Yearly Archives: 2018

Investigating Clerkenwell’s medieval roots with CBA London

On Saturday 1st December 2018, CBA London trustee Rob Whytehead led a fascinating walk around Clerkenwell. After the group met outside a local pub, the first point of call was the Clerks’ Well; a feature dating back to the 1500s that gave Clerkenwell its name.

We then walked back up Clerkenwell Green and around to the modern entrance to St James’ Church, which has been a parish church since 1176. Excavations and the examination of historic maps have provided insight into the floor plan of the church, and locations of features such as the cloister, gatehouse, kitchen and nun’s hall. An Iron Age ditch had also been excavated just across the road from the church, possibly indicating a fort or other man-made structure. The only remnants of the cloister at St James’ are the church garden, and the original cloister wall still visible underneath the more modern church boundary walls.

After a walk around the immediate area surrounding the church (which had previously contained buildings such as prison, workhouses, factories and workshops), we walked down to Clerkenwell Green; a road famous for its political activism. Over the years this has included protests, demonstrations, and the founding of the Marx Memorial Library & Workers’ School in the 1930s.

The next port of call was the Priory Church of the order of St John, where the group took shelter from the rain underneath the gatehouse!. The original building had been destroyed after the dissolution, but the original curved wall of the nave is still marked on the pavement today. We then walked around the gate of the inner precinct, taking note of the former clockmakers building on St John’s name and the many plaques of clockmakers that worked in the area from the 17th century onwards.

The last location we travelled to was the Charterhouse Square. Several human bodies have been excavated here, that had been buried in the 14th century after the outbreak of the black death. The Charterhouse, built in 1371, was once home to a strict order of Carthusian monks. It is now a museum, which you can learn more about here. The walk ended at the entrance of the Queen Mary University of London Charterhouse Square campus. Several of the buildings now owned by the university were also once part of the original Charterhouse.

If you are interested in attending CBA London events in the future including fascinating walks and tours, be sure to check the events section of our site, and our Eventbrite page.

Halloween in St Bride’s crypt

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Tucked almost completely out of sight behind a modern parade of shops on London’s Fleet Street is St Bride’s Church; one of London’s most historic churches, with worship possibly dating back to the 7th century. On the 31st October 2018 CBA London had the privilege of being shown around the crypt at St Bride’s by Jelena Bekvalac, Osteoarchaeologist at the Museum of London’s Centre for Human Bioarchaeology.

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The evening started with an introduction to the church’s history. After burning down in the Great Fire of London, the church was rebuilt by famous architect Christopher Wren. The distinctive spire is said to be Thomas Rich’s inspiration for the first tiered wedding cake in 1703. Unfortunately, the church was destroyed once again nearly 300 years later during the Blitz. However, this uncovered several previously unseen archaeological features, and excavations from the 1950s onwards have led to the discovery of 227 human burials (213 adult, 14 sub-adult).

As some of the coffin plates from these burials were found to be still intact, the name and age at death for many of the individuals is known. This is useful not only to confirm the identity of these individuals, but also for osteoarchaeologists to test the accuracy their skeletal aging methods. Another advantage of the presence of these burial plates is that the names and dates can be searched in other records (e.g. birth/death/marriage certificates, company records) to provide context and background for the individual’s life.

Following this short introduction we entered the church, and ventured down a floor to the entrance of the crypt, where an iron coffin was on display. This is one of two that have been excavated at St Bride’s, which were originally used to prevent body theft commonplace in the 17th and 18th centuries. We were then taken through the Wren Study Centre, where there are displays showing many of the finds from excavations at St Brides and the remains of the medieval chapel at one end, and into the crypt itself. Inside the crypt is a medieval charnel house; a sort of macabre storage area for bones dug up from the churchyard to allow room for newer burials. Stacks of hundreds of disarticulated bones covered the floor of this charnel house.

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Wren Study Centre and Chapel

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Chapel

The tour concluded in a room stacked to the ceiling on each wall with skeleton boxes, and leaning against the wall in one corner were coffin plates that had been excavated; the inscriptions still clearly visible. A small selection of skulls were placed out onto a long table, with a large variety of features including blunt force trauma, trepanation, cancerous lesions, metastatic bone, and even a skull sliced across horizontally (evident of a post mortem). Some interesting dental features were also present, including a gold filling and a gold wire.

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Finds from the excavations at St Bride’s

CBA London strongly recommends a visit to St Brides, whether you are a local history enthusiast or just someone looking for an interesting day out. Click here to visit the official website, where you can read details of the guided tours held there.

CBA London would also like to thank Jelena Bekvalac for providing a fascinating tour of the crypt. Her full list of publications can be found here.

From prehistory to Boney and the Blitz: Rotherhithe foreshore with CBA London

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On Wednesday 11th July 2018, Eliott Wragg of the Thames Discovery Programme led this walk along the Rotherhithe and Bermondsey stretch of the river. Several large timber structures created from Napoleonic era warships lie along the foreshore, as well as whale bone reused as structural elements. Damaged caused by the Blitz was evident in the architectural features of the former warehouses overlooking the Thames, where entire sections had been destroyed and rebuilt. Having now been converted to modern flats, the residents could be heard celebrating after England’s first (and only) goal of the World Cup semi-final! We then had a quick stop at the Manor House of King Edward III; built in the 1300s, and now with only the remains of the walls and moat left. The evening was rounded off with a trip to The Ship Rotherhithe for a drink, and for football fans; the second half of the semi-final.

To learn more about the Thames Discovery Programme visit their website.