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Rural to urban

Rural to urban

Well into the 16th century large parts of west London were still open fields. Although Oxford Street, the former Roman road to Silchester, was already an important route, it was still essentially a rural link between villages and the city. To demonstrate how limited the reach of London was, the church of St Giles, in Covent Garden, could still be called St Giles in the Fields in 1547.

Today’s Soho was grazing farmland until 1536, when it was surrendered by St Giles Hospital to the crown. Henry VIII laid the area out as a royal park. In the 1660s the Crown granted Soho Fields to the Earl of St Albans for development and within thirty years many of Soho’s streets and squares had been set out.

The earliest archaeology we have found is related to this rapid development of the area. Quarrying of the local ‘brickearth’ for making bricks in the early 1600s was extensive and we have identified the remains of two brick kilns in Soho Square.

he quarries, some of them over 3.5 metres deep, were filled in and the new roads and buildings of Soho were laid out. To create the newly fashionable cellars of the 19th century, the street level was deliberately raised. The level of Great Chapel Street, for instance, rose by approximately 2.5 metres.

he famous food company Crosse and Blackwell was a Soho firm. Founded in 1706, in 1840 they started a bottling factory from No 21 Soho Square. Over the next decades they expanded rapidly, buying up neighbouring properties in many nearby streets. By the end of the 19th century the company was operating from a large new warehouse in Charing Cross Road. The Astoria Cinema and Dance Hall was constructed inside this building in the 1920’s after Crosse and Blackwell had left the area.

The basements of the warehouse had survived in good condition when we re-discovered them. A large network of underground rooms were revealed and kilns, furnaces, and an innovative refrigeration system were found inside. One underground vault contained around 8,000 unused ceramic and stoneware jars for preserves, pickles and sauces. These were probably abandoned as the company changed to glass jars and bottles for its products.

The maker’s marks show that some of the jars were made by the company. They also relied on other suppliers from all over Britain including factories in Newcastle, Derby and other London potteries.

The finds are thought to be the largest discovery of late Victorian and early Edwardian jars in the country. This has provided the Museum of London with an important research collection.

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