St John's Church, Bethnal Green

St Johns

In 2011, AOC Archaeology conducted an excavation under the playground of St John’s Church of England Primary School in Bethnal Green in advance of the construction of a new nursery school. The playground was formerly the site of a privately-owned commercial burial ground managed by a pawnbroker, a Mr John Kilday. By the 19th century, Bethnal Green had become one of the most impoverished parishes in London. 

St JohnsAfter the completion of the fieldwork, post-excavation processing of all of the human remains and finds was completed. A post-excavation assessment was undertaken by AOC’s specialist osteologists to determine the significance and potential of further analysis of the human remains as well as an assessment of all the finds. Subsequent post-excavation analysis of 959 well-preserved skeletons identified an enormous range of pathologies that had affected the lives of those buried in at the site, including chronic infections, such as tuberculosis and syphilis, dietary deficiencies, and dental diseases together with occasional glimpses of treatments, such as a partial denture plate. A variety of accidents had also resulted in skeletal trauma and in two instances treatment had been attempted in the form of an amputation. 

A City of London Archaeology Trust Research Grant enabled the study of 306 death certificates linked to named burials in the assemblage and indicated that tuberculosis and respiratory infections were frequently identified causes of death together with childhood illnesses such as scarlet fever, whooping cough and measles. The post-excavation analysis also identified a range of finds associated with the burials including coins, ceramic plates, cowrie shells as well as the botanical remains of flowers that had placed inside the coffins of two children. Evidence also indicated that the individuals were dressed in clothes from their daily lives including worn leather shoes, a repaired leather belt together with bow-ties. Twenty-one rare wooden grave markers found during the excavations were studied and wood species analysis showed that markers for adult burials were made from oak and elm while those for child burials were made from pine and larch. A dedicated site publication is in the final stages of production and will make the results of this project widely accessible.