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Crossrail history hunters to unearth secrets of Bedlam

By Steven Kennedy

A team of volunteers are searching historical records across London to uncover evidence of the people buried at the infamous Bedlam burial ground during the 16th and 17th Century.

Fifteen “Buried at Bedlam” volunteers have begun hunting through centuries of parish records at the London Metropolitan Archives to build the first list of names of those buried at the cemetery located under Liverpool Street.

It comes ahead of Crossrail archaeologists carefully excavating up to 3,000 skeletons as part of construction of the new Liverpool Street Crossrail station. About 400 skeletons were removed during preliminary works.

The Bedlam or Bethlem burial ground, also known as the New Churchyard, near the notorious Bethlem Hospital opened during London’s response to the plague crisis which swept across Europe during the 16th Century.

The burial ground was the first in London not associated with a parish church. The burial ground did not keep its own burial records. Instead the City’s parish churches recorded which of their parishioners were buried at Bedlam in their own records.

Crossrail is inviting the public to contribute to the hunt for information by sending in any information they have about the burial ground or those buried there. Those believed to be buried at Bedlam include Robert Lockyer who was a soldier executed under the orders of Oliver Cromwell for leading the Bishopgate mutiny. Furthermore John Lilburne, an English political Leveller before, during and after the English Civil Wars of 1642 to 1650 was buried there too.

Jay Carver, Crossrail’s Lead Archaeologist, said: “The Bedlam burial ground is a unique site that spans a fascinating period of London’s turbulent past. What make this exciting is that through the various records made by the parish clerks of the time we can gain a snapshot of the people who lived and died in the area and provide biographic details to supplement the excavated evidence.

“As so many of the records of time are likely to be missing we will only obtain a snapshot of who was buried at Bedlam but it will provide a unique record of the lives and deaths of 16th and 17th Century Londoners from the local area. We’re keen for anyone who may have family connections to the site, or anecdotes about the area to get in touch.”

Volunteer Alan Cotterell, from Barbican said: “If you live somewhere like London you know that you’re in a city with a really deep history. I love the idea of unravelling the stories of the people buried at Bedlam and finding out as much as I can about their lives. From what I’ve seen so far, there are so really intriguing stories, some really entertaining stories and some really tragic ones. I’ve found records for people of all ages from infants to older people. Hopefully the work we do can help historians in years to come get a clearer picture of 16th and 17th Century London.”

Geoff Pick, Director of the City of London Corporation’s London Metropolitan Archives, said: “The City of London has a long-standing commitment to supporting ways of improving transport for London’s future, as well as looking after London’s past and its treasures, and the Crossrail history project exemplifies both of these aims. It will certainly create a very vivid picture of London’s colourful past, and we are proud to be involved.”

The Bedlam burial ground sits within the worksite of Crossrail’s new Liverpool Street station.

Excavation of the site will commence in 2015. To date Crossrail has found more than 10,000 archaeology items, spanning 55 million years of London’s history, across over 40 construction sites.

As part of their research, volunteers have been using the parish records kept at London Metropolitan Archives and elsewhere. Crossrail’s archaeology team is also keen to hear from other members of the public who may be able to enlighten the research with further details of burials at Bedlam. Anyone who thinks they have something to contribute should email [email protected]

When Crossrail opens in 2018, Liverpool Street Crossrail station will give commuters easy access to destinations across London including Canary Wharf and Heathrow. The station will be located between London Underground’s existing Liverpool Street and Moorgate stations with both stations providing access to Crossrail.

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For further information contact the Crossrail Press Office on 020 3229 9552 or email [email protected].

About Crossrail

The total funding available to deliver Crossrail is £14.8bn. The Crossrail route will pass through 40 stations and run more than 100 km (62 miles) 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. 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.