Secrets of Life in Tudor London



Since Crossrail began construction in 2009, huge swathes of London’s hidden past have been uncovered. More than 200 archaeologists have unearthed over 10,000 objects from 40 locations, spanning a staggering 55 million years.

In 2013, MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) began excavations at the Crossrail site in Farringdon, and the finds from the site provide fascinating insights into everyday Tudor life.

The re-discovered Faggeswell brook, which once flowed past Charterhouse Square, revealed preserved textiles, leather and plant remains – all in excellent condition due to the wet ground conditions, which limited the amount of oxygen and so prevented the decay of organic materials.

Among the finds were twenty-two leather shoes which would have belonged to everyday Londoners, and which belong to a time toward the end of the 16th Century when shoes with low heels were fashionable for both sexes.

XSF10[27] shoe
Leather shoes were discovered in excellent condition due to damp, low-oxygen environment. PHOTO: CROSSRAIL (C)
As well as everyday shoes, there were some more fashionable finds, too. Two silk bands would have been used as decorative trimming for fashionable clothes, and a doublet which was ‘slashed’ to show off the colours of the garment worn underneath.

These and many more artefacts – from ceramic wares and horse harnesses to exotic imported grains and butchers’ waste – provide a window into the life of the people living in London during the Tudor period. But the story doesn’t end there – and the 25 skeletons found at Charterhouse also give insight into death during the period.

Although it was originally thought that the cemetery was used for victims of the Black Death of 1348-50, further research through DNA analysis, isotope analysis and radiocarbon dating shows that it was also used during further outbreaks of the disease later in the 14th Century, and into the 15th Century.

Double burial containing two adults and redposited skull from the underlying phase (c) Crossrail.jpg
The remains of two males in their forties were found holding hands. PHOTO: CROSSRAIL (C)

Perhaps the most interesting – certainly one of the most talked-about – features of the excavation was the discovery of the skeletons of two men who appear to have been buried holding hands.

The men, who were in their forties when they succumbed to the Plague, may have been related in some way – either through blood, or romance; DNA testing will be required in order to explore their possible connection. Certainly, the Plague spread very quickly, and was often known to kill several family members at once.


With the wealth of insights the finds from the Crossrail excavations, we can paint a vivid picture of life and death in Tudor London – including fashions and dress, imports and belongings, daily life and how the inhabitants of London reacted to the outbreak of the Plague and its deadly consequences.

The story of the Charterhouse finds and burials are revealed in the latest Crossrail book, Charterhouse Square: Black Death cemetery and Carthusian monastery, meat market and suburb, which explores the neighbourhood from prehistory through to the present day. To find out more, or to buy the book, just click on the book cover.

DfT Id templatesCharterhouse Square: Black Death Cemetery and Carthusian Monastery, Meat Market and Suburb
By Sam Pfizenmaier

9781907586415 | MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) | Crossrail Archaeology Series | £10.00