Crossrail is Europe’s largest construction project. As work continues archaeologists from the Museum of London have had the chance to investigate Bethel Burial Ground, near Liverpool Street Station. From 1569 and for another 170 years some 20,000 corpses were buried, mainly from the working and middle classes. During that time London’s population quadrupled to half a million.
Archaeologists have made some fascinating discoveries as they dug up 3,000 bodies. They haven't identified any of the corpses but volunteers have trawled through some of the parish records of the 124 churches. Many of the deceased were not Londoners but came from as far as Cornwall, Scotland, Europe - and the Caribbean and Africa, all trying to seek their fortune in this boom city.
Osteoarchaeologists have had a chance to study the bones: they found repetitive sprain injuries (from weaving) and ground-down teeth, thanks to the newly acquired taste for tobacco that was smoked from clay pipes. There was evidence of violence, no doubt caused by the high antics of a youthful population.
If they weren’t stabbed then there was the chance of catching the French pox (syphilis), from visiting the prostitutes in Southwark. As for children, infant mortality was very high - some 50%. Rickets was a frequent killer. And researchers have found more surprises: African citizens lived in the City and not all were slaves.
They came to London for work and money, and many found employment as servants. In the parish records they were often classed as ‘strangers’ as the clerks did not know how to categorise them. In 1597 at St Botolph’s without Aldgate, a Mary Phyllis, the 20 year-old daughter of a basket maker was baptised as a ‘blackmore’.
London archaeologists continue to surprise and excite us.