Crossrail digging unearths ancient London burial ground
Tunnelling project’s chief archaeologist says up to 4,000 bodies of plague victims and asylum inmates may be discovered
Every day hordes of London commuters have passed unknowingly over the bodies of thousands of their predecessors, buried a few metres under the roaring traffic and rumbling trains at Liverpool Street, and which are now being exposed for the first time by the huge Crossrail construction project.
The bodies include those of mentally ill patients from Bethlem, the ancient and notorious asylum from which the word Bedlam entered the English language. Bodies that were never claimed by their families – often those of beaten, starved and exploited inmates – would have ended up in the burial ground alongside rich and poor, old and young, victims of plague and war, from across London.
The walled, two-acre burial ground was opened in the mid-17th century by order of the mayor of London. It was the first built away from the city’s parish churches and their bursting, grossly overfilled graveyards and was usually known as Bedlam.