During the construction of the Crossrail station at Liverpool Street, 3,000 skeletons were discovered in a former burial pit in the grounds of Bedlam hospital. New research means we may be able to put names to the former patients of the notorious institution whose name is synonymous with "madness".

crossrail skeletons
Tom Lawson

A Crossrail research project has revealed the names and backgrounds of over 5,000 Londoners interred in the burial ground.

In June last year Crossrail invited 16 volunteers to scour parish records from across the capital to create the first extensive list of people buried at Bedlam in the 16th and 17th centuries. The resulting database, published today (9 February), sheds light on a tumultuous period of London's history.

crossrail skeletons
Steven Kennedy
crossrail skeletons
1676 map showing "Bedlam" hospital and burial groundOgilby and Morgan

According to the research Dr John Lamb (also known as Lam or Lambe), an astrologer and advisor to the First Duke of Buckingham, is among those buried at the site. Lamb was said to have been stoned to death by an angry mob outside a theatre in 1628 following allegations of rape and black magic. Others identified in the study include Sir Ambrose Nicholas, Lord Mayor of London in 1575 and victims of riots by 'Fanatiques,' noted in the diaries of Samuel Pepys in January 1661.

Plague was the most common listed form of death, followed by infant mortality and consumption. The burial ground was established in 1569 to help parishes cope with overcrowding during outbreaks of plague and other epidemics. Crossrail workers recently discovered the gravestone of Mary Godfree who died in September 1665, as a result of the 'Great Plague' which peaked that year.

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Robert Hartle
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Gravestone of Mary Godfree, found at Liverpool StreetHamish McDougall

Jay Carver, lead archaeologist at Crossrail, said: "This research is a window into one of the most turbulent periods of London's past. These people lived through civil wars, the Restoration, Shakespeare's plays, the birth of modern industry, plague and the Great Fire. It is a real privilege to be able to use Europe's largest construction project to uncover more knowledge about this fascinating period of history."

The archaeological excavations at Liverpool Street are undertaken by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) on behalf of Crossrail. Scientific analysis of up to 3,000 skeletons will provide new insights into the lives and deaths of early modern Londoners. The upcoming dig is also expected to uncover medieval and Roman artefacts and help piece together centuries of history. After excavation the skeletons will be reburied on consecrated ground.

crossrail skeletons
Juliet Whitcombe
crossrail skeletons
Tom Lawson

To date Crossrail has found more than 10,000 artefacts spanning 55 million years of London's history across over 40 construction sites.