EXCAVATING THE ANNEX
Why are archaeologists involved here?
The Middlesex Hospital Annex was closed to patients in 2010, and the site was subject to an initial, unsuccessful, planning application to demolish the old Workhouse building for redevelopment of the site. In response to this, the Workhouse building was spot listed (Grade II), in recognition of its unique historic character, and the focus thus shifted away from any demolition and rebuilding to a more sustainable reuse of this important and unusual historic building.
In 2018, in anticipation of refurbishment, extensive sections of the modern and temporary structures across the larger site were demolished. Prior to this, a Standing Building Survey (otherwise known as an archaeological building report) was undertaken for all buildings across the site, recording their historical character and significance.
The following year, attention turned to what might be preserved beneath the ground of the demolished buildings. A series of six targeted test trenches were excavated across the site by Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA), to a depth of c.3m. Almost 60 human burials were recovered, relating to the preserved Workhouse, along with evidence relating to the earliest phases of the Workhouse construction. It appeared that there was substantial archaeological preservation across the site that would need to be recorded before any redevelopment, to ensure the information was preserved for future generations and to help tell the story of this central London site.
Following this, almost a year of coordination and design work was undertaken with the development team, including archaeologists from Iceni Projects. A collaborative approach was taken to designing structural support for the entire site works, supporting both the archaeological investigation works and the construction of the new basement, that would be housing six state of the art MRI scanners.
Over 1,000 skeletons were excavated on site over the course of the following archaeological works, with many of the burials presenting with evidence of having undergone extensive dissection and autopsy, that has fundamentally changed our understanding of early medical practices in central London. Extensive structural remains relating to earlier phases of the Workhouse buildings, such as the kitchens and chapel, were also recorded.
The specialist study of the human remains is ongoing, along with other classes of material evidence from the archaeological work that is slowly piecing together the story of this important site. Eventually, this information will be published and disseminated through various channels, and made widely accessible to the public and researchers. The archaeological input will ensure that the newly developed site will pay homage to the legacy of it’s history, and will celebrate and protect the original Workhouse building and sympathetically tell the story of this place.