Latest Train Delay Excuse: Tudors On The Line
On February 10th, 500 exhibits are to be on show in the Museum of London in an exhibition called Tunnel: the Archaeology of Crossrail.
Crossrail is the biggest London redevelopment I’ve seen in my lifetime. It started in 2012 and won’t finish until 2020. The 118-kilometre railway line crosses London and reaches the home counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Essex, running laterally through the city.
It has involved the demolition of part of Oxford Street, chunks of Soho and Farringdon. The central section and the line between Paddington and Abbey Wood are due to open in December 2018, when it will be named the Elizabeth line (or, inevitably, ‘the Liz Line’). That’s the Tottenham Ct Rd development, above.
During there deep excavations all sorts of relics were discovered, including 3,000 corpses. Some contained DNA from the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which means these people all died in the 1665 Great Plague.
I and my fellow writers used the scenario to create the ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ books, which interwove letters, emails and ephemera to build a portrait of a city collapsing after Crossrail discoveries.
But there weren’t just corpses. Crossrail has had to be preceded by archaeological intervention. If it seems that something lies beneath, preliminary digs are done through the basements of the buildings before they are demolished, which is why there’s a somewhat unvisited Roman colosseum underneath the Guildhall. You used to be able to see part of it through the basement window of a barber shop. They had a sign; ‘Downstairs – Haircut & Shave, also Roman Colosseum’.
This time around the diggers have worked for more than 14 years to recover tens of thousands of objects from the London clay, which acts as a good preservative. They found Tudor bowling balls, Victorian potties and ice skates made from bone. London, it seems, never stops giving up its secrets.
The Tudors always surprise us. In 1999 in a former fish pond in Southwark, a Tudor banana was found along with other Tudor objects; tools, pewter spoons, armour, that bowling ball and more than 400 shoes, all in very good nick. But the banana is an anomaly, because it’s almost a century older than any previously recorded banana in Britain, and a full three centuries before the first regular imports.
It was thrown onto the south bank of the Thames around 1560. The earliest recorded bananas in Britain were in a bunch imported in 1633 from Bermuda and hung up in Thomas Johnson’s herbalist shop on Snow Hill, central London. It’s now thought that bananas were common in Tudor England but eaten overripe (because of the transport time from Africa) which is why they never featured in paintings.
See elsewhere on this site for the story about the Cheapside Hoard (for those with long memories, the comments section of that post features one from our late lamented Dan Terrell.)