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The Bethlem Burial Ground

During 2013 further finds at the Bethlem Burial Ground at Liverpool Street were made. Historic research highlights the ‘New Churchyard’ was established in 1569 and “...the plot, about an acre in all, was walled in and the level raised by dumping earth and rubbish from cellar and well diggings in the City.” The considerable cost of the walling and making up was paid by Alderman Sir Thomas Rowe.

Evidence for these ancient works show a dense pattern of timber (Elm) piles was driven into clays and silts on the edge of the Walbrook River. This formed the foundation for the brick cemetery wall that survived to a height of several brick courses. Within the area of the burial ground a thick layer of imported soil was placed to raise the land level. The earliest burials are found to cut through this soil. Finds were diverse and included a rare 16th century Venetian Gold Ducat.

More than 10,000 were buried in the new cemetery. As it was not attached to a particular parish church, no single burial register exists. Instead, entries like ‘buried at Bedlam’, or ‘New Churchyard’, are spread across different parish records.

Biographic detail rarely survives in the archaeology at this site. However, fragments of a rare stone memorial have been found re-used in the cemetery wall rebuild.

Charles Roach Smith (1807-1890) was a pioneering London archaeologist and founder of the British Archaeological Association. He lived at No. 5 Liverpool Street where he made the following curious observation:

“Opposite my house on the other side of the street was a long dead wall, which separated the street from a long piece of garden ground. When my man buried in it a deceased favourite cat, he said he came upon the remains of human skeletons. A few years later the cat’s coffin and epitaph were bought before the directors of the North London and Great Eastern Railway as a very puzzling discovery!”

We now know that apart from Roach’s cat, construction works for the building of Broad Street Station had encountered the Bethlem cemetery remains in the 1860s.

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