February 9, 2017
• A Tudor-era bowling ball, Roman iron horse shoes and late 19th century ginger jars are among hundreds of historic objects unearthed during the Crossrail construction project to go on show at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Tunnel: the archaeology of Crossrail presents highlights from among the more than 10,000 objects which have been discovered during the project, the largest infrastructure project currently underway in Europe, since it kicked off in 2009. The finds, which span 8,000 years of human history, also include prehistoric flints found at North Woolwich, medieval animal bone skates and human remains found in the former 17th century Bedlam cemetery. The objects, which can be seen until 3rd September, are displayed in accordance to where along the new Elizabeth line they were found. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.
• This year is centenary of the Russian Revolution and to mark the occasion, the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly is hosting a landmark exhibition on Russian art which takes in the period between 1917 – the year of the October Revolution – and 1932 when Josef Stalin began his violent suppression of the avant-garde. Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 features the works of the likes of avant-garde artists Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, and Kazimir Malevich and social realists like Isaac Brodsky and Alexander Deineka. More than 200 works are on show including loans from the State Russian Museum of St Petersburg and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, many of which have never been seen in the UK before. Highlights include Chagall’s Promenade (1917-18), Kandinsky’s Blue Crest (1917) and Malevich’s Peasants (c. 1930). Alongside the paintings, the display features photography, sculpture, film, posters and porcelain. Admission charge applies. Runs until 17th April. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Boris Mikailovich Kustodiev, ‘Bolshevik’ (1920) © State Tretyakov Gallery.
• More than 100 robots are on display at the Science Museum in South Kensington as part of a new exhibition spanning 500 years of robotic history. Robots, which explores how robots have been shaped by religious belief, the industrial revolution, 20th century popular culture and dreams of the future, features everything from a 16th century mechanical monk to a 2.4 metre tall robot named Cygan dating from the 1950s, and one of the first walking bipedal robots. Visitors will be able to interact with 12 working robots and go behind the scenes to see recent developments in robotic research as well as speculate on what robots of the future might be like. Admission charge applies. Runs until 3rd September. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/robots.
• A major exhibition celebrating the work of early 20th century UK modern artist Vanessa Bell – a central figure in the so-called ‘Bloomsbury Group’ – has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south this week. About 100 oil paintings as well as ceramics, fabrics, works on paper, photographs and related archival material are featured in the exhibition with the works arranged thematically so as to reveal Bell’s “fluid movement” between the fine and applied arts and focusing particular attention on her most distinctive period of experimentation from 1910 onwards. Vanessa Bell, which runs until 4th June, is presented alongside a photography display which brings together Bell’s photographic work with that of American musician, writer and artist Patti Smith. Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith features 17 photographs by Smith – who has long found inspiration in the work and lives of the Bloomsbury Group – and a selection of Bell’s photo albums. Both can be seen until 4th June. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.
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May 17, 2016
A new exhibition featuring designs for the 10 new Elizabeth line Underground stations has opened at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Platform for Design: Stations, Art and Public Space provides insights into the design of the new railway – part of the massive Crossrail project, its stations and public spaces which are slated to open in 2018. Each of the new stations will have their own distinct character designed to reflect the environment and heritage of the area in which they are located. The new Elizabeth line station at Paddington, for example, is said to “echo the design legacy of Brunel’s existing terminal building” while the design of the new Farringdon station is inspired by the historic local blacksmith and goldsmith trades and the distinctive architecture of the Barbican. Many of the new stations will also featured permanent, integrated works of art design to create a “line-wide exhibition”. The Elizabeth line runs from Heathrow and Reading in the west across London to Abbey Wood and Shenfield. The exhibition at RIBA at 66 Portland Place in Marylebone runs until 14th June. Admission is free. For more on the exhibition, including the accompanying programme of events, see www.crossrail.co.uk/news/news-and-information-about-crossrail-events.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, announced last week that the new Underground line under construction in the Crossrail project will be named the Elizabeth line, in honour of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen (pictured above with Transport Commissioner Mike Brown), who became the first ruling monarch to travel on the Underground when she did so in 1969 at the opening of the Victoria line, was on hand for a tour of the line’s Bond Street Station site and was presented with a commemorative Elizabeth line roundel. The new line, which will change the way people travel across London, stretches from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. PICTURES: © Transport for London/James O Jenkins (above).
August 18, 2015
Thirty skeletons found in a mass burial – the latest archaeological find at Crossrail’s Liverpool Street site – are believed to have been victims of the Great Plague of 1665. Made during the excavation of the former Bedlam burial ground in order to make way for a new eastern entrance to the station, the discovery comes during the 350th anniversary year of the Great Plague. Jay Carver, the lead archaeologist for Crossrail, said the mass burial – with the bodies placed in now long gone wooden coffins – was unlike other individual burials found in the cemetery and thus “is likely a reaction to a catastrophic event”. “Only closer analysis will tell if this is a plague pit from the Great Plague of 1665 but we hope this gruesome but exciting find will tell us more about one of London’s notorious killers.” Clues which suggest that may be the case include a headstone found nearby marked “1665” and the fact that the 30 people all seem to have been buried on the same day. Museum of London Archaeology osteologists will now analyse the skeletons to find out the cause of death. Archaeologists have excavated more than 3,500 skeletons from the site since excavation of the burial ground – used between 1569 to at least 1738 – began earlier this year. It suggested 30,000 Londoners were buried there during that period. For more on the the Great Plague, see our earlier post here. PICTURE: © Crossrail Ltd.
LondonLife – Astrologer, former Lord Mayor and Leveller among those buried in Bedlam, new research finds…
February 11, 2015
The remains of an astrologer believed to have been stoned to death by an angry mob, a former Lord Mayor of London and a member of Civil War era dissenting group, the Levellers, who was executed by firing squad may be among those exhumed from the former Bedlam burial ground in Liverpool Street in the City of London in a new archaeological excavation.
A research project carried out ahead of the planned excavation of the new eastern entrance of the Liverpool Street Crossrail Station has unearthed the names and backgrounds of more than 5,000 of the 20,000 Londoners who were buried on the site in the 16th and 17th centuries.
They include Dr John Lamb, an astrologer and advisor to the Duke of Buckingham, who a mob apparently stoned to death outside a theatre in 1628 after allegations against him of rape and black magic, Sir Ambrose Nicholas, Lord Mayor of London in 1575, as well as victims of riots by ‘Fanatiques’ (as noted in the diaries of Samuel Pepys in January, 1661) and, according to a report in The Independent, Robert Lockyer, a member of the Leveller movement who was executed by firing squad in 1649 during the English Civil War.
Some 3,000 skeletons will be disinterred in the excavation along with, it is expected, Roman and medieval artefacts. The dig will start next month and will be carried out by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology). The skeletons will be analysed before they are reburied in consecrated ground.
The research into the backgrounds of more than 5,000 of those buried on the site – which was established in 1569 to help alleviate overcrowding caused by outbreaks of plague and other epidemics – has been carried out by 16 volunteers with the results compiled into a new online database – the Bedlam Burial Ground Register. Plague was the most common form of death followed by infant mortality and consumption.
“This research is a window into one of the most turbulent periods of London’s past,” said lead archaeologist Jay Carver. “These people lived through civil wars, the Restoration, Shakespeare’s plays, the birth of modern industry, plague and the Great Fire.”
Crossrail workers recently discovered the gravestone of Mary Godfree who died in September, 1665, as a result of the ‘Great Plague’ which reached its peak that year.
PICTURES: Courtesy of Crossrail.
We’re running a bit behind this week, so the next instalment in our Churchill series won’t appear until later this week.
February 2, 2015
The remains of the teenaged girl – believed to have been aged between 13 and 17 years – were found in 1995 when the conically-shaped skyscraper at 30 St Mary Axe, fondly known as the Gherkin (and then formally known as the Swiss Re Tower), was being constructed.
The girl, whose skeleton was unearthed where the foundations now stand, was buried sometime between 350 and 400 AD in what appeared to be an isolated grave which would have lain just outside the edge of early Roman Londinium.
The body lay with the girl’s head to the south and the arms folded across. Pottery was found associated with the body which provided dating information.
After being exhumed, the skeleton was housed at the Museum of London for some 12 years before in 2007 it was reburied near the new building. The burial featured a ceremony at nearby St Botolph-without-Aldgate followed by a procession to the gravesite where a dedication took place which included “music and libations”. Among those who attended was the Lady Mayoress of the City of London.
There’s an inscription in honour of the girl on a stone feature outside the building in both Latin and English while a stone set in the pavement decorated with laurel leaves marks the (re)burial spot.
Other recent Roman remains found in London include the skeleton of a young Roman woman, believed to date from the 4th century, which was found still inside its sarcophagus at a site in Spitalfields and a series of two dozen Roman-era skulls which, likely to date from the first century A, were found during excavations for the Crossrail project in 2013. It has been suggested they may have been Britons executed for their role in the famed Queen Boudicca’s rebellion against the Romans in 61 AD.
July 15, 2014
A team of volunteers are searching through historical records for evidence of people buried at the Bedlam burial ground in the 16th and 17th centuries. The 15 member team are carrying out the work at the London Metropolitan Archives as archaeologists prepare to excavate 3,000 skeletons from the former burial site next year in anticipation of the construction of the new Liverpool Street Crossrail Station – part of the £14.8 billion cross London Crossrail project. About 400 skeletons have already been removed during preliminary works. Located near Bethlem Hospital, the burial ground opened in the 16th century as part of the city’s response to the plague and was the first burial ground in London not associated with a parish church. Among those buried here were Robert Lockyer, a soldier executed under the orders of Oliver Cromwell for leading the Bishopsgate mutiny of 1649, and Leveller John Lilburne. Crossrail are keen to hear from members of the public who may be able to provide further details of burials at Bedlam – if you can help, email email@example.com.
This Week in London – Finds from below London on display; Reassessing the German Renaissance; and, Powell and Pressburger’s Blue Plaque…
February 20, 2014
• More than 50 objects – including skulls from the Roman era – unearthed as part of the Crossrail project have gone on display to the public for the first time. Portals to the Past also features a Roman cremation pot (which still contained remains when discovered), 16th century jewellery, and flint used by Londoners some 9,000 years ago. The free exhibition runs at the Crossrail Visitor Information Centre behind Centre Point at 6-18 St Giles High Street until 15th March. To coincide with it, Crossrail archaeologists will be running a series of lectures on Wednesday evenings starting at 6pm. No booking is required but numbers are limited so it’s recommended that attendees turn up early. For more information, www.crossrail.co.uk/sustainability/archaeology/archaeology-exhibition-portals-to-the-past-february-2014.
• A new exhibition celebrating the artists of the German Renaissance opened at the National Gallery yesterday. Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance features paintings, drawings and prints by the likes of Hans Holbein the Younger, Albrecht Durer and Lucas Cranach the Elder and examines how perceptions of the pieces have changed over time. Works include Holbein’s Anne of Cleves, Hans Baldung Grien’s Portrait of a Young Man with a Rosary, and Matthias Grunewald’s drawing of An Elderly Woman with Clasped Hands. There is also a reconstruction of the Liesborn altarpiece, created in 1465 and originally housed at the Benedictine Abbey of Liesborn in Germany. Runs until 11th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.co.uk.
• Film-makers Michael Powell (1905-1990) and Emeric Pressburger (1902-1988) have been commemorated with the placement of an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the site of their former workplace, a flat in Dorset House, on Gloucester Place in Marylebone. It was from Flat 120 in the apartment block that they oversaw the production of some of their greatest films including The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948) between 1942 and 1947. Film director Martin Scorsese was among those who unveiled the plaque. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.
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The five sided square, located just to the east of Smithfield, takes its name from a Carthusian monastery which was established in 1371 on what is now its north side. Prior to this, what is now the square had from 1348 served as a location for a plaque burial pit (a number of skeletons from the plaque pit have been unearthed as part of the Crossrail project – for our earlier story on this, follow this link).
The monastery was dissolved in 1537 after the monk’s refused to recognise King Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy (some were later executed at Tyburn) and it was subsequently transformed into a manor house with Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, among its residents over the years (in fact he was imprisoned there around 1570 for allegedly plotting to marry Mary, Queen of Scots – he was later executed by Queen Elizabeth I for treason).
Under the will of Thomas Sutton, an almshouse and school was subsequently established on the site – the almshouse remains there while the school, whose students had included Methodism founder John Wesley and writer William Makepeace Thackeray, moved out to Godalming in Surrey in 1872. As well as the almshouse (which is open for guided tours, check this site for details), some of the buildings are now occupied by medical related institutions.
In the 1600s, the square was also home to numerous other large residences among them Rutland House, which had been the residence of the Venetian ambassador. It lost its aristocratic inhabitants in the ensuing centuries but remained mainly residential up until the late 19th century when it gradually became taken over by businesses and other organisations. Interesting to note is that the east side of the square is still home to the residential unit complex known as Florin Court, better known as Whitehaven Mansions, the home of Hercule Poirot in the TV series which bears his name.
The area of the garden square itself was variously referred to as the Charterhouse Churchyard, the Charterhouse Yard and Charterhouse Close over the years and has gone through numerous incarnations with efforts to improve and formalise its look dating back to at least the 16th century. It was at least partly enclosed by the late 1600s and the fences replaced several times, notably in 1742 when an Act of Parliament was passed allowing residents to fine those who entered without authorisation. The enclosing fences have since been modified several more times.
One of the major changes to the shape of the square occurred in 1860 when the Metropolitan Railway was extended between Farringdon and Moorgate. It was at this time that the road surface which surrounds the central garden, which has a Grade II heritage listing, was laid down.
Today the gardens in the centre of the square remain under the management of the Charterhouse (and hence aren’t open to the general public except on tours) but even without a tour it’s still a quiet place to walk around the outside of, evoking a strong sense of years gone past.
Thirteen adult skeletons, believed to be up to 660 years old, have been discovered lying in two rows 2.5 metres below the ground on the edge of Charterhouse Square.
It is likely based on the depth at which the bodies were buried and other evidence (including pottery found at the site and a similarity between the layout of the bones and those of 14th century plaque victims unearthed at the East Smithfield Burial Ground in the 1980s), that the skeletons were buried here in 1349 during the Black Death.
Historical records suggest that as many as 50,000 people may have been buried here in the three years from the burial ground’s opening in 1348. The burial ground remained in use until the 1500s but has never been located in modern times.
The skeletons are being excavated and taken to the Museum of London Archaeology for laboratory testing.
Crossrail Lead Archaeologist Jay Carver described the discovery as “highly significant”.
“We will be undertaking scientific tests on the skeletons over the coming months to establish their cause of death, whether they were Plague victims from the 14th Century or later London residents, how old they were and perhaps evidence of who they were,” he said.
“However, at this early stage, the depth of burials, the pottery found with the skeletons and the way the skeletons have been set out, all point towards this being part of the 14th century emergency burial ground.”
It is likely more remains will be found according to experts.
Archaeologists working on the Crossrail project have previously uncovered more than 300 burials at the New Cemetery near the site of the Bedlam Hospital at Liverpool Street from the 1500s to 1700s.
For more on Crossrail, see www.crossrail.co.uk.
October 9, 2012
The discoveries, uncovered at the Plumstead tunnel entrance site in East London (not far from Belmarsh Prison), also included two wooden stakes that may have been cut by early hunters with an axe and which may have been used in the building of a timber path, part of a network which allowed hunters to access wetland areas about 3,500 years ago.
“Although we haven’t identified an actual track way yet, the timbers are similar to those used to make the track ways and certainly show that people were in the area exploiting the woodland,” says Mr Carver. “This is a promising find as we continue our search for evidence of a Bronze Age transport route along where London’s newest railway will run.”
Previous objects found at Crossrail project sites include human bones from the medieval period, a find of rare amber and a piece from a mammoth’s jaw bone.
The latest finds, which are now being examined by Museum of London Archaeology, were made as a month long exhibition opens at Crossrail’s Tottenham Court Road Visitor Information Centre (16-18 St Giles High Street), displaying previous objects found during the project.
Meanwhile, as part of the exhibition, Mr Carver will also host a Q&A session on Twitter (#BisontoBedlam) today between 2pm and 9pm during which he will answer questions on Crossrail’s archaeology programme and the exhibition.
Crossrail, Europe’s largest construction project, will see the construction of a new rail link running along a 73 mile route across the city.
For more on Crossrail, see www.crossrail.co.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of Crossrail.
Around London – The Shard celebrates; Crossrail archaeology; new sheriffs named; and, Blackpool at Wellington Arch…
July 5, 2012
• Europe’s tallest building marks the completion of its exterior structure today with a spectacular light show. The Shard, a £450 million development located over London Bridge Station in Southwark, stands 310 metres tall and was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. The controversial glass clad structure, work on which commenced in 2009, features a jagged top with the design reportedly referencing the city’s many church spires. While the exterior of the building is now complete, work is expected to continue on the building’s interior – which will contain offices, luxury shops and restaurants, a five star hotel and 10 top-end apartments (the highest in the UK) – until next year. It is expected that the building’s viewing decks – which offer panoramic 360 degree views over the city – will become a major new tourist attraction in the city. The Shard will be formally opened today by Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani and Prince Andrew, Duke of York. The hour long light show, which features lasers and searchlights, kicks off at 10pm and those who can’t see it in person can watch it streamed live at the-shard.com.
• A skeleton from the St Bethlehem Burial Ground and 55 million-year-old fragments of amber are among the artefacts which will go on display this Saturday at a special public exhibition of archaeological discoveries made during the construction of Crossrail. Almost 100 objects found at 10 different sites will be in the Bison to Bedlam – Crossrail’s archaeology story so far exhibition which marks the halfway point of the Crossrail archaeology program, first launched in 2009. Finds have dated from prehistoric times through to the Industrial Revolution and, as well as those aforementioned, also include some medieval ceramic wig curlers, 17th century gravestone markers and stakes made out of animal bone. All the items will be eventually donated to the Museum of London or Natural History Museum. The exhibition will be held from 10am to 5pm this Saturday at the Music Room, Grays Antiques, 26 South Molton Street (nearest Tube station is Bond Street). For more, see www.crossrail.co.uk.
• Alderman Jeffrey Evans (Ward of Cheap) and Nigel Pullman have been elected the new sheriffs of the City of London in a poll held late last month. The office of the sheriffs dates back to the Middle Ages – current duties include assisting the Lord Mayor of London in his official duties and attending sessions of the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey. The two new sheriffs take up their post in late September.
• On Now: Blackpool: Wonderland of the World. A new exhibition held in the Quadriga Gallery at the Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner, this looks at how Blackpool transformed in the 19th century from a small village to become became the first resort in the world to cater for the working classes. Focusing on two of the town’s key attractions – the Winter Gardens and the Blackpool Tower – the exhibition’s highlights include a silver model of Blackpool Tower dating from 1893, rare Victorian and vintage posters advertising performances by some of the stars who shone there, and early 20th century photographs of the interiors of the Winter Gardens. In addition, two crowns will illuminate the top of Wellington Arch in a taste of Blackpool’s famous light show. Organised by English Heritage in partnership with Blackpool Council, it runs until 27th August. Admission fee applies. See www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wellington-arch/exhibitions-at-the-arch/current-exhibition/ for more.
June 13, 2011
Dating from the early 1600s, London’s oldest public park is Finsbury Circus Gardens, located just to the north of London Wall and east of Moorgate.
The now heritage-listed gardens were open as a public park from 1606 (and was originally known as Moor Fields – the moors were drained and gravel walks laid out in 1527 but it wasn’t until 1606 that the area was laid out with elm trees and benches).
The park wasn’t enclosed until 1815-17 when City of London surveyor William Montague laid the area out according to the designs of prominent London architect George Dance the Younger.
The gardens were acquired by the City of London Corporation in 1900 and in 1909 were replanned. The oval-shaped park, the largest of the City’s gardens, is these days home to the City of London Bowling Club, the only bowling club in the City (founded in 1924; the bowling green dates from the following year and the current pavilion from 1968).
During World War II a barrage balloon was anchored here to deter low level air raids. Among it’s other claims to fame is the Tudor era bat (apparently a forerunner of the modern cricket bat) found on the site in the 1980s and skulls which have also been found dating from the Roman period.
The gardens are currently partly closed due to the Crossrail development.