Crossrail boring machines uncovering a host of historical finds

PUBLISHED: 16:22 16 January 2015 | UPDATED: 16:22 16 January 2015

A skeleton from the Middle Ages, found in the London clay. Photo: flickr.com/photos/anniemole

A skeleton from the Middle Ages, found in the London clay. Photo: flickr.com/photos/anniemole

Archant

Anne Diamond has been discovering how the giant Crossrail boring machines are uncovering a host of finds as they head in our direction

You get some surprising perks in my job. Just recently, I donned a hard hat, steel capped boots and a high viz suit to go down 80 metres underground to see Crossrail taking shape deep in the bowels of Paddington station. The amazing, futuristic train line that’s going to link Berkshire with Essex, going right under the middle of London, is proving to be so much more than a feat of engineering.

While everyone above ground is wondering what sort of effect it’s going to have on house values in and around our very patch, the story underground is even more dramatic.

The huge ‘moles’ used to burrow through the earth are quite literally digging up little bits of astonishing history. Who knew that the Romans in Britain shod their horses? I didn’t. But they’ve unearthed hundreds of items showing everyday life in Roman Britain, including many human heads (mysteriously without their bodies), beautifully crafted leather shoes for humans and iron shoes for horses - not in the upturned “U” shape of modern blacksmiths, but in a shape designed almost like an old-fashioned clog, which would have been fashioned up and around the hoof, almost enclosing it! Then there are the medieval granite gravestones, with names and dates still perfectly engraved - and their namesakes traceable through parish records.

I was particularly enthralled with the story of a young man who lived in the Middle Ages, whose skeleton is almost perfectly preserved by the London clay. There he was, lying on a table in front of me. I could see how his teeth, with huge holes of dental decay, must have given him years of terrible pain, and how a compressed vertebra must have also given him acute back pain. But when the experts sent away just one of his teeth for special screening, they were able to tell so much more. Just from his tooth, they now know that he was born and spent the first few years of his life in the Midlands or the North that he was breast fed for his first three years, and then ate a diet of meat, grain and vegetables. Then at age five, he moved to London and became a vegetarian. The first huge hole in his teeth appeared at about age six and from that time, he would have been in almost constant dental pain. He did back-breaking physical work and then, at age 19, he died of the Black Death and was buried in a Plague Pit in what we now know as East London.

Unbelievable what they can now find out - and I was so moved by the poignancy of his short life story. The Crossrail project is probably going to change the lives of many of us commuters, and while many people debate its value or long term effects of where we all choose to live and work in the future, it has already become a catalyst for learning more about our past!

About Crossrail

• Work started in May 2009 and there are currently over 10,000 people working across over 40 construction sites.

• The first services through central London will start in late 2018.

• The route will run over 100km from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through new tunnels under central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.

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