Crossrail Archaeology at Liverpool Street and Broadgate: Recent Excavation. By Alison Telfer

We were delighted to welcome our guest speaker Alison Telfer from the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), who came to speak to us today about the Crossrail excavations at Liverpool and Broadgate.

Roman skull adjacent to Roman road at Liverpool Street ticket hall 2015. Source: Crossrail website

Roman skull adjacent to Roman road at Liverpool Street ticket hall 2015. Source: Crossrail website

Earlier this year, Channel 4 and other newspaper stories provided a sensational story of insurrection and mass execution/decapitation in Roman London based on the discovery of a number of skulls beside the River Walbrook in East London. Alison’s discussion of the archaeological realities, excavation techniques and current archaeological theories about the finds proved much more interesting than the original media scoop.

Beginning with a single shaft trench on the Broadgate Ticket Hall site, an intense excavation took place from February to September 2015 involving 60 archaeologists working in two shifts from 7am – 11pm. The area excavated was outside the Roman city walls, now demarcated by London Wall, and is surrounded by other known Roman burial grounds.

The site was a marshy area beside one of the Thames’s tributaries. The discovery of preserved re used Roman oak gates from the early 2nd Century AD, possibly used as a platform at the water’s edge, reveal that the site was boggy and has retained some of its moisture today. Finds of a Roman copper bracelet, a spoon and a Roman leather shoe in the gravel bank beside the gates were followed by the discovery of 300 skulls and skull fragments of a further 35 -40 people. The date range of these skulls is too wide to suggest a single event or massacre, but the process of “decapitation” – a burial practice of removing the skull from the body immediately after death and laying it beside the body – is suggested in some cases, with separation of the skull and body also caused by water movement in this river environment. Water polishing of some skulls, tide marks and gravel lodged in eye sockets seem to point to this.

Alison gave us a timely reminder that this site, together with other cemetery sites in central  London, has seen a lot of intervention over the centuries and that the archaeological record is perhaps also “biased” in favour of skulls as these are the most obvious of human remains.

Some of this intervention is ancient. A Roman road cut through the area in the 2nd -3rd Centuries, at a time when the city was expanding. The road can be traced for 45 metres running east to west. Cross Rail Archaeologists have excavated sections of it and can trace its development and extension from a 9 metre wide to 11 metre thoroughfare with ditches on either side. A large collection of bronze hipposandals and a couple of horse burials may indicate that this was an area of damp land was a grazing area for army horses.

Why would people choose to use such a damp area for burial? One suggestion is that there were better cemeteries and burial location may have depended on status, wealth or ethnicity – proposed work on sample dental material may hopefully reveal more answers.

Post Roman Activity in this area included the construction of freshwater tanks to keep eels for market. After the Romans, the area was so waterlogged that it came to be known as Moorfields – a direct reference to marshland.

Archaeology beginning at the Bedlam burial ground. Crossrail website.

Archaeology beginning at the Bedlam burial ground. Crossrail website.

By the 16th Century, the Walbrook had been canalised. St Mary Bethlehem Hospital – the first ever hospital for the insane- had been founded in 1247. Part of the land was later used as a tenterground and then for horticultural use before being bought by the Mayor of London as an additional city burial ground after the plaque in 1553, in which a fifth of the population died. It opened in 1569, finally closing in 1739.

This second site near Liverpool Street Station has given archaeologists the rare opportunity to study a cemetery dating from the end of 16th Century, through 17th into the early 18th Century. Analysis of bones has identified health conditions including the effects of pipe smoking, rickets, syphilis, fractures, and TB. Analysis of burial records by CrossRail volunteers, has provided lists of names of those buried there, causes of death and details of gender and ages. Famous names include the Leveller, John Lilburne, the herbalist Nicholas Culpepper and Lodowicke Muggleton, a survivor of the plague. This was a cemetery too with the burials of the poor, prisoners, suicides and the insane – anyone in death who could not access or merit burial in the usual churchyard.

This was a fascinating look at layers of London history. We look forward to the publication of reports later this year and the Exhibition of Crossrail Archaeology at the Museum Of London Docklands in Spring 2017.  With our sincere thanks to Alison Telfer for her excellent lecture.

Vanished Imperial Glory: Port Victoria and Queenborough by Barry Blackburn

Queensborough c.1930. Source: Wikipedia

Queensborough c.1930. Source: Wikipedia

Today Barry talked to us about two little known Medway-Thames ports, which arose from the intense rivalry between two rival Victorian railway companies.  Both were vying for control of Kent lines and the ports that could then carry their passengers on days trips to the Kent seaside or across the Channel to Belgium and the Netherlands (before Harwich and Sheerness), with even the possibility of an early Channel Tunnel. Port Victoria’s eventual role as a royal yacht berth for various monarchs, including Victoria, lasted until 1913. Two huge naval explosions during WW1 conspired to ensure the demise of Port Victoria, which has never recovered its role as a royal berth or managed to find another one.


The Great River Race – 3rd September 2016

The Great River Race is held this year on 3rd September.  It runs for 21.6 miles along the Thames from London Docklands to Ham in Surrey.

The Great River Race is London’s River Marathon. A spectacular boat race up the River Thames, it attracts over 330 crews from all over the globe. The Great River Race appeals to every level of competitor! From serious athletes who like winning, to those who enjoy laughter, fancy dress and charity stunts, it’s a great fun day out for both competitors and spectators.

To read more about it see:


Totally Thames 2016 running throughout September

Totally Thames
Following our earlier post about the “Totally Thames” lecture series at the National Maritime Museum, there’s more news about the excellent “Totally Thames” season in September (  The Totally Thames website has been updated with the news that The Thames Festival Trust is presenting a season of events running from the 1st to the 30th of September 2016.  There are some really great events on the programme, covering a spectacularly wide range of things to look forward to including walks, art installations, music, films, exhibitions, and talks.  Have a look at their Events Page for full details.

Cathedral on the marsh: Crossness Pumping Station reopens

Good news on the Guardian website on Sunday 10th July by Maev Kennedy:  Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s Crossness Pumping Station is reopening after a £2.7m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The restoration project has added a new museum display and café, and they are planning to make it more accessible by opening to the public more often.   Here’s an excerpt but see the full story on the above page, which describes what the pumping station was intended to do and how it worked and has other fabulous photos:

By Felix Clay for the Guardian

The Crossness Pumphing Station. Photograph on the Guardian website, by Felix Clay.

A glorious monument to the towering genius of Victorian engineering reopens this week, complete with a smart new cafe and a distinctive whiff of sewage drifting across from the working side of the Crossness sewage pumping station, south-east London.

The astonishing building, described as “a cathedral on the marsh”, was the first of its kind in the world, designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, chief engineer of the Metropolitan board of works, to awe and inspire visitors from across the UK and Europe. They came to marvel at his solution to the appalling problems caused by untreated sewage and contaminated water supplies in a rapidly expanding city, which led to epidemics of killer diseases including cholera.

Starting in September – Totally Thames Lecture Series at the National Maritime Museum

Totally Thames lecture seriesA new lecture series begins on September 1st 2016 and runs til October 6th, taking place at the National Maritime Museum.  The lectures are at 11.00am-12.30pm every Thursday in the Lecture Theatre at the National Maritime Museum (Ground Floor) for a series of six weekly lunchtime lectures with speakers from the Thames Discovery Programme, CITiZAN, Museum of London Archaeology and the National Maritime Museum on the archaeology and history of the River Thames.

Tickets cost £8.00 (Members £6.00) and can be booked onlineTickets cost £8.00 (Members £6.00) and can be booked online.

For full details, including details of each of the lectures, can be found on the National Maritime Museum website at:


A Guided Tour around DP World’s London Gateway

Today our group left the past behind and came face to face with the future.  Tours to London Gateway for special interest groups have to be made by arrangement in advance, so our thanks to  Peter for both suggesting and organizing it, and to the London Gateway team for making it all possible and providing us with such an excellent visit.  We had a marvellous day.  As usual, you can click on the photographs to see a bigger version.

IMG_7751London Gateway is DP World‘s brand new deep sea container port and logistics park, both of them simultaneously in use and under construction on the Thames near Stanford le Hope.  Stanford-le-Hope is about 20 miles east of London, easily reached by train, and the leg from the station to London Gateway took about 10 minutes by coach.   We arrived at the site headquarters, a bright, light-filled building, via approach roads that were beautifully planted and maintained as part of DP World‘s commitment to the area.  Every roundabout was a miniature horticultural work of art.   We left the coach to meet Rachael Haylock-Jones, Environmental Manager for DP World London Gateway.   Rachael stayed with us throughout the visit and began with a presentation that gave us the background to London Gateway, explained its current status and described all the plans for its future.  The entire project is an ongoing balancing act between Britain’s needs for ever-improving goods handling and distribution solutions, DP World‘s own business plans, the need to detect and record archaeological heritage, and the multiple requirements associated with the management of the highly complex local environment and its wildlife.

Gateway website

The London Gateway website

DP World is the world’s third largest global operator of container terminals.  DP stands for “Dubai Ports,” and the flagship property is at Jebel Ali Port in Dubai.  At the moment they have 66 operational port and terminal interests in 31 countries.  Their normal operating model is to set up and run a concession within an existing port as a tenant on someone else’s property, but at London Gateway a new model has been established.  Here they own the entire business from the ground up, and are working with other companies to develop facilities on the land.  The operation is divided into two basic areas: the deep sea port and the logistics park.  The need for a new port on the Thames has emerged from at least 2000 years of use of the river for cargo transportation.  In the 1960s containerization changed the way in which goods were transported, stored and distributed, improving efficiencies, reducing labour and creating an explosion in global sea trade.  More and bigger ships were built, and the inner London docks and and associated sections of the river soon became incapable of handling ships that deep and wide.  Instead of trying to modernize inefficient London docks, new cargo handling terminals were built further downriver.

London Gateway 3D visualization

Copyright DP World London Gateway

London Gateway is the natural outcome of this process, building on multiple new needs.  Ships continue to increase in size, with the most recent building of ships capable of handling between 18,000 and 21,000 containers.  In the next few years there will be around 200 of these new “giants of the sea,” and Britain needs to be capable of handling both the ships and their massive cargoes.  There is also a growing demand for reduced traffic on roads (due to both congestion and fuel emissions), better use of train links, and more efficient cargo storage.  P&O looked at establishing a port at the site and purchased the land formerly owned by the Shell Haven Oil Refinery from Shell. Then in 2006 DP World acquired P&O and that’s when work really began on looking at what was needed and how it could be implemented. One of the problems that London Gateway seeks to resolve is the transportation of cargo into London itself, without diverting it out to hubs in other parts of the country, which is both inefficient and increases traffic on roads.  The “London Gateway Masterplan” seeks to create a “future proof infrastructure” just 25 miles from central London, bringing vessels closer to Britain’s largest consumer market, with site distribution facilities on-site.

Quay cranes

Quay cranes, newly imported from China, each 138m high

An Environmental Impact Assessment was carried out, which was clearly a massive piece of work, planning permission was granted in 2008 and work started in 2009.  The first part of the project involved planning for the substantial remodelling of the natural environment, including deepening of the Thames channel along a 100km stretch, and land reclamation in order to expand the land available for the Deep Sea Port with its planned seven berths supplied with vast quay cranes, and a Roll-On Roll-Off (RoRo) facility, together with a good road and rail infrastructure.  It is hoped that rail transport will account for 33% of the goods moved out of the port.  The accompanying Logistics Park will provide a supporting infrastructure, with some services developed in partnership with DP World and other buildings leased out to companies providing complementary services.  At the moment only two of the berths are operational, the RoRo facility has not yet been built, and the logistics park is very much still under construction, so this is a gigantic work in progress over 460 acres.  The deep sea port only opened in November 2013 and the Logistics Park opened for business in May 2015.  As well as the deep sea port and the logistics park, facilities belonging to Shell still occupy part of the land owned by DP World but still operated by Shell.  There are also wildlife areas, farmed land and two ecological zones, and these have required considerable investment in their own right.


Water features and green areas supplied for local wildlife, with the deep sea port in the background

The handling of environmental concerns was a major part of the project Masterplan, and has involved some fairly staggering logistical and engineering activities, which Rachael has said continue to cost millions to implement and maintain.  The site was owned by the Shell Haven Oil Refinery until the late 1990s.  There were considerable problems with land contamination, and this was handled in two stages.  In the first instance Shell initiated a programme of land remediation before the land was sold, but to be suitable for the purposes of London Gateway further land remediation had to be undertaken by DP World.  Following the granting of a Harbour Empowerment Order on 16th May 2008, the dredging of the channel in the Thames for new ships was a major undertaking and required constant environmental checks throughout the process.  DP World are responsible for the quayside and up to 60m beyond it, beyond which the Port of London Authority are responsible, so ongoing environmental issues to do with dredging and water quality fall under the jurisdiction of both, with maritime monitoring taking place throughout the dredging process.  The two new quay walls are down to 49m deep and the edges of the quayside are bound by tie rods and are built on vibro-compacted reclaimed material.

Low density grazing farmland

Low density grazing farmland

As part of the environmental agreement, DP World had to relocate wildlife on land to be developed, and provide two habitat compensation sites.  The existing wildlife, including birds, Great Crested Newts, water voles, snakes and a variety of other species (over 35,000 of them) were trapped and relocated to a number of suitable areas in the south of England, whilst others could be moved more locally, which includes 58 ponds for the Great Crested Newts.  10km of special multi-species exclusion fencing was erected to stop wildlife returning, and this requires constant maintenance – and even then some crafty individuals manage to find their way through.  There was even a water vole hospital constructed on site, because they had to be captured, checked and vaccinated before being released into new habitats, which consist of specially established drainage ditches planted with wild foliage.  The land reclaimed from the Thames meant the destruction of mud flats, much used by wading birds, so this needed to be replaced.  Of the 74 hectares comprised by two habitat compensation sites, Stanford Wharf Nature Reserve was completed in 2010 and the other, on the south bank of the river, is about to be initiated by causing a breach of the sea wall to allow land to be flooded and a new sea wall to be built, to be completed later this year.  Webcams at the first of the sites shows a number of wading bird species using the area.  Ongoing fisheries monitoring is also taking place.   Along the north of the side there is a margin of low density grazing farmland owned by DP World but maintained by a local farmer.

Stanford Wharf Roman saltern

Stanford Wharf Roman saltern. Copyright DP World London Gateway

Archaeologists were also given access to the area under development, including a watching brief on the dredgers themselves, and a number of very interesting discoveries were made, including the remains of a Junkers 88 aircraft shot down in 1942, the partial remains of a sunken paddle steamer, the wreck of the 1665 HMS London and a variety of unexploded bombs and ordnance.  On the land being redeveloped a considerable amount of prehistoric, Roman and later remains were found, most importantly allowing the reconstruction of a remarkable Roman saltworks.  Wherever possible, the archaeological remains have been allocated to museum collections, and DP World have produced two glossy and informative booklets about the work:  Time and Tide:  the Archaeology of Standford Wharf Nature Reserve and Archaeology from the Sky: The Air War over the Thames Estuary (the latter available to download as a PDF here).  A summary of the excavation report of Stanford Wharf is also available as a PDF.

London Gateway is particularly pleased that most of the dredged sediments from excavation of the new channel are kept on site and are being used for all sorts of projects, including the original land reclamation project (the reclaimed land being known locally as “New Essex”), and the future raising of surrounding land to protect from flood risks.  200,000 tonnes are retained and used on site; only 350 tonnes have been sent to landfills.  In addition, all the aggregate needed on site was imported by sea and offloaded onto conveyor belt systems, and is again stored on site.

IMG_7778Although at the moment there are around 450 employees, it is envisaged that around 8000-10,000 people will eventually be employed by London Gateway, doing something to replace the local employment vacuum caused by the closure of the Shell Haven works in the 1990s.  Although some experienced managers and supervisors have been brought from other sites, many employees are recruited and trained as specialists on site, apprentice schemes have been initiated in the fields of engineering, business and I.T., and a full administrative infrastructure is growing as the site moves through the project management stages and will eventually meet full operational requirements.  At the same time, all DP World employees are involved in what they term corporate sustainability, which essentially involves personnel in local volunteering, charity work and close co-operation with schools.

IMG_7811With Rachael still in charge, we went back to the coach and took a tour of London Gateway, beginning with the Deep Sea Port.  It is really difficult to convey how impressive this was, and the photographs really give very little impression of either the sheer scale or movement of the operation.   To put the size of the operation into context, the deep sea port recently handled the largest ship ever to come down the Thames.  At 400m long UASC Barzan was a considerable tourist attraction and you can see a time-lapse video of her being unloaded here.   With a much smaller ship being unloaded whilst we were there at one of the two operational berths, we were able to get a real feel for both the way in which the cargo arrived at the port, and how it was handled from ship to lorry.  The terminal is semi-automated.  The massive overhead Quay Cranes (imported rather spectacularly from China) sit over the ships and remove the containers one by one onto human-operated straddle carriers which load the containers onto modules operated by automated cranes.  This reduces labour and improves safety.  Finally the containers are dropped elegantly onto the lorry trailers.  There are magnetics in the ground which offer the potential for automating the straddle carriers in the future.   That all sounds very clinical, and indeed it is all so new and shiny that it positively sparkled on a sunny day like today, but the sheer speed of everything and the unfailing accuracy of the delivery of containers onto the trailers is deeply impressive.  It is difficult to know where to look next as you watch gigantic machines gliding at high speed, their cables lifting, lowering and placing enormous containers as easily as though they are marshmallows.  Everything spins, whirs and glides, and it all works so beautifully and in total harmony.  Truly splendid.

IMG_7840We finished up with a drive around the logistics park, some of which is already built and operating, some of which is waiting for new tenants, and some of which is very much under construction, like the new UPS building.  One of the advantages that DP World negotiated for was a Local Development Order (LDO) for the park.  This means that all warehousing, distribution hubs, storage units and R&D facilities can be built without additional planning permission provided they are constructed within the parameters set within the LDO.  That means that new facilities can be proposed, built and put into service very quickly, allowing the rapid development of the London Gateway site.

IMG_7807I am sure that Joseph Conrad, who lived in Stanford-le-Hope, and began his career in the British Merchant Navy would have been both impressed and approving.  He had a fervour for maritime ambitions.  And the Victorian engineers, whose work we have been admiring so much recently, would have loved it.  This is exactly the sort of colossal scale of enterprise and achievement that they would have applauded.  Finishing on a trivial note, looking at the London Gateway website I particularly liked the “Where’s My Container” link.  It makes the usual online retailers’ logistical issues (e.g. “where’s my DVD”) look rather small-scale by comparison!

For more, there are some videos of the site on the DP World website at

Sincere thanks again to Peter Luck, Rachael Haylock-Jones, DP World and our coach driver.  It was a brilliant experience.


London Gateway Medley

London Gateway Medley