Selected Article from the BHAS Bi-Annual magazine "Flint"
Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail
One of the most extensive engineering projects ever undertaken in
Britain is the London Crossrail project for the new Elizabeth line.
This major feat of engineering encompasses some 42km of new tunnels
running under London and extends from Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the
east to Reading and Heathrow in the west. Some of the enormous amount
of archaeology (10,000 artefacts) that the development has unearthed
has been on display in the Docklands museum, London. This wonderful
exhibition details the story of the excavation and includes some of
the best finds spanning 8,000 years of human history ranging from
Mesolithic microliths, Roman pottery and leather goods, medieval bone
skates and wooden Tudor bowling balls, to Victorian pottery including
humorous chamber pots(!) and numerous jars from the Crosse and
Blackwell pickling factory that once operated on a site on the route.
The display is imaginatively laid out with selected finds from the
various stations following the route of Crossrail itself. There is a
very clear and easy to understand display at the beginning of the
exhibition, which explains stratification so that visitors can see
how the earlier finds have come from the deepest levels in the
tunnelling project and the more recent finds have been recovered from
nearer the surface where sta-tions have been newly built or upgraded.
Some of the most poignant artefacts are the exceptionally well
preserved leather shoes, especially of children, from the Ro-man
period. There are also three skeletons of young adults, victims of
the Plague who, although in general good health before they died,
showed evidence of stress in their teeth and their bones. An
osteoarchaeologist, on film, explains that there was a very real
trade-off between the economic benefits of living in a city versus
the health benefits of rural living.
One of the most interesting and encouraging aspects reflected
throughout the exhibition is the respect and understanding shown
between archaeologists and engineers - it is obvious that the
undoubted success of the project has depended to a large extent on
the different disciplines working closely together to create
something of national and international importance whilst also
ensuring a lasting benefit to the local community. The most tangible
legacy of Crossrail, aside from the improved transport
infrastructure, is Wallasea Island, Essex, where 3 million tonnes of
earth from the excavations have been transported to create an RSPB
nature reserve twice the size of the City of London.
The Crossrail exhibition will have finished by the time this edition
of Flint is published but the Docklands Museum is still well worth a
visit with one entire floor being given over to a culturally
sensitive and thought-provoking display on the slave trade. There are
also exhibitions on the East India Company, Victorian engineering
pioneers, and the East End of London during WW11 and up to the
present day. And it is all free!
Plague victims from a mass grave in Bedlam burial ground
Ginger jar from the Crosse and Blackwell pickling factory at
Tottenham Court Road station
Linda Robinson and Glynis Jones