An iron stylus bearing an inscription – described as the sort of cheap souvenir you might bring back for a friend after visiting a foreign city – is among thousands of Roman-era artefacts discovered during excavations for Bloomberg’s new European headquarters in Cannon Street. The stylus, which is about the length of a modern pen, dates from about AD70 and was used to write on wax-filled wooden writing tablets. It is inscribed in Latin text which, translated by classicist and epigrapher Dr Roger Tomlin, reads: “I have come from the city. I bring you a welcome gift with a sharp point that you may remember me. I ask, if fortune allowed, that I might be able [to give] as generously as the way is long [and] as my purse is empty”. It is believed the “city” referred to is Rome. The stylus is one of some 14,000 items Museum of London Archaeology archaeologists unearthed on the dig – including 200 styli (although only one bears an inscription) – which took place on what was the bank of the (now lost) Thames tributary, the Walbrook, between 2010 and 2014. It is among items on show in an exhibition now on at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford called Last Supper in Pompeii. Head here for more details. Other finds from the excavations can be seen at the recently opened London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE. PICTURE: © MOLA
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.
While the association between the Bard and Bankside’s Globe Theatre is well known (see our earlier post here for more), the Bard and his plays were also performed in various other theatres around London. Here we take a quick look at a couple in Shoreditch, then a more rural suburb of London known for its associations with the (somewhat seedy) entertainment industry…
• The Theatre, Shoreditch. Built in 1576 by James Burbage on property that had once been part of Holywell Priory, the Theatre was the home of a number of acting companies including The Lord Chamberlain’s Men of which Shakespeare was a member. The polygon-shaped theatre served as the home of the company between 1594 and 1598 when a dispute with a landlord over the lease led them to leave, temporarily settling at The Curtain Theatre, before rebuilding their theatre, now renamed The Globe, in Southwark. Between 2008 and 2010, archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) carried out an investigation beneath a disused warehouse in New Inn Broadway, near the intersection of Curtain Road and Great Eastern Street, and found the remains of a 14 sided theatre about 22 metres across. Plans have been mooted to build a new theatre on the site. To find out more about The Theatre and see a terrific animated recreation by Cloak & Dagger Studios and MOLA (pictured), head to www.explorethetheatre.co.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) and Cloak and Dagger Studios.
• The Curtain Theatre, Shoreditch. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men only performed here temporarily, between 1598-1599, before relocating to Southwark. Henry V (the reference to “this wooden O” in the prologue of the play is taken to refer to this theatre) and Romeo and Juliet are believed to be among Shakespeare’s plays which premiered here. Located just a couple of hundred yards south of The Theatre and built the year after it, it also hosted Ben Jonson’s Every Man in his Humour, a play in which Shakespeare is known to have performed. The polygonal theatre’s name comes from the road on which it stood – Curtain Road, which, it has been suggested, was named after the Holywell Priory’s ‘curtain wall’. It continued as a theatre until the 1620s and was later converted into tenements. The remains of what is believed to have been the Curtain Theatre were found by MOLA archaeologists in 2012 and further excavations are expected with the hope that one day the site will be open to the public with plays performed here. There is a plaque commemorating the site at 18 Hewett Street which is only a short distance from where the excavations were carried out. For more on the Curtain Theatre, check out www.shakespearesshoreditch.com.
For more on Elizabethan theatres, see Julian Bowsher’s Shakespeare’s London Theatreland: Archaeology, History and Drama.
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.
The oldest structure on the Thames foreshore is only a relatively recent discovery. It was in the spring of 2010 that archaeologists found six timber piles driven into the foreshore just in front of the spy agency MI6’s building in Vauxhall (pictured below with the river covering the site).
That date puts them in the Mesolithic period when the level of the river was lower – meaning the structure was probably built on dry land – and the landscape considerably different to what it is today. Radiocarbon dating suggests the trees for the structure were felled between 4790 BC and 4490 BC.
The site, which is at the confluence of the Thames and now largely underground River Effra, was initially kept secret while surveying was carried out. Nearby were found stone tools dating from a similar era to the piles – they included a tranchet adze for woodworking – and pottery fragments from the slightly later Neolithic era.
The discovery near the low tide line was made by archaeologists from the Thames Discovery Programme and the site then surveyed with the assistance of English Heritage and the Museum of London as well as the geomatics teams from Museum of London Archaeology.
The site is 600 metres downstream from a Bronze Age timber jetty (about 1,500 BC) found in the 1990s.
• The true story of Captain Kidd and an exploration of London’s links with piracy is the focus of a new major exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands. Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story features original artefacts dating from 300 years ago when London was a site of pirate executions and tells the story of the infamous Captain Kidd’s life until his execution at Wapping’s Execution Dock. Among the artefacts is the original costume worn by actor Johnny Depp as he played Captain Jack Sparrow in the film Pirates of the Caribbean. The exhibition, which opens tomorrow and runs until 30th October, is being held in conjunction with a series of pirate related events including an adults-only pirate night on 27th May where you have the chance to sample some genuine “pirate drink” and take part in pirate speech lessons. Admission charges apply. For more information, visit the Museum of London Docklands website www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Docklands/Whats-on/Exhibitions-Displays/Pirates.htm.
• The path of London’s Olympic Torch Relay has been announced and will finish with a week long jaunt through London. The torch will arrive in Waltham Forest on 21st July next year and then pass through Bexley, Wandsworth, Ealing, Haringey and Westminster before its arrival at the Olympic Stadium on 27th July. To find out how to nominate someone to carry the torch or for more information on the relay, visit www.london2012.com/olympic-torch-relay.
• On Now: London’s Underworld Unearthed: the Secret Life of the Rookery. The seedy side of the St Giles Rookery, a once infamous quarter of the capital, is laid bare in this new exhibition at the Coningsby Gallery. Back in 1751, the area was known as “a pit of degradation, poverty and crime” known for its free-flowing gin. Artist Jane Palm-Gold has displayed 18th and 19th century artifacts found during the Museum of London Archaeology’s recent excavation of old St Giles (conducted prior to the construction of the recent Central St Giles development which now covers the site) alongside her paintings, building what has been described as a “multi-layered psycho-geography that both mesmerises and disturbs”. Runs until 3rd June at the Coninsby Gallery at 30 Tottenham Street (nearest tube station is Goodge Street). Admission is free. For more information, see www.coningsbygallery.com
• Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue – known for having helped cure King George VI of his stammer, the story of which is told in the recent Oscar-winning film, The King’s Speech – has been honored with a green plaque by Westminster Council. The plaque was expected to be unveiled today at 146 Harley Street, where Logue, who is known to have used fees from wealthier client to subsidise free treatments for those who could not afford them, lived from 1926 until 1952. The plaque is one of 94 which Westminster Council has placed to mark buildings of particular significance for their association with people who have made lasting contributions to society.
• On Now: The Seven Seas at Selfridges in Oxford Street. Conceptual artist Beth Derbyshire’s seven minute video installation features seven films of seven different seas around the globe. On show as part of Project Ocean – an initiative by Selfridges and 20 environmental and conservation groups aimed at celebrating the ocean’s beauty and highlighting the issue of overfishing. Runs until 8th June. For more information, see www.selfridges.com.