When my mam came to visit me in London, I decided to take her to visit the Tunnel: The Archaeology of Crossrail exhibition at the Museum of London Docklands. The Crossrail tunnel, due to open in 2018, is the largest engineering project in Europe and its construction has provided archaeologists with a unique opportunity to excavate a huge stretch of London, encompassing thousands of years of the capital’s history. Curator Jackie Kelly has described it as the “biggest piece of London archaeology ever” in terms of the project’s sheer scale. The initial results of the excavation are being presented in Tunnel.
The objects on display in the exhibition range from reindeer bones gnawed by wolves 68,000 years ago to flakes chipped from a flint axe 8,000 years ago, from victims of the Black Death to Victorian chamber pots and Crosse & Blackwell marmalade and pickle jars. One skeleton is particularly poignant as it is of a Roman woman whose skull was buried between her legs. A large pot, full of cremated human bones, dropped out of the roof of one of the tunnels, but was luckily caught by a member of the tunnelling team.
Another fascinating item is a leather shoe dating from the fifteenth or sixteenth century.
My favourite items from the exhibition came right at the beginning and right at the end. As you enter the exhibition, you see a statue of St Barbara, patron saint of artillery, explosives and mining. She was originally installed at the entrance to the tunnel and workers liked to touch her as they ventured underground at the start of a shift. I like her because my mam’s name is Barbara. I like to think that my dad married her because on some subconscious level he knew about St Barbara and felt that my mam would be good luck (he comes from a mining family). I’m sure this is a load of rubbish really, but its a nice story!
The second thing I loved was the book of photographs at the end of the exhibition, showing the corner of Charing Cross Road, Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road before the Crossrail work began. I work near this area and so I’m really interested in it, but I don’t remember what it was like before the work began. These pictures display the old streets in all their glory, along with the famous music venue the Astoria which I don’t remember at all but which I can’t help regretting the loss of.
The exhibition, which is thoughtfully put together, is free to enter and runs until 3 September 2017 at the Museum of London Docklands.