Bethlehem Hospital, Bishopsgate

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Above: One of the skeletons discovered under part of Liverpool Street Station while constructing a new ticket hall for Crossrail.

Thousands of skeletons from a medieval hospital burial site are having to be carefully removed before Crossrail can go ahead with its proposed new Crossrail station below Liverpool Street main-line terminal.

One of the two ticket halls on the construction plans will be directly above the 16th-century burial ground of the old Bethlehem Royal Hospital.

Archaeologists from the Museum of London have been working in extremely cramped conditions since the dig began around April 2011. They are carefully examining the bones before recording a fascinating aspect of the City’s history. Excavating the human remains will have to be completed before construction starts on one of the ticket halls for Liverpool Street Crossrail Station. The skeletons are to be reburied after consultations with the Ministry of Justice.

History Bethlehem Hospital

In 1247 Simon FitzMary, alderman and sheriff, gave his land and houses to the Bishop of Bethlehem to found the Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem which also had a hospital. It was a priory of canons with brethren and sisters of the Order of St Mary of Bethlehem and as such was subject to the Bishop of Bethlehem.

In 1546 the Priory of St Mary of Bethlehem was given by Henry VIII to the City for the care of lunatics. It had been treating the insane since 1377. This makes it the oldest institution for the insane in the world. Its name became corrupted to ‘Bedlam’.

The site was on land at the eastern end of Liverpool Street consisting of hospital buildings, a chapel and a cemetery. The original large entrance gateway to the medieval hospital was where today’s Liverpool Street joins with Bishopsgate.

In 1674 the hospital was removed to a new site further west, occupying land on the north side of the street called London Wall, beside the southern side of Finsbury Circus. The move enabled a much large hospital to be built.

In 1812 the hospital was moved to the third site – this time in Lambeth. When the hospital vacated the buildings on that site they were used for housing the Imperial War Museum.

In 1931 the hospital transferred from Lambeth to the fourth site – an even larger site at West Wickham where it remains to this day.


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