Post-medieval collection (1550-1900)

Post-medieval crania from various locations in London

Post-medieval crania from various locations in London

The post-medieval collection remains were found at various locations in London.

They were discovered during construction work in the capital and consequently lack recorded information about the context of their burial.

Many originate from closed post-medieval burial grounds that were once prolific in London.

Origins of the collection

Throughout London there are a number of disused and closed cemeteries beneath our feet. When a series of burial acts were passed in the 1850s the majority of inner London graveyards were cleared, and the human remains were moved to large cemeteries outside the city. These areas of land were then built upon or converted into public parks.

With constant construction work in the capital, it is not unusual for corners of these forgotten graveyards to be accidentally unearthed and bodies, which remained buried in the ground, to be accidentally exposed. 

Royal Hospital Chelsea burial ground 

#21

The remains from a wooden coffin were found at the junction of Chelsea Bridge Road and Pimlico Road, opposite Chelsea Barracks and adjacent to Royal Hospital Chelsea burial ground. 

  • MNI: 1. Adult of indeterminate sex. Various incomplete cranial and postcranial remains were found. Cranial elements consist of the mandible only. Postcranial remains consist of the left clavicle, left scapula, right radius, left eleventh rib, third lumbar vertebra, left tibia, right and left calcaneus, and right fourth metatarsal.
  • Pathology present: Arthritic changes are observed on the calcaneus, presented as eburnation and lipping on anterior articular facet.
 Human remains from wooden coffin in Chelsea

Human remains from wooden coffin in Chelsea

Finsbury Circus

PA SK 1548

Skull found in a wooden coffin while digging the foundations for the new building of the London Institute, Finsbury Circus, eastern central London.

  • MNI: 1, adult male.
  • Pathology present: dental calculus adhered to the molars.
  • Donated by: S McDonagh, Esq., MRCS in 1915 to the Royal College of Surgeons, and later transferred to the Natural History Museum.

Fountain Street

PA SK 1559

This cranium was found in 1881 at a depth of 2.1-2.4 metres, while digging foundations for the Board School on Wandsworth Road.

  • MNI: 1, adult, male.
  • Pathology present: dental caries and dental enamel attrition present.
  • Donated by: HW Jackson in 1881 to the Royal College of Surgeons, and later transferred to the Natural History Museum. 
Adult male from Fountain Street

Adult male from Fountain Street

Hillingdon churchyard

PA SK 4253

Incomplete cranium from Hillingdon churchyard near Uxbridge (probably St John's Church). Further contextual details are unknown.

  • MNI: 1, adult, female.
  • Pathology present: no visible pathologies.
  • Donated by: O Thomas, Esq. 
Incomplete cranium of an adult female from Hillingdon Cchurchyard.

Incomplete cranium of an adult female from Hillingdon churchyard

Holborn

PA SK 4020

Incomplete cranium found on the site of the Prudential Assurance, Holborn Bars, in eastern central London, when the present building was erected. Found in association with a Bellarmine jar, manufactured in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.

  • MNI: 1, adult, male.
  • Pathology present: multiple ossicles (tiny bones, also known as wormian bones) are present in the lambdoidal suture, a common congenital abnormality. No visible pathologies.
  • Donated by: P E Negus of 82 Chelsea Gardens, Chelsea Bridge Road (SW1).
Cranium of adult male with multiple wormian bones in lambdoidal suture

Cranium of adult male with multiple wormian bones in lambdoidal suture

Whitechapel

PA SK 1554-1556

Two skeletons were found in Whitechapel, 2.6 metres from the surface, in a bed of undisturbed gravel about 0.76 metres thick. The skeletons lay with their heads to the south and probably date to the post-medieval period.

  • MNI: 3, incomplete cranial remains from three adult individuals (two male, one indeterminate), and a left femur from an adult individual.
  • Pathology present: no visible pathologies.
  • Donated by: Dr Eric Gardner in 1911 (FC Addn 261.511), transferred from the Royal College of Surgeons.  

PA SK 4209-4212

Under the foundations of Kinloch's Whiskey stores in Whitechapel, 500 to 600 individuals were discovered without tombstones or coffin furniture. The burials probably date to the latter half of the seventeenth century and might originate from a plague pit in Gower's Walk, used at the time of the Great Plague.

  • Pathology present: no visible pathologies.
  • Donated by: retained for study by G D Thane in University College London's Anatomy department. We expect these four adult crania (two adult males and two females, PA SK 4209-4212) were curated at the Natural History Museum as examples of shape variations (dolicephaly, bathrocephaly, tripartitie inca bone and wormian bones).
Cranium with tripartite inca bone

Cranium with tripartite inca bone

Old Whitechapel Burial Ground

PA SK 4271

One cranium from the old Whitechapel Burial ground.

  • MNI: 1, adult, male.
  • Pathology present: none evident.
  • Donated by: CT Holloway in May 1919.
Cranium from old Whitechapel burial ground

Cranium from old Whitechapel burial ground

Savoy Chapel or German Lutheran Church

PA SK 4179

The remains of a single individual were recovered during excavations for the building of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1960. Maps of this site from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries show the site was previously occupied was by the Savoy Chapel and a German Lutheran Church. Based on the depth where the remains were recovered from it is likely they belong to a post-medieval burial ground previously occupying the site.  

  • MNI: 1, adult male.
  • Pathology present: dental attrition, linear enamel hypoplasia. 
Mandible of an adult male from Savoy Chapel

Mandible of an adult male from Savoy Chapel or German Lutheran Church

St Catherine's churchyard

PA SK 4241

Now St Katharine Docks, St Catherine's churchyard once existed near the Tower of London. When the docks were constructed, two churchyards were relocated along with the whole parish. The human remains were cleared and moved to Bethnal Green and St Matthew's burial grounds. It was also reported that some were used to fill old reservoirs. A cranium and mandible were recovered from one of these graveyards.

  • MNI: 1, adult male.
  • Pathology present: this individual exhibits a number of pathological changes from poor health, trauma and developmental abnormalities. There is diffuse porosity throughout the cranium, including some woven bone deposition on both the cranium and mandible - possible indicators of early stage syphilis. There is possibly healed blunt force trauma at the bregma as well as developmental changes to upper cervical vertebrae that resulted in bony protrusions laterally to the occipital condyles. On the teeth there is a facially draining abscess at the second right upper premolar. The left upper second premolar is a peg tooth. There are linear enamel hyperplasias;. There is mild dental calculus adhesion and the lower third molars are impacted.
  • Donated by: Purchased from Mr Daniel.

Image

Required fields:
  • Image

St Christopher-le-Stocks

PA SK 1564

Many additions have been made to the Bank of England's building since it was erected in 1732. The Garden Court, around which the Bank is built, covers part of the site of the churchyard of St Christopher-Ie-Stocks.

The church was acquired by the Bank under the authority of an Act of Parliament passed in 1781. When arrangements had been made for the reburial of the bodies, the building was pulled down. This was to allow for an extension of the premises and because the directors, alarmed by civil disturbances, felt that a flank exposed to the church and churchyard was insecure.

A cranium uncovered from the graveyards had been for many years in the possession of people known to the donor of the specimen to the Royal College of Surgeons. It was later transferred to the Natural History Museum.

  • MNI: 1, adult female.
  • Pathologies present: asymmetrical occipital condyles and an abscess at the area of the upper-right first molar which drains into the maxillary sinus.
  • Donated by: W J Minnion in 1924 to the Royal College of Surgeons, and later transferred to Natural History Museum. 
Cranium of adult female found under the Bank of England

Cranium of adult female found under the Bank of England

St Dunstan-in-the-East

#20

An incomplete cranium and a frontal bone were donated to the Natural History Museum in the 1950s.

  • MNI: 2, adults, unknown sex.
  • Pathology present: thickening of the endocranial surface of the left parietal.
  • Donated by: transferred from the British Museum of Natural History. 
Incomplete cranium from St Dunstan’s-in-the-East

Endocranial surface of incomplete cranium from St Dunstan’s-in-the-East, with possible thickening.

St George-in-the-East

PA SK 4270

A human cranium was dug up in excavations at St George-in-the-East, London.

  • MNI: 1, adult male.
  • Pathology present: a small tubercle anterior of foramen magnum, a pipe notch between right upper second incisor and the canine, caries and mild dental calculus throughout the dentition and an abscess at the second right premolar.
  • Donated by: given to Mr H G Herring around by Messrs Foster Brothers, builders, Camden Works, Norwood.  
Cranium of an adult male with a pipe notch

Cranium of adult male with arrow indicating a pipe notch. The similar modification to the left teeth has been caused by post-mortem damage

St Martin-in-the-Fields

PA SK 1561 and 1562

Human remains were recovered from an old burial place in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields, consisting of two crania.  

  • MNI: 2, adult females.
  • Pathology present: The cranium associated with PA SK 1561 has a wormian bone in the lambdoidal suture but no pathological changes. The other cranium is perhaps slightly unusually long and flat in shape, but again there are no evident pathological changes.
  • Donated by: formerly in the collection of James De Ville, phrenologist (1777-1846), who described them as 'from an old burial-place in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London'. They then formed part of the Barnard Davis Collection (p. 47 of Barnard Davis Catalogue) and were transferred to the Museum in 1948 from the Royal College of Surgeons. 
Female cranium from St Martin-’s in- the- Fields

Female cranium from St Martin-in-the-Fields

Looking for a specific specimen?

The London human remains collection has been digitised

Collections team

Principal Curator

Dr Heather Bonney

Curator

Dr Rachel Ives

Curatorial assistant

Jennifer White

Any questions?

If you would like to use any specimens for research, please get in touch

Further reading

Related information

visitor-accessing-collections-hti-single

Accessing the collections

Scientists and collections management specialists can visit the collections and borrow specimens for research.

Collections management

Our duty is to provide a safe and secure environment for all of our collections.