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Londoners make new discoveries at London’s Black Death cemetery

By Krista Eleftheriou

Londoners make new discoveries at London’s Black Death cemetery
  • A 15th Century courtyard and Roman and post-Medieval pottery discovered above likely burials of London’s Black Death cemetery
  • More than 90 local volunteers take part in the Charterhouse Community Dig
  • Deputy Mayor for Transport Isabel Dedring joins the community dig

Volunteers and archaeologists working on the Charterhouse Community Dig have uncovered further evidence of the life and death of Medieval Londoners at the site of London’s 14th Century Black Death burial ground that was first discovered during Crossrail works last year.

The oldest continuous almshouse and once the world’s largest monastery, the Charterhouse is holding the Community Dig during the Festival of Archaeology and will showcase the latest finds at public open days today and tomorrow.

More than 90 local volunteers working alongside experienced archaeologists have taken part in the Charterhouse Community Dig. They have uncovered Roman pottery and what is believed to be the courtyard to a 15th Century chapel or meat kitchen.

Archaeologists and volunteers are working just above the layer where human burials are believed to lie. Crossrail archaeologists uncovered 25 skeletons last year in Charterhouse Square which provided the first physical evidence of one of two emergency burial grounds in London established in 1348 ahead of the arrival of the Black Death to England.

Deputy Mayor for Transport, Isabel Dedring, said: “As well as delivering a brand new railway for the capital, the construction of Crossrail is resulting in one of the most fascinating and extensive archaeological programmes anywhere in the UK. The Crossrail and Charterhouse teams have done a fantastic job in managing this important heritage site, which has uncovered some very significant finds from a part of London that is steeped in history. Today’s community dig initiative is a really great example of how local people are getting involved with the Crossrail project and I’m delighted to have seen first-hand some of the amazing artefacts that have been retrieved for future generations to enjoy.”

Charlie Hobson, The Master of the Charterhouse, said: “The Charterhouse is delighted to host this community dig to gain a greater understanding of our important London historical site. We have shed further light on the lives of Londoners during the dark times of the 14th Century, the Black Death, Carthusian Priory and the events leading to the establishment of the Charterhouse – one of London’s oldest continuous almshouses. This information will be important as we work with the Museum of London to open a permanent museum in the Charterhouse to showcase its rich history.”

Crossrail Lead Archaeologist Jay Carver said: “This is an exciting opportunity for local people to be involved in unravelling the mysteries of this important archaeological site. We still have so many questions but every tiny piece of new evidence helps us piece together the extraordinary story of what happened here in London 600 years ago.”

Crossrail’s archaeologists have undertaken extensive analysis of the skeletons discovered last year including radio carbon dating, isotope analysis and DNA analysis. The results confirmed that the skeletons were dated from the Black Death period and a later plague outbreak from the early 1500s. The science confirmed the DNA presence of the bacteria responsible for the plague and Isotope analysis provided an insight into the lives, diets and health of 14th Century Londoners.

The Charterhouse was established shortly after the Black Death on the site of the burial ground and was the world’s largest monastery prior to the Reformation. Its rich history includes Elizabeth I holding court at the Charterhouse, being home to Sir Thomas Moore and surviving a direct bomb hit during the Blitz.

The dig has been supported by Crossrail, its contractors BFK (BamFerrovialKier) and MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) and the Museum of London and Islington Council.

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Notes to editors

London’s second emergency burial ground is in east Smithfield and was uncovered in the 1980s. The Black Death swept across Europe and is believed to have claimed the lives of about 60 per cent of the population.

An almshouse is a charitable house that enables people, such as elderly people who no longer work, to live in a particular community.

To celebrate this unique event, a series of public lectures are being held by leading historians and archaeologists. The final lecture in the series will be held tonight:

  • London's Early Suburbs: Clerkenwell and Smithfield by Jiff Bayliss,Thursday 24 July 2014 6:30pm at the Charterhouse

About The Charterhouse

The Charterhouse (Sutton’s Hospital in Charterhouse), is an historic complex at the heart of London’s Clerkenwell, that continues to operate as one of London’s longest serving almshouses. A hidden treasure that is open to the public, it unites a 14th Century priory with one of London’s best preserved examples of a Tudor mansion and garden square with attendant courtyard.

The Charterhouse is a registered charity and operates as an almshouse for 42 resident pensioners or ‘Brothers’ who are provided for by the original legacy of Thomas Sutton, with plans to be able to offer residence to 16 more brothers over the next two years. Thomas Sutton established the charitable foundation in 1611 to be overseen in perpetuity by at least one Royal Governor. That continues to this day with Her Majesty The Queen, His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales supporting the 16 governors of the charity.

Charterhouse has plans create a new museum in partnership with the Museum of London. This has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and other generous donors.

For more information, visit

About Crossrail

The total funding available to deliver Crossrail is £14.8bn. The Crossrail route will pass through 40 stations and run more than 118 km (73 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.