Crossrail tunnellers have been busy beneath London for the past eight years creating the new Elizabeth Line. The tunnels are really, really deep to avoid disturbing all the existing building foundations, water pipes and tube lines but, whenever they reach the surface, London’s buried history has been revealed. Now 500 of the most fascinating finds are on display at the Museum of London Docklands. Even though Europe’s biggest infrastructure project deploys the latest in tunnelling technology, St Barbara (patron saint of tunnellers and miners) stands over each tunnel entrance: old habits die hard!
The exhibition displays finds as they were found from East to West. Stone Age man would have found a ready supply of flint cobbles in and around the Thames. At some point one of them sat down and made an arrow head or an axe and left a pile of flint shards behind. I bet he didn’t think his litter would be discovered 8,000 years later!
Quite a lot of the finds come from rubbish. I particularly like this example of Victorian toilet humour. The man inside the broken potty is saying “Oh what I see, I will not tell”.
Once Crossrail gets to the City of London, the site of Roman Londinium, the finds get distinctly Roman. Horses would put on special shoes in the city called Hipposandals, I love the way that they look like metal slippers.
An altogether more gruesome find is a stash of 50 skulls, just skulls no other body parts. These are in addition to 300 others that have been found in Walbrook valley before. Nobody knows why, maybe they are the grizzly remains of a cult or possibly they were washed out from a nearby cemetery. What do you think?
Industry right in the heart of London is unimaginable now but Crosse and Blackwell had a huge jam factory on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross Road right up until the 1920’s. Construction of a new ticket hall in Soho revealed thousands of jars destined to hold potted meat, jam or marmalade. I wonder why they were abandoned rather than used, Victorian rebranding maybe?
There are many more fascinating objects on display and all for free, best of all there is a handily placed cafe just as you’ve finished marvelling at what can be found beneath your feet. The Cultural Wednesday family have visited the museum before, you can read all about our visit here. As part of the press view of this exhibition I got to go down the Crossrail tunnel which you can read all about here. The Museum of London Docklands may seem a little out of the way but the journey is quick and easy on the DLR, which offers the experience of ‘driving’ the train from the front seat.
TUNNEL: THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF CROSSRAIL
10 February 2017 – 3 September 2017
Museum of London Docklands, West India Quay, London E14 4AL
Open: Daily 10am – 6pm