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Great Plague mass burial pit unearthed at Liverpool Street station in London

Published 12/08/2015

Contractors working at the pit bottom of the Liverpool Street Crossrail site
Contractors working at the pit bottom of the Liverpool Street Crossrail site

A mass burial site which may contain 30 victims of the Great Plague of 1665 has been unearthed during the construction of Crossrail.

The discovery was made during excavation of the Bedlam burial ground at the rail project's Liverpool Street site in the city of London, which will allow construction of the eastern entrance of the new station.

Archeologists at work at a mass burial site suspected of containing 30 victims of The Great Plague of 1665 has been unearthed at Crossrail's Liverpool Street site in the City of London
Archeologists at work at a mass burial site suspected of containing 30 victims of The Great Plague of 1665 has been unearthed at Crossrail's Liverpool Street site in the City of London
Archeologists at work at a mass burial site suspected of containing 30 victims of The Great Plague of 1665 has been unearthed at Crossrail's Liverpool Street site in the City of London
Archeologists at work at a mass burial site suspected of containing 30 victims of The Great Plague of 1665 has been unearthed at Crossrail's Liverpool Street site in the City of London
Archeologists at work at a mass burial site suspected of containing 30 victims of The Great Plague of 1665 has been unearthed at Crossrail's Liverpool Street site in the City of London
Archeologists at work at a mass burial site suspected of containing 30 victims of The Great Plague of 1665 has been unearthed at Crossrail's Liverpool Street site in the City of London
Archeologists at work at a mass burial site suspected of containing 30 victims of The Great Plague of 1665 has been unearthed at Crossrail's Liverpool Street site in the City of London
Archeologists at work at a mass burial site suspected of containing 30 victims of The Great Plague of 1665 has been unearthed at Crossrail's Liverpool Street site in the City of London

Crossrail lead archaeologist Jay Carver said: "The construction of Crossrail gives us a rare opportunity to study previously inaccessible areas of London and learn about the lives and deaths of 16th and 17th Century Londoners.

"This mass burial, so different from the other individual burials found in the Bedlam cemetery, is very likely a reaction to a catastrophic event. Only closer analysis will tell if this is a plague pit from the Great Plague in 1665 but we hope this gruesome but exciting find will tell us more about one of London's most notorious killers."

A headstone found nearby was marked "1665", and the fact the individuals appear to have been buried on the same day suggest they were victims of the Plague. The thin wooden coffins have collapsed and rotted, giving the appearance of a slumped and distorted mass grave. The skeletons will now be analysed by osteologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), and scientific tests may reveal if bubonic plague or some other pestilence was the cause of death.

Excavation of the burial ground began earlier this year. It was in use from 1569 to at least 1738, spanning the start of the period of Elizabethan explorers, the English Civil War, the Restoration of the monarchy, Shakespeare's plays, the Great Fire of London and numerous plague outbreaks.

The Bedlam burial ground, also known as the New Churchyard, was located at the western end of Liverpool Street. The recent excavation suggests 30,000 Londoners were buried there during the time it was in use. It got its name from the nearby Bethlehem Hospital which housed the mentally ill, although only a small number of Bedlam residents are believed to have been buried there.

The £14.8bn Crossrail project will run from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through new twin-bore 21 km (13 mile) tunnels to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. Services are due to begin through central London in 2018.

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