- Archaeologists start excavating around 3,000 skeletons from the new Liverpool Street Crossrail station site in the City of London
- Bedlam burial ground may prove London’s most informative 17th century cemetery excavation
- Remnants of Roman Londinium also among the expected finds
Archaeologists have started excavating around 3,000 skeletons from the Bedlam burial ground at Liverpool Street in the City of London.
The excavation will allow construction of the eastern entrance of the new Liverpool Street Crossrail station. A team of 60 archaeologists will work in shifts, six days a week to remove skeletons and carefully record evidence for what may prove to be, in archaeology terms, London’s most valuable 16th and 17th-century cemetery site. The excavation is being undertaken by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) on behalf of Crossrail.
The Bedlam burial ground was in use from 1569 to at least 1738, spanning the start of the British Empire, civil wars, the Restoration, Shakespeare’s plays, the Great Fire of London and numerous plague outbreaks. 2015 marks the 350th anniversary of London’s last Great Plague in 1665 and archaeologists hope that tests on excavated plague victims will help understand the evolution of the plague bacteria strain.
Jay Carver, Crossrail Lead Archaeologist said: “This excavation presents a unique opportunity to understand the lives and deaths of 16th and 17th century Londoners. The Bedlam burial ground spans a fascinating phase of London’s history, including the transition from the Tudor-period City into cosmopolitan early-modern London. This is probably the first time a sample of this size from this time period has been available for archaeologists to study in London. The Bedlam burial ground was used by a hugely diverse population from right across the social spectrum and from different areas of the City.”
Nick Elsden, Project Manager from MOLA said: “Construction for Crossrail is providing rare and exciting opportunities for archaeologists to excavate and study areas of London that would ordinarily be inaccessible, such as under established road-systems. There are up to six metres of archaeology on site, in what is one of the oldest areas of the city, so we stand to learn a great deal.”
The research also aims to shed light on migration patterns, diet, lifestyle and demography of those living in London at the time. Excavated skeletons will be taken to MOLA for testing by osteologists (bone specialists) before being reburied in a consecrated burial ground.
The skeletons will be excavated over the next four weeks, after which archaeologists will dig through medieval marsh deposits and Roman remains. A Roman road runs under the site, which has already yielded several interesting Roman artefacts such as horseshoes and cremation urns. Archaeologists are expected to finish onsite in September, after which construction will proceed on the new eastern ticket hall by contractor Laing O’Rourke.
A programme of public events are planned over the coming months that will allow the public to sign up for to find out all about the exciting finds that will be uncovering as we excavate through the layers of London history at Liverpool Street.
Bedlam is London’s first municipal burial ground and was located just outside the original City Wall. It was used by people from around London who could not afford a church burial, or who chose to be buried there for religious or political reasons. It was also used as an ‘overflow’ cemetery when existing sites were full, including in times of plague. Famous 17th century political ‘Levellers’ such as John Lilburne and Robert Lockyer are believed to be buried there.
To date Crossrail has found more than 10,000 artefacts spanning 55 million years of London’s past across over 40 construction sites. It is the UK’s largest archaeology project. Preliminary excavations at the Liverpool Street site in 2013 and 2014 uncovered more than 400 skeletons and numerous artefacts.
Gallery - Bedlam dig begins at Liverpool Street
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Notes to Editor
Crossrail is inviting the public to a ‘Route to the Past’ series of lunchtime and evening visits to the Liverpool Street archaeology excavations. These begin from 11 March 2015.. For details visit www.crossrail.co.uk/events
About Bedlam burial ground
The Bedlam burial ground, also known as Bethlem and the New Churchyard, is located at the western end of Liverpool Street. Over 20,000 Londoners are believed to have been buried at Bedlam between 1569 and 1738. It got its name from the nearby Bethlehem Hospital which housed the mentally ill, although only a small number of Bedlam residents are believed to have been buried there.
In June last year Crossrail invited 16 volunteers to scour parish records from across the capital to create the first extensive list of people buried at Bedlam. The resulting database of over 5,300 names and backgrounds is published on the Crossrail website and will inform Crossrail’s archaeological excavation. See www.crossrail.co.uk/bedlamregister.
Crossrail is inviting the public to contribute to the research by sending in any information they have about the burial ground or those buried there to firstname.lastname@example.org. People from as far afield as Australia have already done so.
Many people buried at Bedlam were on the fringes of society. Common occupations included servants, maids, tailors, shoemakers and watermen, although middle class guilds such as butchers and goldsmiths were also buried there. Many different ethnicities are represented, reflecting a globalising city. Plague was the most common listed form of death, followed by infant mortality and consumption.
Those buried at Bedlam include Robert Lockyer, a young soldier in Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army executed for his involvement in the Bishopgate mutiny; John Lilburne, an English political ‘Leveller’ during the English Civil Wars; Lodowicke Muggleton, a controversial religious writer and founder of the Muggletonian movement; and Dr John Lambe, a notorious adviser to the Duke of Buckingham, stoned to death by an angry mob after allegations of black magic and rape. Sir Ambrose Nicholas, a former Lord Mayor of London, is also referenced in a Parish burial record; however his Will specified for him to be buried at St Mildred Church in Bread Street.
The total funding available to deliver Crossrail is £14.8bn. The Crossrail route will pass through 40 stations and run more than 100km from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through new twin-bore 21 km (13 miles) tunnels to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.
When Crossrail opens it will increase London's rail-based transport network capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration and cutting journey times across the city. Transport for London-run Crossrail services are due to commence through central London in 2018.
Crossrail is being delivered by Crossrail Limited (CRL). CRL is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London. Crossrail is jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and Transport for London.