There are 2,000 years of history buried beneath the site of Crossrail's Liverpool Street station, including the foundations of Broad Street railway station; the former Bedlam burial ground; Moorfields marsh; a Roman road and the Walbrook, one of London’s lost rivers.
DNA OF BACTERIA RESPONSIBLE FOR LONDON GREAT PLAGUE OF 1665 IDENTIFIED FOR FIRST TIME
Scientific analysis of skeletons excavated as part of the Crossrail programme at Liverpool Street has identified the DNA of the bacteria responsible for the 1665 Great Plague.
The discovery comes following a year-long study of skeletons found in a mass grave within the New Churchyard, the burial ground excavated by Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) during construction of the new Elizabeth line station at Liverpool Street in 2015.
Samples from 20 individuals were tested for traces of the plague pathogen Yersinia pestis, and five were found to have been exposed to it before they died.
In total 42 individuals were excavated from the mass grave but archaeologists estimate that it may have contained as many as 100 people.
Discovery of human remains during construction of Crossrail
Human remains have been discovered during the construction of two Elizabeth line stations - Farringdon, and Liverpool Street.
- October 2013 – 20 skulls from the Roman period found during construction of a utility tunnel for Liverpool Street station
- March 2015 – excavation of the 17th Century Bedlam Burial Ground reveals over 3,300 burials
- August 2015 – mass grave containing 42 individuals, suspected of being victims of the Great Plague of 1665, discovered within the Bedlam Burial Ground
- October 2015 – 20 disembodied skulls found distributed in regular intervals alongside a Roman road, in the final phase of the excavation at Liverpool Street
- August 2016 – DNA of 1665 Great Plague bacteria Yersinia pestis bacteria identified in skeletons excavated from the mass grave in Bedlam Burial Ground
360° video shows 1665 Great Plague pit being unearthed
Watch this 360° video of the discovery using the latest version of Chrome or Firefox on desktop or laptop, or on mobile or tablet using the latest version of the YouTube app for Android or iOS.
Uncovering the remains of the Bedlam burial ground
In March 2015, a team of up to sixty archaeologists began excavating around 3,500 skeletons from the Bedlam burial ground at Liverpool Street in the City of London, working in shifts, six days a week to excavate the site and carefully record evidence of the finds.
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.
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.
Bedlam Burial Ground Register
In June 2014 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.
Gallery - Bedlam burial ground uncovered at Liverpool Street
Uncovering the layers of London's history
Our archaeologists have revealed a number of interesting finds including over 1,000 individual artefacts spanning 2,000 years of history and, most recently, a fascinating selection of Roman burials.
The Roman remains that archaeologists uncovered at the Liverpool station tell a very different story than the Bedlam burial ground skeletons. Initially, skulls found in a small river channel were interpreted as wash-out from a Roman cemetery somewhere upstream. But the discovery in May 2015 of a reused cooking pot full of cremated human bones changed archaeologists’ minds.
One theory is that there is a possibility these are beheading victims. The skulls are upside down, missing their lower jaws. Having been removed from the site they will now be examined closely by bioarchaeologists for evidence of trauma or injury that could yield clues into how these individuals died.
In addition to the row of skulls, an intriguing burial was uncovered with the skull detached and placed between the knees of the individual.
Sharing the finds with the local community
Almost 3,000 people visited our public viewing platform on site to watch our archaeologists at work, including key local stakeholders, school trips, and members of the public.
The public viewing platform at Liverpool Street has now closed, but you can download the information panels that were on display in the platform by clicking on the link below.