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Archaeology at Stepney Green

In January 2011 Crossrail opened up an archaeological dig at a future construction site for the new project at Stepney Green. Archaeologists revealed the remains of Worcester House, a manor house constructed by the Marquis of Worcester in 1597 and remains of several other important buildings that occupied the east end of Stepney Green over a 500 year period.

The Tudor manor house, built c1450–1550, was originally known as King John’s Court (later called Worcester House). It played an important role in the political and religious non-conformist movement in east London. 

It was confiscated in 1645 during the Civil War and later acquired by a prominent parliamentarian, William Greenhill, who used it as a safe haven for early Protestant nonconformists or Puritans to meet.

Worcester House excavation – Tudor Phase 1569–1640 ad

A moat, cellars, walls, cess pits and wells associated with this and other Tudor houses have been uncovered, along with household goods including a distinctive chamber pot with the humorous phrase inscribed inside: ‘what I see, I will not tell’.

Chamber pot found during Stepney Green archaeological investigations

Four tonnes of bricks from the manor were donated to English Heritage for use in restoring Britain’s Tudor manors and palaces.

Foundations of King John’s gatehouse, the focal point at the centre of the house were also uncovered along with a timber baseplate that may have supported a bridge across the moat. 16th century fine glassware was found in the moat sediments that may represent a ‘house clearance’ around the time that the first Marquis of Worcester bought the house in 1597.

King John’s Court, Worcester House and the Baptist Chapel

The manor house was extensively remodelled by the royalist Marquis, but it was confiscated in 1645 during the Civil War. Treasons and offences were cited as cause for the seizure. The high status property was acquired by a prominent parliamentarian, William Greenhill, who used his political influence to provide a safe haven for early Protestant nonconformists or Puritans to meet.

The Bull Lane meeting house was added to the grounds in 1644. This was one of the earliest purpose-built nonconformist meeting houses in London. The nonconformist activities at the site continued through to the 20th century. During this period a Baptist College, a Congregational Church and a school were built.

The church and school were damaged beyond repair during the Second World War. The Baptist College moved out of Stepney and the area was then converted to terrace housing in the 19th century. Cellars, walls, cess pits and wells associated with these houses have been uncovered, along with household goods including a distinctive chamber pot with ‘what I see, I will not tell’ inscribed inside.

A Tudor bowling ball made from an exotic South American wood was found
 at Stepney. Lignum vitae (Latin for ‘wood of life’) is very dense making it popular at the time for making bowling, cricket and croquet balls. Chips of the wood were also brewed into a tea to give relief from a range of ailments including coughs and arthritis.

Tudor bowling ball

Stepney Green is a fundamental worksite for Crossrail; it is where the railway divides with the southeast spur running underground to Plumstead and then onto Abbey Wood via the Isle of Dogs and the north east spur running underground to Pudding Mill and then onto Shenfield in Essex.

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Engaging the local community in the archaeological digs at Stepney Green

In July 2013, ninety volunteers became amateur archaeologists for the week as they took part in Crossrail's community dig at Stepney City Farm, during the UK-wide Festival of Archaeology in July 2013.

The volunteers learnt archaeology excavation techniques and worked alongside experienced archaeologists. The amateur archaeologists, working alongside archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), unearthed more remains related to the 13th Century Worcester Manor House, which was previously re-discovered by Crossrail archaeologists during an earlier dig at Stepney.

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