A collection of leather shoes discovered by MOLA at the Crossrail site near Charterhouse (c) Crossrail

Crossrail excavation offers glimpse into daily life of Tudor Londoners

MOLA team

Our excavations at the Crossrail Farringdon Station site have already provided remarkable information about the Black Death in London, but now analysis of artefacts unearthed from the re-discovered Faggeswell brook that flowed past Charterhouse Square, has revealed fascinating insights into the daily lives of people living in the area during the 16th and 17th centuries.

It's very unusual to find well-preserved Tudor textiles, leather and plant remains in the ground but thanks to the wet ground conditions in the area of the brook, we were able to excavate a number of leather shoes, decorative silks and ornate leather goods. The water in the earth stopped oxygen from decaying the organic materials and so now we have an invaluable insight into the lives of ordinary Tudor Londoners and the gentry who occupied this area.

Highlights include:

22 leather shoes made of thick cattle leather range from unisex slip-on shoes, similar to modern-day shoes, to styles fastening with a strap over the instep. These flat shoes would have belonged to ordinary Londoners and reflect a time towards the end of the 16th Century when shoes with low heels for both sexes became fashionable at the Elizabethan court.

Horse harness strap with an unusually ornate buckle and knotted reins. Also, personal dress items including a scabbard, that is a sheath for holding a sword, knife or other large blade, and fragmentary pieces from a doublet fashionably ‘slashed’ to show off the bright colours of the garment beneath were found.

Two distinctive silk bands used for decorative trimming for fashionable clothes. One was possibly made in Spain or the Spanish Netherlands and the other in Italy. Also a coarse plain-weave cloth suitable for sacking was found.

High status to everyday ceramic wares including a rare German tankard depicting Venus and the judgement of Paris to Surrey-Hampshire border cooking pots as well as candlesticks and a moneybox.

Grains of Paradise from West Africa which included seeds of melegueta pepper or 'grains of paradise', a popular spice during the medieval period from West Africa, it was the trade in this spice that gave that part of Africa the name ‘Grain Coast’.

Results from the main excavation that ended in 2013 are reported in the latest book in the Crossrail Archaeology series which explores the life of the site surrounding the Charterhouse through archaeology and the history of the area. Sam Pfizenmaier, a Senior Archaeologist at MOLA and author of the book, said:

“From the clothes worn by noble families to waste created by butchers working at nearby Smithfield market, these finds paint a picture of London as a vibrant late 16th-century trade hub, similar to London of today.”

Since Crossrail began construction in 2009, more than 200 archaeologists have unearthed over 10,000 objects from 40 locations, spanning 55 million years. The findings of the archaeology programme – the biggest ever undertaken in the UK – are now being published in a series of 10 books.

The story of Charterhouse finds and burials are revealed in ‘Charterhouse Square: Black Death cemetery and Carthusian monastery, meat market and suburb’. The book explores the story of London’s Clerkenwell and Smithfield neighbourhood, from prehistory through to the present day and is available to buy here and is priced at £10.00.

A wide range of artefacts and fossils unearthed by Crossrail, including many of those discovered in Charterhouse Square, are now on display in a major new exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands until September 2017. Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail takes visitors on a site-based journey following the map of the new Elizabeth line, revealing the stories of Londoners ranging from Mesolithic tool makers and inhabitants of Roman Londinium to those affected by the Great Plague of 1665.

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