Portals to the Past

As I write, there are 146 reported roadworks taking place in London. If you live in the capital, you’ve probably seen at least one of them today. But have you ever thought about what those high-vis jacketed people are digging up? I’m not talking about cables or drains, but other, unexpected objects left behind by humans.

One of the biggest roadworks affecting London at the moment is work on Crossrail, the new railway line connecting up the Home Counties and the city. An inevitable effect of building a new railway is London is the creation of new tunnels -26 miles of them to be exact. And what does tunneling mean? Digging. And what does digging in London, a city steeped in history, mean? Archaeology. This has resulted in the Crossrail project becoming one of the most extensive archaeological investigations ever undertaken in the UK.

Although the railway isn’t due to open until 2018, you can view many of the finds from the excavations now at Crossrail’s visitor centre just off Tottenham Court Road. I popped along yesterday to see what they had found.

Crossrail archaeological finds

Although it’s not a huge exhibition – about 50 artefacts are on display in total – there’s an interesting mix of stuff. From Roman skulls to mesolithic flint tools, it represents a good cross section of London’s history. The work has unearthed major archaeological sites around the city, including the burial ground of Bedlam, Europe’s first mental institution, where archaeologists expect to find up to 4000 bodies. Also mentioned in the exhibition, although understandably not on display, are the 8000 jars found in the remains of the Crosse and Blackwell factory in Tottenham Court Road, nor the structural remains of the Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company.

There’s still plenty to see though, from a 16th century leather knife scabbard to Roman hair pins.

16th century shoes found at Finsbury Circus

16th century shoe found at Finsbury Circus

Animal bones used in 16th century pin making

Animal bones used in 16th century pin making

Sestertius Roman coin

If you want to catch the exhibition yourself, you’ll need to be quick as it closes on Saturday.

The exhibition, based at Crossrail’s visitor centre at 16-18 St Giles High Street, WC2H 8LN (behind Centre Point) is open today and tomorrow (Weds 12th and Thurs 13th) from 11am-7pm and on Saturday from 10am-5pm. There’s also a lecture at the nearby St-Giles-in-the-Field church tonight on London’s Last Great Shipbuilder. Entry to the exhibition and lecture is FREE. For more info, click here.

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