Crossrail tunnellers have been busy beneath London for the past eight years creating the new Elizabeth Line.  The tunnels are really, really deep to avoid disturbing all the existing building foundations, water pipes and tube lines but, whenever they reach the surface, London’s buried history has been revealed.  Now 500 of the most fascinating finds are on display at the Museum of London Docklands.  Even though Europe’s biggest infrastructure project deploys the latest in tunnelling technology, St Barbara (patron saint of tunnellers and miners) stands over each tunnel entrance: old habits die hard!

Tunnel Archaeology Crossrail

The exhibition displays finds as they were found from East to West.  Stone Age man would have found a ready supply of flint cobbles in and around the Thames.  At some point one of them sat down and made an arrow head or an axe and left a pile of flint shards behind.  I bet he didn’t think his litter would be discovered 8,000 years later!

Tunnel Archaeology Crossrail

Quite a lot of the finds come from rubbish.  I particularly like this example of Victorian toilet humour. The man inside the broken potty is saying “Oh what I see, I will not tell”.

Tunnel Archaeology Crossrail

Once Crossrail gets to the City of London, the site of Roman Londinium, the finds get distinctly Roman.  Horses would put on special shoes in the city called Hipposandals, I love the way that they look like metal slippers.

Tunnel Archaeology Crossrail

An altogether more gruesome find is a stash of 50 skulls, just skulls no other body parts.  These are in addition to 300 others that have been found in Walbrook valley before.  Nobody knows why, maybe they are the grizzly remains of a cult or possibly they were washed out from a nearby cemetery.  What do you think?

Tunnel Archaeology Crossrail

Industry right in the heart of London is unimaginable now but Crosse and Blackwell had a huge jam factory on the corner of Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross Road right up until the 1920’s.  Construction of a new ticket hall in Soho revealed thousands of jars destined to hold potted meat, jam or marmalade.  I wonder why they were abandoned rather than used, Victorian rebranding maybe?

Tunnel Archaeology Crossrail

There are many more fascinating objects on display and all for free, best of all there is a handily placed cafe just as you’ve finished marvelling at what can be found beneath your feet.  The Cultural Wednesday family have visited the museum before, you can read all about our visit here.  As part of the press view of this exhibition I got to go down the Crossrail tunnel which you can read all about here.  The Museum of London Docklands may seem a little out of the way but the journey is quick and easy on the DLR, which offers the experience of ‘driving’ the train from the front seat.

10 February 2017 – 3 September 2017
Museum of London Docklands, West India Quay, London E14 4AL
Open: Daily 10am – 6pm
Admission: Free

Oregon Girl Around the World


  1. February 17, 2017 / 9:52 am

    very interesting! #farawayfiles

  2. Clare Thomson
    February 17, 2017 / 8:06 pm

    It’s wonderful that they’ve discovered and displayed so many treasures. I do love those jars – I’ve seen a few like that in antique shops over the years. The skulls are gruesome but fascinating to try and work out what they were doing there. Thanks for sharing with us on #FarawayFiles

  3. Trish @ Mum's Gone To
    February 18, 2017 / 1:43 pm

    This is fascinating – jam jars, skulls, horse slippers and potties.
    I’ve never heard of St Barbara – i bet she’s been kept busy with all the recent tunnelling!

    • Catherine
      February 19, 2017 / 9:58 am

      I’d never heard of her before but fascinating that she is still there and protecting

  4. February 18, 2017 / 11:07 pm

    This is so cool! Love this insight into the ordinary lives of Londoners over many centuries. A friend and I helped out on a similar excavation in Melbourne as a teenager. We found a lot of artefacts from the Chinese community who came to our city during the gold rush and that was enough to spur my friend on to become an archaeologist. Thanks fro joining us on #farawayfiles

  5. February 22, 2017 / 3:52 pm

    Wow, this sounds brilliant. Tunnels, gruesome discoveries and toilet humour: my boys will love it! Thanks for the post.

  6. February 22, 2017 / 10:36 pm

    Super interesting! I have often wondered when visiting London which is such a modern city, where all that history is with little “old town” to be seen. Built right over apparently – I love the quirky, if sometimes macabre, artefacts still on display! Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin

  7. March 4, 2017 / 9:12 am

    Browsing through your posts and this one immediately stood out for me! I heard some time ago that they were going to be exhibiting the finds so I was happy to read your post and find out more. I’ve been meaning to visit the London Docklands museum for a while now but it always seems a bit of a trek out, I have another excuse now!

    • Catherine
      March 4, 2017 / 12:14 pm

      It is well worth the trek to Docklands both for this exhibition and the rest of the museum

  8. March 5, 2017 / 10:36 am

    I love stuff like this and didn’t realise there was a Crossrail exhibition. I’ve just forwarded this link to the other half so hopefully we’ll get to see it all in person soon. Thanks for sharing.

    • Catherine
      March 5, 2017 / 10:37 am

      The rest of the museum is pretty good too and a good cafe!

  9. March 28, 2017 / 11:02 am

    This looks super cool – haven’t been over to Docklands branch for a while, must make it back over there.

  10. May 5, 2017 / 8:07 am

    What a fascinating museum. I hadn’t heard of the Docklands Museum before, it looks really good. There looks lots to see and explore there plus the skulls look very scary!

  11. May 5, 2017 / 9:24 am

    Its so good when things from the past are rediscovered. It looks fascinating and I love that they have put them on display for people to see. #culturedkids

  12. May 5, 2017 / 12:23 pm

    I might be called biased as I work there but I think it’s a fascinating exhibition (I didn’t work on it!) Crossrail has created so many new archaeological finds and Tunnel really shows how much they reveal about the past. Love the idea of a Victorian rebrand making thousands of jars obsolete! The continuing use of St Barbara over tunnels for luck is something I wasn’t aware of until this exhibition. Great review #culturedkids

    • Catherine
      May 5, 2017 / 4:11 pm

      Thank you, the whole museum is a great place to visit

  13. May 5, 2017 / 12:49 pm

    The chamber pot toilet humour is very Grayson Perry! It’s fascinating, the stuff that they found. Shame about all those beautiful jars. #CulturedKids

    • Catherine
      May 5, 2017 / 4:12 pm

      If the jars had been used then they might not have survived for us to see

  14. Wherejogoes
    May 5, 2017 / 5:46 pm

    Absolutely fascinating! I love the range from skulls to jam pots to stone age flints and the fact that everything was found as they dug under London. I love an eclectic mix in a museum I think I’d be here for hours! #Culturedkids

    • Catherine
      May 5, 2017 / 5:48 pm

      It’s a fascinating exhibition and when you’re done the rest of Museum is pretty good too

  15. May 5, 2017 / 6:42 pm

    What a random mix of finds. From eclectic jam jars to unexplained remains. Indulgence and sadness in one place. #culturedkids

    • Catherine
      May 6, 2017 / 7:48 am

      Amazing stories hidden just below our feet!

  16. May 5, 2017 / 7:19 pm

    Oh my goodness what a find, sounds like a fascinating exhibition. I live in Surrey now but lived in London for many years and amazingly have never been here! Those pots are fabulous 🙂

    • Catherine
      May 6, 2017 / 7:52 am

      Museum of London Docklands is relatively new (2003) so you are excused! Easy to get to from Waterloo ……

  17. May 6, 2017 / 8:28 am

    London’s history is so amazing. I will be taking my little girl along to this exhibition very soon. Thanks for the great post Catherine.

  18. bavariansojourn
    May 7, 2017 / 9:42 am

    Wow, what incredible finds! Definitely going to have to try to get to this exhibit before it finishes! Can you imagine finding some of that stuff?? 🙂

    • Catherine
      May 7, 2017 / 12:05 pm

      I know, what I realky really want to do is mudlarking

  19. May 7, 2017 / 1:05 pm

    I love this particular museum, but haven’t been for a while. This sounds a great exhibit though – I love finding things about London which I just didn’t know. #culturedkids

  20. May 7, 2017 / 10:37 pm

    Amazing the things they found. I’d never heard of it. Definitely one to put on my list of places to visit #CulturedKids

  21. May 9, 2017 / 4:30 am

    That’s so cool that they were able to discover those. The skulls are pretty creepy but cool. #CulturedKids

  22. May 9, 2017 / 1:09 pm

    Love the toilet humour!! ha ha! what an interesting display of items that have been found. Skulls are a bit creepy though! #CulturedKids

  23. May 17, 2017 / 9:35 pm

    What a lot of random things (and isn’t that fanastic!). If nothing else it really does bring home to you how lengthy is London’s predigree.

  24. May 20, 2017 / 9:23 pm

    It’s amazing what finds have been dug up. Without the archaeological digs we may well have been clueless about the past. #CulturedKids

  25. May 22, 2017 / 1:54 pm

    It is an excellent idea to create an exhibition from the archaeology of the construction. We will have to go and take a look in the holidays. Thank you.

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