We’ve excavated the foundations  of the St Pancras Workhouse on the site of Oriel, a new state-of-the-art eye care, research and education centre which is currently being built in Camden.  

The excavations were part of the planning consent obligations for Oriel which is a joint initiative between Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology (IoO) and Moorfields Eye Charity. The centre is due to open in 2027.  

We know more than ever about the site, especially some of the oldest parts of the workhouse, such as the infirmary.  

Explore St Pancras’ story 

Now you can experience life in the workhouse infirmary through our fascinating new audiobook.

You can join us on a trip back in time to explore the origins of healthcare at St Pancras! 

Our short audiobook will guide you through the workhouse’s infirmary, which once housed more than 1,000 patients at a time. Discover what life was like in the workhouse and meet the medical staff who provided care to some of London’s poorest residents. 

You can listen to the audiobook here, on Spotify and Apple Music.

Want to find out more about our excavations? Read on... 

Unearthing the stories of St Pancras 

This two-acre site (which was part of a wider five-acre area known as the St Pancras Hospital) has revealed far more than we first expected. While some former workhouse buildings are still used by Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, the oldest part of the workhouse, which opened in 1809, has long since vanished.  

Before our excavations, little was known about the original workhouse building beyond its outline on old maps. Although the site was heavily bombed during World War II, we uncovered well-preserved walls standing up to a metre high. This included the female wards, with fireplaces and bright blue walls. We also uncovered extensive sick wards which were added when the infirmary was extended in the 1840s. 

Combining the results of our excavations with original documents from the workhouse’s history, we’ve been able to build up a picture of what life was like for patients in the infirmary, which opened in 1812.  

The workhouse was intended to provide shelter for some of Camden’s poorest residents, however, by the 1850s many of the patients weren’t workhouse ‘inmates’. 100 years before the NHS was created, places like the St Pancras Workhouse were important medical care providers for communities across London. 

While reports from the 1860s revealed overcrowding and a desperate need for more medical staff, excavations showed that in its early days at least, the workhouse infirmary was very different from the dark and dingy depictions in books like Oliver Twist. 

We didn’t find many personal possessions or medical artefacts during our dig, but we found out more about the medical care that was given at St Pancras from an unlikely source - the Old Bailey court records. Here we discovered medical staff called to give evidence about a variety of patients - you can read all about what we discovered in last week's blog.

We hope you have enjoyed uncovering the archaeology of the Oriel site with us. You can learn more about the new centre on Oriel’s website

Greater London Oriel