A burial site possibly containing 30 victims of The Great Plague of 1665 has been unearthed at Crossrail’s Liverpool Street site during excavation of the Bedlam burial ground.
Lead archaeologist Jay Carver said: “This mass burial, so different to the other individual burials found in the cemetery, is very likely a reaction to a catastrophic event. Only closer analysis will tell if this is a plague pit from The Great Plague in 1665 but we hope this gruesome but exciting find will tell us more about the one of London’s most notorious killers.”
A headstone found nearby was marked “1665” and the fact the individuals appear to have been buried on the same day, suggest they were victims of The Great Plague. The thin wooden coffins have collapsed and rotted, giving the appearance of a slumped and distorted mass grave.
The skeletons will now be analysed by osteologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), and scientific tests may reveal if bubonic plague or some other pestilence was the cause of death.
Senior osteologist at MOLA Mike Henderson said: “We hope detailed analysis will help determine whether these people were exposed to The Great Plague and learn more about the evolution of this deadly disease.”
Excavation of the Bedlam burial ground began earlier this year. The team of archaeologists from MOLA have carefully excavated over 3,500 skeletons from what is, in archaeology terms, London’s most valuable 16th and 17th century cemetery site.
The Bedlam burial ground was in use from 1569 to at least 1738, spanning the start of the period of Elizabethan explorers, the English civil wars, the Restoration of the Monarchy, Shakespeare’s plays, the Great Fire of London and numerous plague outbreaks.
The Bedlam burial ground, also known as the New Churchyard, was located at the western end of Liverpool Street. The recent excavation suggests that 30,000 Londoners were buried at Bedlam between 1569 and 1738. It got its name from the nearby Bethlehem Hospital which housed the mentally ill, although only a small number of Bedlam residents are believed to have been buried there.
Crossrail’s final tunnelling machine, Victoria, is being dismantled 40m below Farringdon following the completion of Crossrail tunnelling.
Victoria’s 130m trailer is being removed via the shaft at Stepney Green and returned to manufacturer Herrenknect, with parts recycled for future tunnelling projects. The cutter head is being cut into small pieces and removed from Farringdon.
Crossrail eastern tunnels project manager Roger Mears said: “Victoria has finished her journey. Thanks to the quality of these marvellous machines and skill of the teams who operated them, Crossrail’s tunnels are now complete.”