There has been considerable interest recently in the very large number of burials unearthed in the excavation of the CrossRail project near Liverpool Street Station. The CrossRail work is not the first (and may not even be the last) archaeological excavation of the increasingly inaccurately named New Churchyard*, so I thought it only fitting that I post a segment out of my by now probably quite dated PhD, which goes into some detail about the origin and composition of the burial ground.
Mostly, I thought I ought to put this up as a tribute to the late Bill White, who was a font of knowledge on all manner of Londoners long since gone to ground. What I’ve recorded here as ‘pers. Comm’ can now be found in the published monograph (cite), but I like to remember it coming straight from Bill himself; his funny, fascinating I insights that I would slowly absorb along with the heat from the mobile radiator set against the arctic cold of the infamous Rotunda.
Excerpt below from my phd (Hassett, B. R. 2011. Changing World, Changing Lives: Child Health and Enamel Hypoplasia in Post Medieval London. London: University College London).
The New Churchyard at Broadgate (LSS85)
The New Churchyard was established in 1569 as an extramural interment ground for the ‘overflow’ of deceased from city parishes though it increasingly became associated with the Bethlehem Hospital nearby and came to be known as Bethlehem burial ground on later maps (Harding, 1998; Harding, 2000). The last burial in the New Churchyard was recorded in 1714 (B. White; pers. comm.); inhumations in this assemblage are the earliest group studied. The cemetery was varied in socioeconomic composition, accommodating not only those who could not afford the sometimes exorbitant burial costs in their own parish, but also burials for which their simply was no room in times of catastrophic mortality (i.e. plague years). It also functioned to absorb all of the London dead who did not belong in the traditional place of burial, the home parish, for reasons of penury, anonymity, moral failure, or religious dissent (Harding, 1998; 2000).
The burial assemblage studied here was recovered during the Broad Street excavations carried out by the Museum of London Archaeological Service (MoLA) from 1984 from an area near Liverpool Street Station in east-central London. This assemblage is possibly the least economically or geographically coherent used in this project. There is a strong suggestion in historical accounts that the dead in the New Churchyard largely represent a particular class of Londoner, aliens and those of low socioeconomic standing rather than a mixed group organised on more traditional, geographically-bounded parish lines.
The location of the cemetery itself reflects its role in housing the marginal after death. It was set up outside the City walls in what would become the suburban parish of St. Botolph Bishopsgate, but was in the mid-1500s a landscape of fields and open spaces. The land was adjacent to the small church of Bethlehem and the land for burial a gift of the Mayor Sir Thomas Roe (or Rowe) in 1569, who subsequently buried his wife in the new ground (Stow, 1598). Further building in the area would see the construction of the infamous Bethlehem Hospital, or Bedlam, nearby (Harben, 1918), and there is considerable interest on the part of Victorian chroniclers of the London dead in the prospect that the burials represent the inmates (Holmes, 1896). Residential building on what remained of the ground seems to have been carried out in the 17th and 18th centuries until eventually Broad Street Station, later Liverpool Street station, was established in 1875 (Harben, 1918). The development of Broad Street appears to have revealed considerable amounts of human remains; many of these are attested as uncoffined, and ‘collected into heaps’ (Macdonell, 1906p. 87) . It seems possible that these ‘heaped’ remains originate at least in part in the mass burial pits London is said to have resorted to during times of epidemic mortality, particularly during plague years, Stow reports a plague burial ground near Old Bethlehem in Moorfields (Harding, 1993; Macdonell, 1906; Stow, 1598). The alternate possibility that they represent simply disturbed remains hastily reburied during earlier construction is dismissed by reference to later sequences of street foundations by an early researcher into the morphology of the English skull, who reports on cranial measurements taken from a large group of skulls uncovered during excavation of a latrine in 1903 and previous excavation in advance of the foundation of Broad Street Station in 1863 (Macdonell, 1906); these were apparently curated at University College London though no trace remains of them. The number of individuals in the assemblage used here who may have been interred in some form of mass burial pit is unfortunately unclear, but there is the suggestion that the earliest burials excavated by MoLA were from mass burial pits and many of the later burials were inhumed in oak coffins (B. White, pers. comm.).
This extra-mural location was apparently not viewed very favourably by Londoners; burial in the New Churchyard was appreciably cheaper than in many parish churches. Harding (2002, p. 97) cites a Katherine Chidley in 1641 who describes burial in ‘Bedlam’ as the ‘cheapest she knows’. Several parishes record burials of their number in this New Churchyard, among them All Hallows Honey Lane (Keene and Harding, 1987), but it may have been particularly used by the local parish, St. Botolph Bishopsgate (Holmes, 1896). Poverty was not the only impetus for Londoners to seek (or accept) burial there, however. A large number of inhumations in the New Churchyard may derive from times of epidemic mortality, as mentioned above, and may have come from many different locations in the City or in the suburbs.
There were other reasons to actively choose to be buried in the ground as well; chief among these was the sort of identity politics of religion which was such a salient feature of the late medieval and post-medieval city. One of the clearest examples of this can be seen with the popularity of the New Churchyard as a burial ground amongst the gathered churches of the late 16th century. Robert Lockyer, a rabble-rousing proselytiser for the Leveller movement, was very publically mourned as he was interred in the New Churchyard; both his interment in the cemetery and long public funeral procession were highly politicized, public acts (Gentles, 2004). Other members of the Gathered churches and foreign Christians also specified their desire to be buried in the non-denominational ground (Harding, 2002). The Dissenting religionists interred in the New Churchyard were not by necessity poor; many of them were comfortable burghers such as Ludowicke Muggleton and John Reeve, founders of the short-lived (and very small) 17th century Protestant sect of Muggletonians (Lamont, 2008).
One Robert Greene (1558-1592) provides a lively example of another of the paths leading to the New Churchyard (Harding, 2002). Originating in Norwich, he may at some point have entertained notions of becoming a physician, and obtained degrees from both Cambridge and Oxford (Newcomb, 2004). He may have subsequently married, impregnated, and abandoned a wife in Norwich, after divesting her of much of her fortune; in London, he became a well known libertine, actively cultivating his own legend as witty, irreverent figure in a series of pamphlets. He wrote plays with the group known as the University Wits, which also included notables such as Christopher Marlowe, and left behind a considerable literary output. Nonetheless, he ended his days dissolute and destitute, dead of ‘eating too much pickled herring and drinking too much Rhenish wine’ according to contemporaries (Kinney and Lawrence, 1990, p 157). He was buried in the New Churchyard 1592, and an image of him in scribing away in his funeral shroud was published by fellow writer John Dickenson in 1598, somewhat ignominiously commemorating the character suggested as the basis for Shakespeare’s Falstaff (Dickenson, 1598).
|Robert Greene shown writing, in his shroud. Plate from Dickenson, 1598.|
|Robert Greene devoted some of his limited time on earth to slagging off other writers: he did not think much of this Shakespeare guy.|
*yes I stole that from Douglas Adams.
Dickenson J. 1598. Greene in conceipt new raised from his grave to write the tragique historie of faire Valeria of London; . wherein is truly discovered the rare and lamentable issue of a husbands dotage, a wives leudnesse, and childrens disobedience. received and reported by J. D. London: Richard Bradocke for William Jones.
Gentles IJ. 2004. Lockyer, Robert (1625/6–1649). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/47102.
Harben HA. 1918. Berwick Alley - Billingsgate Market. A Dictionary of London: Centre for Metropolitan History. p http://www.british-history.ac.uk/.
Harding V. 1993. Burial of the plague dead in early modern London. In: Champion JAI, editor. Epidemic Disease in London. London: Centre for Metropolitan History p 53-64
---. 1998. Burial on the margin: distance and discrimination in early modern London. In: Cox M, editor. Grave Concerns: death and burial in England 1700-1850. CBA Research Report 113. York: Council for British Archaeology
---. 2000. Death in the city: mortuary archaeology to 1800. In: Haynes I, Sheldon H, and Hannigan L, editors. London Under Ground: The Archaeology of a City. Oxford: Oxbow Books. p 272-283.
---. 2002. The Dead and the Living in Paris and London, 1500-1670. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Holmes I. 1896. The London Burial Grounds: Notes on their history from the earliest times to the present day. London: The Gresham Press
Keene D, Harding V. 1987. All Hallows Honey Lane. Historical gazetteer of London before the Great Fire: Cheapside; parishes of All Hallows Honey Lane, St Martin Pomary, St Mary le Bow, St Mary Colechurch and St Pancras Soper Lane. p 3-9; http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=8466.
Kinney AF, Lawrence J. 1990. Rogues, Vagabonds, & Sturdy Beggars: A New Gallery of Tudor and Early Stuart Rogue Literature Exposing the Lives, Times, and Cozening Tricks of the Elizabethan Underworld. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Lamont W. 2008. Muggleton, Lodowicke (1609–1698). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/19496, accessed 19427 March 12010].
Macdonell WR. 1906. A Second Study of the English Skull, with Special Reference to Moorfields Crania. Biometrika 5(1/2):86-104.
Newcomb LH. 2004. Greene, Robert (bap. 1558, d. 1592). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/11418, accessed 11427 March 12010].
Stow J. 1598. The Survey of London. Kingsford CL, ed.