Author Archives: cbalondon

Halloween in St Bride’s crypt


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.


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.


Wren Study Centre and 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.


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


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.

Rotherhithe-Edward III’s Manor House

CBA London trustee Rob Whytehead led a sell-out visit to Rotherhithe on 12 December, where we got a taste of the archaeology and history of this one time village on the Thames.

At Edward III’s moated manor house, Rob described theories on why the manor was built, its history and the archaeology that has revealed its development from 14th to 17th centuries.

We examined the significance of the river and the important shipbuilding and shipbreaking industries that thrived here, and the work of Thames Discovery Programme FROG members in recording what remains.

In Rotherhithe village we popped into St Mary’s church, an attractive Georgian church where the captain and crew of the Mayflower are buried, and had a look at other early buildings that remarkably survived the blitz.

Our final port of call was the Brunel pump house museum, where we were treated to a fascinating guided tour by local resident, actor and volunteer Tim Taylor (he was the doctor attending the dying Simon Callow in Four Weddings and wrote and performed the theme music for Rainbow…). By the time they had crawled through a short metre high tunnel and down scaffolding stairs to the huge chamber of the vertical excavation shaft, the group fully appreciated the revolutionary techniques of the undertaking of building a sub Thames tunnel. The vision and daring of Marc Brunel (father of Isambard, who also worked on the project) resulted in the first tunnel under a river anywhere in the world, in a project that took from 1825 to 1843 to complete.

And afterwards, a large contingent of CBA London members naturally headed for the excellent Mayflower, for a pint of Scurvy (yes, really). Members had some great ideas for future visits, which we’ll follow up in the new year.

Visit at Fulham Palace

tudor courtyard phil and keith at the lodge beside the reexcavated moatExclusive CBA London guided visit to Fulham Palace – Sunday 1 November 2015CBA London’s latest event was an atmospherically foggy visit to Fulham Palace with two of the archaeologists who’ve been investigating the site – Phil Emery since the 1980s, and Keith Woodhouse since the 1970s.

Evidence of habitation on the site goes back to the foundation of a country palace by the 7th century Bishop of London, and further signs of human presence extend into Roman and prehistoric periods. The whole picture is challenging to come by though, as the mainly Tudor Palace is a grade one listed building sitting in a scheduled ancient monument, and includes a very long moat, extensive gardens and numerous structures. Nevertheless, the archaeology has significantly contributed to the direction of the extensive renovations over the past few decades.

The term ‘hidden gem’ is a bit of an overused cliché, but it’s fair to say that this fascinating site and its history came as a big surprise to those who’d not visited before. Just as interesting to explore for many was how the mysteries continue to be cracked, as little keyholes and non-invasive techniques reveal more archaeology to inform the continuing restoration.

Please visit our Events page for more information on upcoming events.

Booking open for LAMAS advocacy training

Further to our post on 2nd June, the booking form is now available for the LAMAS advocacy training.

Getting Your Voice Heard – making effective representations on heritage issues

The LAMAS Historic Buildings and Conservation Committee – in association with the London Forum – is arranging a training seminar on the 18th September to help people make the most effective representations to their Local Planning Authorities, Councillors and Inspectors on proposals which affect historic buildings. This initiative is supported by English Heritage.

The seminar will be run by David McDonald (Heritage Consultant and IHBC Education Secretary) It will be in the GALLERY, COWCROSS STREET in the evening. Numbers will be limited to ensure full participation. There will be a charge (c£10) to cover fees and admin costs but LAMAS will provide a glass of wine to encourage informal discussion at the end of the evening

The seminar will be useful to members of all local archaeological, historical and other amenity societies that are affiliated, either to LAMAS or the London Forum. To book please download the booking form LAMAS training booking form

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CBA London Chair Andrew Dismore speaks up for London Archaeology

Andrew Dismore, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Hendon, London Assembly member for Barnet and Camden and honorary Chair of Trustees of the Council of British Archaeology (London) raised the lack of mention of Archaeology in the 2014 ‘Cultural Metropolis’ Mayor’s cultural strategy document in the City Hall Plenary questions session with Munira Mirza, Boris Johnson’s Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture on Tuesday 16th July.

The Council of British Archaeology (London) Chair highlighted the complete lack of references to archaeology in the cultural strategy; the role of archaeology in London’s tourism; the role of historic churches in the arts and tourism; the Museum of London’s position as a hub for archaeological activity; and the growing interest in community archaeology.

The need for consultation in prior to such documents being compiled was emphasised by Mr Dismore.

Fundraising for YAC

YAC walk


Photograph courtesy of Charlotte Frearson.

Secretary of Council for British Archaeology London and YAC Branch Leader, Sarah Dhanjal; CBA Trustee, Joe Flatman; and YAC Volunteer, Carla Piper are going to walk 23 miles between the Roman amphitheatres in London and St Albans in Roman costume to raise money for YAC.  You can find out more about YAC, our activities and volunteering your time to get young people involved in archaeology here.

You can show your support by donating here.