14th Century · 21st Century · Spitalfields

A medieval charnel house below the streets of Spitalfields

Today, Spitalfields often feels like something of a battleground between the area’s rich and varied heritage and the seemingly unstoppable march of gentrification and redevelopment.  Located on the north-eastern edge of the City of London, in recent decades it has been transformed from a mostly working-class district that was home to textile producers and a large fruit and vegetable market to a hub for high-end boutiques and trendy restaurants.  It was the construction of a new office block in 1999 that led to the rediscovery of a medieval charnel house – the oldest building in Spitalfields – which had lain undiscovered for around 300 years.  Fortunately, the discovery generated enough interest that the office developers chose to incorporate the building’s remains into the new development, and today a glass panel allows the charnel house to be viewed from street level, while a flight of stairs leads down to the ruins themselves, which can be seen behind glass.  This little building gives the visitor a rare glimpse into medieval Spitalfields which was home not to market buildings or office blocks but to a hospital and an extensive burial ground.

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13th Century · Hythe

The extraordinary ossuary at St Leonard’s Church, Hythe

The church of St Leonard sits on a hillside in the pretty coastal town of Hythe in Kent, overlooking the English Channel.  Its history goes back at least 900 years, perhaps even further – a lot of the churches in the area have pre-Norman origins.  It’s a beautiful and imposing building – but if you visit the church’s crypt you will find yourself coming face to face with some unexpected people.

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17th Century · 18th Century · City of London

The Hill of Bones: the story of Bunhill Fields

Originally a stretch of open land to the north of the City of London, Bunhill Fields got its name from its use as a burial ground during the Saxon period and a macabre event that took place in the mid-sixteenth century.  Cartloads of bones from the charnel house at St Paul’s Cathedral were transported out of the city and dumped in such large quantities that they formed a hill of bones, with a thin layer of soil covering the mound.  This “Bone Hill” was large enough to accomodate three windmills on top, which were presumably installed to make the most of the elevated ground.

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