Crossrail Stepney Green dig in 5 amazing artefacts

David Sankey

Our excavations at Stepney Green in the East End came about as a result of the ambitious Crossrail project, which will see over 118km of track being laid between Reading and Heathrow west of London, and Shenfield and Abbey Wood to the east. The east London site has a rich history that includes a Tudor moated mansion, a Baptist college, factories that were destroyed during the Blitz and the city farm that occupies the site today. In this blog by Senior Archaeologist and author of ‘Stepney Green: Moated Manor House to City Farm’, David Sankey tells us about the fascinating history with five of his favourite artefacts from the site.

Glass Goblet Fragment

The first artefact I’ve chosen is this delicate fragment of blue glass belonged to the base of a Venetian tazza or goblet. The fragment, a rare example of the Venetian Renaissance revival from the 15-or 16th-century, was made by trapping a thin layer of gold leaf between blue and clear glass. It shows the wealth of the manor’s Tudor owners, as well as providing evidence of trade around Europe at the time.

The Leather Shoe

The second artefact may be less attractive, but it connects us directly to the people that lived around the site in the 16th-century. This round-toed leather shoe was preserved in the silts of the main moat and is decorated in a popular style of the time.

The Wooden Ball

Having looked at drinking and clothing, the third artefact is evidence of the leisure activities of the 16th-century. Although slightly smaller than many examples, it’s likely that this willow ball was used as a jack for bowls. The game, originally banned in the late 14th-century, saw increasing popularity in the 16th-century, especially amongst more affluent people.

The Chamber Pot

Artefact number four gives us a glimpse in to the most private of private lives at Stepney. This two-handled Sunderland lusterware chamber pot is printed with a witty text, typical of the style. The shocked face in the centre is surrounded by the words ‘Oh what I see/I will not tell’. Around the outside, one of the panels bears the poem ‘’…ame you’ll no…/ … Safe and oft it use:… / … when you in it want to p-s / Remember they who gave you this’.

The Carnelian Intaglio

The final artefact is a decorative item that would have been worn and lost by someone locally. In the early 19th century the main house was converted into a Baptist college, to the west of this a street of houses and small passages was driven though the gardens. In a well in Garden Place – a short passage way – this intaglio was found. Made from carnelian, it originally belonged to a brooch or locket and depicts the head of a garlanded classical figure. Its crude form tells us that it was likely to have been a cheaper copy of a more expensive cameo.

The artefacts from Stepney Green tell us a lot about the ways of life of its occupants across the centuries. To find out more about these stories and the artefacts that inform them, read Stepney Green: Moated Manor House to City Farm by David Sankey.

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