Bishop's Square Charnel House - Spitalfields, London, UK
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Master Mariner
N 51° 31.197 W 000° 04.662
30U E 702736 N 5711696
Quick Description: These remains of a charnel house were discovered whilst development was taking place in the area. The ruins have been incorporated into the surroundings with a glass pavement that allows a view from above.
Location: London, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 11/16/2013 11:29:34 AM
Waymark Code: WMJGJ3
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member BarbershopDru
Views: 1

Long Description:

There are steps leading down to the charnel house that can be seen behind a glass wall. Inscribed on the glass is a history of the site:

Charnel House

The crypt of the chapel of St Mary Magdalene and St Edmund the Bishop built in about 1320 and sited in the cemetery of the priory and Hospital of St Mary Spital. This crypt was used as a charnel house, a store for human bones disturbed during the digging of graves within the cemetery. In the chapel above services were held to dedicate the bones beneath. After St Mary Spital was closed 1539, most of the bones were removed, and the crypt became a house until it was demolished in about 1700. The crypt then lay forgotten beneath the gardens of terraced houses and then Steward Street until it was found in archaeological excavations in 1999.

A series of coloured panels, opposite the charnel house glass front, tell of the area and how it was used.

The Open House London 2013 website has a fact sheet that tells us:

During the main phase of excavation at Spitalfields Market in 1999, a remarkably well-preserved charnel house (a repository for storing bones) dating to c 1320 was discovered in the cemetery of St Mary Spitalfields.

Although Scheduled Monument Consent had been granted to remove all the archaeological deposits on the site, it was agreed that this building should be preserved within the new development.

Detailed plans were drawn up by Norman Foster and Associates in conjunction with Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) and Ove Arup to preserve the charnel house and display it to the public. The engineering constraints of the new building meant that slots had to be cut into the wall for beams to support the new floor above and that major new piles were required on the south side of the charnel house, which meant that previously preserved areas needed excavation.

Three MOLA members of staff dug a total of 70 medieval burials on the south side of the charnel house. During the main phase of excavation in 1999 and in subsequent phases in 2000 and 2001 a large number of mass burial pits were discovered containing up to 50 or so people in each and totalling more than 2750 in all.

The most important discovery in the final phase of work was that the mass burial pits predated the charnel house. We now believe that the mass burials were interred between 1280 and 1310 and that the charnel house was built shortly afterwards.

The large numbers of bones being disturbed during the excavation of the mass burial pits may even have been a motivation for the construction of the charnel house. Two more members of staff then removed certain tightly defined slots in the upper parts of the south wall to provide locations for supports to the new floor to be constructed above. This gave us the chance to understand better the way the building was constructed.

The charnel house has now been restored and repaired by Holden Conservation and is currently in a protective box during the main construction phase of new offices for Allen and Overy. Once the new building is complete, members of the public will be able to access a dedicated basement to view this remarkable medieval building and, by arrangement with the Museum of London, they will be able to enter and examine at close quarters this important part of medieval London.

Type: Ruin

Fee: Free

The view through the glass pavement is accessible 24/7. The stairs leading down to the side window are closed during the hours of darkness.

Related URL: [Web Link]

Visit Instructions:
Original photographs showing additional views of the Ruin/Remnant or even just its current condition are encouraged. Please describe your visit, especially if no additional photos are available. Did you like the Ruin or Remnant? What prompted you to see the Ruin or Remnant?
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Go Boilers! visited Bishop's Square Charnel House - Spitalfields, London, UK 7/4/2014 Go Boilers! visited it