Medieval Bone Store Revealed At Launch Of Buildings At Risk List

By Helen Barrett | 08 July 2005
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Picture shows man beneath a glass roof peering over an excavated wall.

Dan Cruickshank celebrates Charnel House's removal from the Buildings at Risk Register (2005) © English Heritage.

English Heritage has unveiled a restored 14th century bone store – the Charnel House - in the City of London, at the launch of its 2005 Buildings at Risk Register on July 7 2005.

The House, which is to be opened to the public after a six-year rescue project, is one of 91 Grade I and II* listed buildings removed from the register. The register forms an annual inventory of the UK’s most vulnerable structures threatened by neglect and decay.

Built as a chapel crypt to stand in the cemetery of St Mary Spital priory, the remains of the Charnel House now form an integral part of an ultra-modern Norman Foster-designed glass and steel law firm office complex at Bishops Square. Visitors and office workers on lunch breaks will be able to view the illuminated excavations through a re-enforced glass pavement.

Picture shows woman in hard hat with pile of excavated human remains.

Charnel House taken 1999. © Andy Chopping - MoLAS

The House, which stands four meters high and seven meters long and includes foundation walls and decorative chevron vaulting, remained buried beneath the city until the Museum of London Archaeology Service discovered it unexpectedly in 1999. Project manager Chris Thomas said: “We literally took the road up, and there it was.”

He added: “We were amazed to discover it in such an authentic and well-preserved condition. We removed more than 10,000 buried human remains – the largest single excavation in British history.” The excavated bones have now been transferred to the collection of the Museum of London.

Picture shows Crystal Palace sports centre.

Former National Sports Centre (Crystal Palace Sports Centre), Bromley - added to the 2005 Buildings at Risk Register. © English Heritage

Historian and Spitalfields resident Dan Cruickshank, who officially opened the Charnel House, said: “The House was very famous in medieval London. Pepys talks about coming here in 1669 to listen to a sermon, and Shakespeare would have wandered around because his lodgings were nearby. This building was a focus of London life at that time.”

Vulnerable new additions to the London register include the Grade II listed Crystal Palace sports centre in Bromley and the Grade II Granada cinema in Wandsworth.But this year’s success stories now removed from the register include St George’s church, Bloomsbury and the General Lying-in Hospital, Lambeth.

Picture shows St George's church, Bloomsbury

St Georges, Bloomsbury, London - before repair and removal from the Buildings at Risk Register. © English Heritage

The Charnel House, set in its new, light-filled viewing gallery, is set to provide a dramatic contrast to its hi-tech surroundings, and a striking reminder of London’s layered history.

Cruickshank said: “The Charnel House is going to be one of the little jewels of London.”

Charnel House is visible from the courtyard entrance of Allen & Overy, Bishops Square, Spitalfields. The excavated remains will be open to the public as part of National Archaeology Week, July 16 - 24.

The 2005 English Heritage Buildings at Risk Register is available on www.english-heritage.org.uk/bar

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