes were a frequent find, perhaps unsurprisingly, including a Roman version known as hipposandals. These were temporary and designed to save the hooves from the hard surfaces of city roads
Worcester House Stepney Green
Reconstruction of moated Worcester House built around 1450
Worcester House a 15th century moated manor house built about 1450 probably on the site of an earlier house was previously known as King John’s Palace. Rubbish thrown into the moat gives an insight into the lives of those who lived there. Among the many artefacts found were leather shoes, the remains of a horse harness dating from the late 15th century, dress pins, a wooden ball which was probably used as a ‘jack’ in a game of bowls or skittles. Henry VIII is known to have loved bowls but banned poor people from playing it.
Wooden ball used for playing bowls
16th century leather shoe
Tudor dress pin. In use before buttons…!
15th century glazed goblet.
However this is not the end of the story for this once grand old manor house for when the archaeologists had finished over four tonnes of bricks were donated to English Heritage for restoring England’s Tudor buildings.
I have merely touched upon a few of the wealth of wonderful finds from the Crossrail archaeology here. Anyone wishing to delve deeper can find some excellent links to informative websites covering these remarkable finds. Particularly recommended is The Tunnel Through Time Gillian Tindall.
1) Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail Jackie Kelly p18
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