Tuesday, 29 May 2012

201 Bishopsgate

For the 6th session of 'Digging the Dirt' I talked about the site opposite Spitalfields and dug in 1998-9. The site was located between the tracks of Liverpool Street station and the main N-S road of Norton Folgate.

It also lay on the Roman Ermine Street that led to Lincoln and York. The only features from the early period of Roman rule was a ditch which contained pottery of the 1st century and bones of various animals, including a mouse, vole and frogs and a timber-piled building with a clay-lined pit. From the pit came a miniature version of a Highgate C pot only 75mm high.

Highgate Wood Ware C

During the later period of Roman rule structures related to a cemetery, some of which had grave goods. One child burial had copper-alloy bracelets buried with them.

Drawing of Cu bracelets

The area became increasingly boggy due to the Walbrook just to the east and a lack of drainage. There was no evidence of Anglo-Saxon settlement here, but the land was owned by the Bishop of London and then Walter Fitz Ailred (1190-1220) who founded St Mary Spital. Features included Saxo-Norman rubbish pits, some containing large assemblages of pottery sherds and horn cores, indicating industrial activity. A stone lamp was an unusual find.

Stone lamp with decoration.
The priory of St Mary Spital constructed a drain in the 13th century, but this failed to stop occasional flooding of the priory.

Digging the 13th century drain
The existing buildings (some of high status, as evidenced by the building materials found) went out of use and the site was used as a dumping ground into the 16th century. But the area once again became a high status site after the construction of well made, brick buildings, one with an internal cess pit! No going outside into the garden during the night. Some of the buildings then became tenements and deteriorated into slums and brothels, with the poor and rich living mixed together. 

This was a small site compared with other London sites, but told a story of an evolving area just outside the City, whose fortunes changed over the centuries and is now one of the busiest transport hubs in London mixed in with shops, offices and some rare Georgian buildings and lanes to survive into the 21st century. It is well worth walking around this area. One of the very few places where you can still feel the pasts presence seeping from the walls.  

All pictures from MoLA Archaeology Studies Series 10 

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