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Archaeology of Southwark, Central London

Archaelogical overview

Are there any prehistoric features and finds, and what are they?

No prehistoric evidence was found in the lift pit excavation or within the watching brief areas.

What was the nature and extent of Roman occupation at this site?

The excavation area produced a two post holes, a drain and a pit/ditch, all dating to no later than the 2nd century AD. Alluvial silts through which the drain cut, also filled the disused 'drain' suggesting that the site was prone to flooding and indicating that it lay towards the margins of one of the islands occupied in the early Roman period.

What is the nature of medieval activity at this site?

In the post-Roman period the area in the vicinity of the excavation trench appears to have become reclaimed land. Sealing the Roman sequence were leveling deposits, including possibly 'dark earth', followed by further leveling deposits in the 14th century. This was cut by a pit and masonry cellar/cesspit, both dating to the 15th century and possibly associated with St Thomas' Hospital. The use of two early medieval grave slabs, thought to come from the chapel of St Thomas', in the construction of the masonry cellar/cesspit, suggests demolition of the chapel. and the reuse of materials including graveslabs, for other structures in the vicinity, some time during the 15th century.

What is the archaeological sequence at this site?

Natural sand was sealed by alluvial silts. The alluvial silts were cut by an east-west aligned Roman drain and post-hole. A second post-hole, cut through the backfill on the southern side of the drain. A later Roman pit/ditch, cut through the second post-hole.

The backfilling of the Roman pit/ditch signified the end of the Roman phase in the trench and was followed by the deposition of a blackish silt possibly 'dark earth. This was followed by the excavation of a pit/ditch in the medieval period. After the backfilling of this pit, the area was subjected to leveling. A complete jug dating to the mid 14th century was found in the dump. At the eastern end of the trench the remains of a 15th century chalk, flint and ragstone cellar/cess pit was found cutting through the dumps. Incorporated within the walls were two early medieval grave slabs (1200-1350) reused as lintels. The lower half of an adults slab was used in the western wall, whilst a child's one was found in the northern return wall. The child's slab bore an inscription on both of its beveled sides.

The infill of the cellar/cesspit consisted of domestic debris, including a considerable quantity shellfish waste. Pottery from this indicated a 14th/15th century date. At the western end of the trench a pit, also containing a large quantity of shellfish waste produced a fragmented pot, 14th century in date.

Significance of the data

The Roman evidence suggests an open area towards the margins of an eyot prone to flooding. The discovery of Caerleon stamped pottery, even though it is from a medieval context, represents the most significant pottery find as it is the first recorded fragment of its kind in London.

The 15th century chalk and flint cellar/cesspit had incorporated early medieval grave slabs which indicates that a church or chapel had been demolished in the near vicinity. This could have been associated with St Thomas' hospital, and possibly its chapel.

Archaeological fieldwork

No previous archaeological work has been recorded on the site. The redevelopment involved refurbishment which required limited intrusive work, below the existing slab level. Two drain runs, with depths ranging from 0.50-1.06 metres, a lift shaft c. 2.25 metres deep and a goods hoist shaft, the depth of which was only sufficient to disturb the current slab were proposed. These works were carried out under watching brief/evaluation conditions, with provision for controlled excavation in the area of the lift shaft should archaeological deposits survive.

The western drain run was monitored and section drawings made of two faces of the trench on 14th July 1997 by a member of the Museum of London Archaeology Service (MoLAS). The deposits found in the east-west leg of the trench were of 20th century date relating to the construction phase of the building. The north-south leg indicated an in-situ dump deposit cut though by a post-medieval wall. Another visit to the site on 17th September 1997 saw the start of the excavation of the lift pit, measuring 4.00 metres north-south by 4.00 metres east-west on the central southern side of the site.

Immediately below the make-up for the slab, two chalk walls were visible, both aligned slightly to the west of grid north-south. These cut through an earlier dump deposit. It was evident that a considerable depth of in-situ material was present which required detailed investigation. A trial pit measuring 0.60 square metres was dug to a depth of 1.20 metres in the south-west corner of the trench. Medieval pottery, including one fragment of Roman was found within the test pit. The watching brief ceased at this point and the developers informed of the decision. After consultation with the London Borough of Southwark Archaeology Senior Officer, a proposal for an excavation was put in place.

On completion of the controlled excavation, the eastern drain run was recorded in section on 8th October 1997. The section along the length of this trench showed an in-situ dump deposit of a similar nature found in the western drain run and in the lift pit.

The archaeological deposits in the excavation were recorded using the single context recording system in conjunction with the Archaeological Site Manual (3rd edition), (MoLAS, 1994).

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Minibar
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Mineral water
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LONDON BRIDGE HOTEL
8-18 London Bridge Street
London SE1 9SG UK

Tel.: +44 (0)20 7855 2200
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