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The Build: Archaeology

One of largest and most extensive archaeology investigations in the UK was incorporated into the pre-construction works which began in 2009. Crossrail’s central sites had to undertake a legal requirement to gather finds in advance of tunnelling taking place and learn more from the rich history of the capital.

Over 100 archaeologists found tens of thousands of items from 40 sites, spanning 55 million years of London’s history and pre-history, dating from prehistoric, Roman and medieval eras and the recent industrial past. The project gave archaeologists an exceptional opportunity to reveal the layer cake of history that is hidden below the city’s streets.

Skeletons of Black Death victims found during construction of Charterhouse Square grout shaft_68218

In 2014, archaeological investigations took place at Farringdon station as part of the construction of the eastern ticket hall, and at Charterhouse Square, where a grout shaft was dug to help underpin surrounding buildings during construction work.

The excavations in Charterhouse Square uncovered the remains of a cemetery, created in 1348 in response to the Black Death. Twenty-five skeletons were found buried in three layers. These layers represent three different phases of burial in the 14th and 15th Centuries.

The cemetery began as an emergency Black Death burial ground and Carthusian Street was built as an access route to it. It is not known how many people were buried here in this first phase and estimates vary from over 2,000 to as many as 20,000. Of these 11 were found in the grout shaft.

Mass burial site containing victims of The Great Plague of 1665 uncovered at Liverpool Street_ Augus

In 2015, Crossrail commenced a major archaeological excavation at Liverpool Street’s eastern ticket hall site in Broadgate. The Bedlam Burial Ground lies beneath this site, with an estimated 20,000 Londoners buried there in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

Ahead of the excavation, Crossrail’s archaeology team asked a group of 16 volunteers to help compile the first extensive register of people buried at Bedlam. The volunteers reviewed historic parish burial registers across the City of London, identifying the names and backgrounds of over 5,000 Londoners buried at the site.

Archaeologists began excavating over 3,000 skeletons from the Bedlam Burial Ground at Liverpool Street in the City of London in March 2015. A team of 60 archaeologists worked in shifts, six days a week to remove skeletons and carefully record evidence for what may prove to be, in archaeology terms, London’s most valuable century cemetery site. The excavation was undertaken by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) on behalf of Crossrail.

More than 135 learning events were delivered. In addition, school children and members of the public were invited to participate in site-based events and to assist in some of the historical research associated with the burials found at the Bedlam Burial Ground. The public programme culminated in a final archaeology exhibition in 2017 that showcased 500 of the most exciting discoveries on the project. Delivered in partnership with the Museum of London Docklands, ‘Tunnel: the archaeology of Crossrail’ exhibition received 96,750 visitors – the highest ever at the venue.

For further information on the archaeology uncovered during Crossrail, please visit the virtual exhibition Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail at the Museum of London Docklands.