This week MOLA archaeologists have been working with members of the public to excavate Stepney City Farm as part of a Crossrail community archaeology project, which goes on until Saturday 27 July.
The sun shines over Stepney City Farm in the East End of London where the atmosphere today was relaxed and eco-conscientious with a shared community spirit. Volunteers, school groups and families visit this working haven situated in the ‘village’ of Stepney, a stone’s throw from St Dunstan’s Anglican Church. We’re looking for the remains of the Tudor palace known as Worcester House, occupied by Henry Somerset, the Marquis of Worcester in the 16th century; a brick-tower gatehouse, along with many other significant archaeological finds that have already been uncovered by MOLA.
Temperatures soared to 27 degrees as staff and volunteers excavated the remains of the Tudor palace whilst we listened to the hee-haws, oinks and clucks of hot but contented farmyard animals, surrounded by trees and many varieties of herbs and colourful flowering plants.
The allotments, buildings and pathways were designed from recycled materials; bunting swayed in the breeze overhead, a flourishing and successful outcome to a plot of land where squatters once stood their ground and won!
The vision underground, however, is very different. Dark and eerie caverns and utility tunnels weave between London’s tube and rail lines at depths exceeding 35 metres. These caverns under Stepney Green are some of the largest mined and constructed tunnels in Europe with many people employed by Crossrail, below street level, in protective clothing, oblivious to the temperatures above. This heavy and dangerous work will continue after we and our volunteers move on.
Back on the surface, MOLA has an archaeological excavation underway that has exposed a ditch, moat and boundary walls of Worcester House, otherwise known as ‘King John’s Palace’.
Archaeological small finds include a copper dress pin and remains of a Tudor shoe from the moat, glass beaker bases from the cess pit and a bone ivory ring from Garden Street. Exciting recoveries are being made on a daily basis!
The site was visited by BBC TV television crew and their film was broadcast at 6.30pm on BBC London. The East London Advertiser also made a visit.
In-depth archaeology has been undertaken by MOLA on this site and includes bore holes, nine trial trenches and full scale excavation of the area. This is to pave the way for the 42km of Crossrail tunnel that will pass under Stepney Green for the high capacity London railway line that is due to open in 2014. Despite all of this, above ground, the residents of Stepney City Farm carry on as normal. Sid the ferret was rescued by Dave Sankey when he wandered into a trench, Billy the goat never failed to amuse the visitors with his cantankerous ways and my favourite Stepney animal, that I have named Mollie, was a big white fluffy bantam chicken that crossed the road!
These happy animals, the amazing variety of flora and the community that created this magical place, continue to live in blissful co-existence, oblivious to the archaeology and construction below their feet and roots. This eco environment, along with the history of the site and the current work being undertaken by MOLA appealed to my sentiment and made my day at Stepney City Farm both memorable and gratifying!