Because post-medieval archaeology in Britain is not as well developed as the archaeology of earlier periods, many of the questions to be addressed for study of the period from 1500 to the present are exploratory. In most cases, documentary evidence (including maps, engravings and photographs) has contributed enormously to our understanding. We know in historical terms that London was the political and commercial capital of England by the beginning of the 16th century; it had been a major European trading port for centuries and went on to become the capital of the British Empire, although its status and physical appearance have changed dramatically since the Second World War. What is less clear is the extent to which the archaeological record reflects this and, more pertinently, how archaeological research can complement, augment or even challenge the understanding we have. There is an emerging framework of questions about life in London and its surrounding region – including many very basic questions which perhaps have been overlooked in recent years – which archaeological endeavour has the potential to answer. Improved communication between archaeologists and social and economic historians working on London material is clearly desirable, and might lead to a joint approach to projects and result in more directed research. This applies equally to 20th century material, although the latter has been deliberately excluded from this document.
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London’s inexorable growth over the last 500 years is well known. The population of Greater London rose from an estimated 120,000 in 1550 (after Finlay and Shearer 1986, 49) to just over a million in 1801 (Beier and Finlay 1986). Much of this growth remains to be understood, particularly the changing relationships between the expanding City, the countryside and the towns. The effects of this expansion on the surrounding towns, villages and rural areas, and even beyond, can be traced in the archaeological record.
During the 17th century the central conurbation was divided into three distinctive areas: Westminster – a political and social area; the City and Fleet Street – a commercial, financial and legal district and the East End – associated particularly with trade and industrial activities.
The effects of the expansion of London into the surrounding region can be traced in the surviving domestic architecture, with what remains of original internal fittings, and in the archaeological evidence for different classes of buildings, methods of construction and building materials across the social spectrum (Schofield 1995). The daily life of Londoners from the wealthiest landholder to the poorest city dweller can be elucidated by the study of artefact assemblages in conjunction with documentary records. Much work on vernacular architecture has been carried out in the last 40 years, but our knowledge of the structure of timber-framed and early brick buildings in the London region would benefit greatly from archaeological analysis. Away from the growing urban centre, a survey of farm buildings is needed to highlight developments in agricultural practice. Within the densely occupied City, the effect of the Great Fire of 1666 on house types and their internal arrangements is in need of reassessment. More standing building recording of domestic buildings, including those of the 19th century, is required: lower status building types have tended to be neglected and are under-recorded. For all parts of the period up to 1900, large closed assemblages (eg from cesspits and wells) have considerable potential to demonstrate the range and variety of household goods discarded across the London region, with a particular emphasis on pottery, glass and clay tobacco pipes as the most common types of artefacts recovered.
The surroundings of a great house or a royal palace, its gardens, park and use of water, were of importance in displaying the wealth and status of its inhabitants while maintaining the physical separation between the house and the outside world. The study of soil profiles may identify garden areas in urban environments, while chemical analysis of soils may establish the use of different areas of gardens; for example, high phosphate concentrations may imply heavily manured soils, suggesting horticultural and arboricultural practices. In association with documentary evidence, surviving garden plans and archaeological techniques such as resistivity or ground- penetrating radar and environmental evidence can be used to define the layout and features of gardens.
Royal palaces have been excavated across the London region, from Greenwich to Nonsuch. These served not only as residences but also as centres of court life, with the palace at Whitehall effectively functioning as the focus of national government from 1530 until its destruction in 1698 (Thurley 1999). At the same time, separate functions of government and administration were increasingly being housed in purpose-made buildings. The development of specialist local and central government buildings throughout this period is a topic of interest for the history of government, the civil service and the rise of London as an imperial capital.
The daily life of the capital and its environs was maintained by an elaborate infrastructure which can be seen in the systems and services which developed to meet its ever-growing demands. Both survey and excavation can complement the documentary sources concerning public and civic buildings (including town halls, hospitals, almshouses, prisons, schools and workhouses), markets, transport, water supply, waste disposal, communications, and other services such as gas and electricity. The archaeological record has the potential to reveal the implications of civic works at a local and even at an individual level. Similarly, the impact of canals and railways on supply and production in the region is a fertile topic for research, while a comparative study of coaching inns, an integral part of the nation’s transport network, is much needed.
By analysing domestic assemblages in the context of their associated buildings archaeology can provide evidence of standards of living and variations between social groups. In some cases it may be possible to identify ethnic groups through their material culture, although the presence of a Huguenot community is not apparent from the pottery assemblage at Spitalfields, but it is in the case of similar groups at Norwich and Canterbury (C Thomas, pers comm). The archaeological record can substantiate – or may refute – assumptions about the health and nutrition of individuals and groups of people, sometimes addressing whole neighbourhoods or ethnic groups. Integrated analysis of archaeological data can tell us about diet and the way in which food was prepared, or what personal adornments people wore, or what household furnishings they used and how they arranged their living space. Importantly, coupled with documentary research, the archaeological record has the potential to tell us about the choices people faced, and can take us from understanding the social topography of a city to understanding the consequences, for both individuals and for different areas, of different mechanisms for social control and exclusion.
The size and diversity of the population are among the features that have given the City of London its unique character, and research should aim to encompass the entire social spectrum. Whereas high-status establishments such as palaces and manor houses are relatively well known to archaeology, they are a source of information on the lives and social organisation of only a small proportion of the populace. The habitat of ordinary Londoners is an equally important field of study, and one which archaeology is ideally placed to elucidate. The everyday lives of the poor and disadvantaged, and of the growing middle classes, have been described in a wealth of social commentary and literature by writers from Pepys to Dickens, but it can be easy to lose sight of these largely anonymous inhabitants of the capital in the face of the larger issues being addressed by archaeologists and historians alike. The considerable body of material evidence which resides in the archive (and that is still being uncovered) offers unique opportunities for the examination of social organisation, class differentiation, the effects of the increased wealth and economic growth which accompanied the consumer revolution, social emulation, the spread of fashions from the capital, and the differences between the historic urban core and the growing suburban area with its increasingly provincial outlook and values.
Whereas it was not long ago that ‘19th-century archaeology’ would have referred to the study of the work of 19th century archaeologists, we now acknowledge the important contribution archaeology can make to topographical and socio-economic studies of the 19th century. The Museum of London’s ‘World City’ Gallery, interpreting the period from 1789 to 1914, displays two groups of archaeologically excavated finds. One, from Jacob’s Island, Southwark compares the material record with Dickens’s celebrated literary description of that site. Excavators in the 1990s routinely collected 19th-century material, in contrast to their colleagues in the preceding decades (Nigel Jeffries, pers comm). Here London’s archaeology is taking a lead from the growth of World Archaeology, wherein scholars in the Americas, Australia and South Africa have shown how valuable archaeology is in not only reconstructing socio-economic history but also ‘giving back’ a history to people excluded from the writing of it. A good example of the potential of this type of research is the recent excavation and publication of post-medieval wharfside buildings at Narrow Street in Limehouse (Divers 2000). Archaeologists researching the largest city in Britain during the 19th century will need to ensure that they can characterise the material ‘signatures’ of 19th- century Londoners, allowing comparison with groups elsewhere in the British Empire.
Demographic studies rely heavily on the excavation of large numbers of human skeletons from cemeteries and burial grounds. The 18th- and19th-century burials from Christ Church Spitalfields remain one of the few published examples from a London hospital cemetery (Reeve and Adams 1993), but other reports on cemetery excavations are in various stages of preparation. Analysis has the potential to contribute greatly to population studies for the period and, when allied with documentary evidence, may be used to identify socio-economic groups and study the effects of disease and industrial pollution.
Archaeological evidence provides an important complement to documentary and architectural evidence for naval and military developments. These include shipbuilding and victualling, the supply, equipping and housing of the army and navy, and the manufacture of arms and ordnance. Analysis and publication of evidence for the Navy Victualling Yard in East Smithfield is currently in progress (Grainger and Falcini in prep) but has already confirmed the potential for study of the topic. Extensive excavations have recently taken place at the
Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, the nation’s principal arsenal and armaments factory from 1671 until 1967 (Anon 2002). This work, revealing the development of industrial technology through the period, gives an indication of the potential of the topic.
Work at Woolwich has included evidence of Prince Rupert’s Fort, a gun battery built in 1667 to 1668 to defend the dockyard, just one of the many forts and military installations along the Thames and in the London area. Archaeological recording may be the only means of preserving the meaning of extensive defences in many cases. The Civil War defences have been examined at several points but not considered as a whole. A comprehensive synthesis of the documentary and archaeological evidence for all stages in the defences of London is called for.
The religious and social upheavals resulting from the Reformation and Dissolution of the monasteries had far-reaching consequences on the life and appearance of the capital. The latter topic is now being addressed for individual monastic sites including St Mary Spital, St Mary Clerkenwell, St John Clerkenwell, Holy Trinity Priory Aldgate, St Mary Graces, Bermondsey Abbey and Merton Priory (for example Barber and Thomas 2002; Thomas et al 1997). The organisation of religious life changed dramatically and is reflected in the structure and fittings of churches, with a notable expansion of parish church building projects following the Great Fire. The specific worship needs of minority religious groups can be seen in the establishment of purpose-built structures across the City, for example meeting houses for the Quakers at Aldersgate, the Dutch at Austin Friars, Broad Street, and French Protestants at St Anthony’s Hospital, Threadneedle Street, and the Jews at Bevis Marks and other sites.
The Dissolution of the monasteries brought significant changes to the physical appearance and social topography of both city and countryside (Sloane 1999). While some of the monastic precincts were converted to mansions, others began to fragment into smaller domestic and commercial units. Archaeological investigation of Wren’s post-Fire churches can contribute significantly to our understanding of Wren’s designs by demonstrating the extent to which his plans were based on the form of the previous structure. The archaeology of the Reformation in London’s parish churches however, has yet to be developed. There has been very little work on parish churches of the 17th to 19th centuries in the region.
From the 16th century refugees, minorities and non-conformists were settling in London and establishing their own places of worship, and the identification and recording of these structures (and associated burial grounds), whether as standing buildings or archaeologically, should receive a high priority for their potential contribution to a better understanding of development of cultural diversity in the City.
Opportunities and venues for social interaction multiplied from the 16th century onwards, both in number and variety, and there is considerable scope for the archaeological investigation of the associated material culture of leisure. The area of Bankside is particularly important in this regard, and was the site of ‘stews’ – inns or brothels – and animal-baiting arenas (Mackinder and Blatherwick 2000), although it is by no means the only area of London with important evidence to contribute.
London was home to an array of leisure activities, ranging from cock-fighting and freak shows at one end of the spectrum to gentlemen’s clubs, designed gardens, opera and the theatre at the other. Prime examples in any study of recreation are the theatre sites of Shakespeare’s Globe (Blatherwick and Gurr 1992) and Marlowe’s Rose (Bowsher 1998), where excavations have taken place but the findings await publication. Even more recent work near the Rose has located the remains of the Hope theatre (Cowan 2001), also on Bankside, which will be the subject of a developer-funded publication. Other purpose- built 16th- and 17th-century playhouses have yet to be exactly located.
The introduction of tobacco, followed by new beverages such as coffee, tea, chocolate (Tyler et al in prep), punch and gin, had a profound influence on society between the 16th and 18th centuries. This can be traced through the study of clay tobacco pipes, and the rapid proliferation of coffee-houses, which were accompanied by a plethora of utensils designed specifically for the consumption of new drinks, with all the social implications tied up in the etiquette of their use.
Study of the physical environment of the London region is of crucial importance in understanding the balance between town and countryside and the management of the landscape for the supply of food, timber and a wide range of other goods. Need for food resulted in the exploitation of marginal environments, such as the Isle of Sheppey, and food coming from as far afield as Wales, Cornwall and Berwick.
The growth and importance of market gardens (Boulton 2000) to the rapidly expanding capital cannot be underestimated. Their role in provisioning the population was crucial; we know from maps where many were located, but their organisation, layout and the range of produce cultivated is largely unknown.
Research into the changing ecology of the London region, including pollution levels, human health, faunal and floral composition – introductions and extinctions – can be related to population growth and changes in land use. Changes in water supply and waste disposal have had a major impact on London’s rivers and hence on public health and the river and upper estuary fisheries. In addition to environmental evidence, surveys of the surviving fragments of ancient woodland and open country preserved in parks, gardens and graveyards throughout the region could contribute to a better understanding of the changing nature of the countryside and the impact of the expanding City.
If an archaeology of capitalism were to be written, the London region would surely figure large in its development. London’s role as innovator, introducer and disseminator of technology, goods and ideas was of critical importance, and archaeology can both locate the sites where innovation occurred and study the technical processes used. What are the differences between the City and the surrounding area? Comparative studies are needed of the nature and scale of manufacturing in the City, its immediate environs – particularly the transfer of industry to Southwark – and the more rural, outlying areas. In researching production, archaeology should seek to distinguish between domestic or workshop modes and factories versus cottage industries. There is significant potential for the study of the development of specialised manufacturing centres across the London region. An example is the textile industry along the River Wandle at Merton, where a major centre for calico-printing and dyeing developed from the 17th century onwards, including water mills and other facilities, leading to the establishment by William Morris of a stained glass, weaving, printing and tapestry works in 1881 (Saxby 1995).
There is some evidence that the pottery trade in 17th-century London had already recognised the benefits of some of the techniques of industrial production such as division of labour, specialisation and economies of scale. From the late 16th to early 18th centuries the ceramic industries of London led the country in stylistic innovation and technological advance, offering considerable scope for research as can be seen from work on the Limehouse porcelain industry (Tyler and Stephenson 2000). Work on the Southwark and Lambeth’s delftware industries is ongoing and will be of great value in establishing precisely which pot forms, especially of those used in the early North American colonies, were manufactured at which pothouse.
Although the Industrial Revolution came late to the capital, an immense and varied range of heavy and light industries was focused on London and concentrated in specific areas. What part did London play in the Industrial Revolution and what were the effects of increasing industrialisation on the population and the growth of the capital? Very little of the evidence has seen detailed publication, though the work at Benbow House – which included the Bear Gardens pothouse of 1702–10, a contemporary glasshouse and the foundry and metalworks of the Bradley family and later James Benbow – shows the potential for study (Mackinder and Blatherwick 2000).
By 1500 London was Britain’s largest port and market centre, its commercialisation underpinned by the introduction of customs duty in the 13th century, and the opening of the first customs house at Woolwich in 1382. The development of London’s docklands must form a central plank in this study, beginning with the opening of the Royal Dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich in 1515, during the reign of Henry VIII, and the creation of the East India Company in 1560, through to the opening of one dock after another in response to the furious growth of the British Empire and the success of establishing warehouses next to moorings. The opening of the Brunswick Docks at Blackwall (1790), the West India Dock (1802), the London Docks (1805),
the East India Dock (1806), the Surrey Docks (1807), St Katherine’s Dock (1828), the Royal Victoria Dock (1855), Millwall Dock (1866), the Royal Albert Dock (1880) and the Tilbury Docks (1886) were part of a great, virtually unchecked surge of economic and social change, that would in due course see the Great Dock strike of 1889, and the subsequent nationalisation of the private dock companies and creation of the Port of London Authority. There is considerable potential for archaeologists to study finds and environmental evidence for the development of the extended system of distribution and exchange which ultimately became global. This would not only yield direct evidence of the range of contacts and goods in circulation, and throw light on the efficacy of distribution networks in bringing both essential commodities and exotic luxuries to London and the surrounding region, but would also draw out the consequences of the creation of London’s docklands on the many thousands of people, from all over the world, who lived and worked there.
As a major centre of population and an important international market, London’s consumption of goods and materials took place on a massive scale. The growth of consumerism and bourgeois culture are well demonstrated by changing fashions in pottery and other material goods, and future finds surveys should address questions of wealth, status, increased disposable income and social emulation (conspicuous consumption); archaeology can particularly elucidate documentary sources in examining questions about the relationship between the mundane and exotic in the domestic context, function and form, the choice of different materials, the changing habits of shopping consumption, drawing on large assemblages and closed groups. Other questions might include how material remains relate to growth, patronage, investment and the institutional framework. More generally, there is a very extensive collection of artefacts from the period and a typological review could make a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the development of material culture. Similarly, the potential of the environmental data has only just begun to be explored but it is clear that it has much to say about changes in diet, disease, pollution and the exploitation of resources and, therefore, about the social and economic forces and consequences of consumerism.