thames discovery programme
Alderman Stairs FTH02
The zone is approximately 470m long and 30m wide. The only access to thesite is via Alderman Stairs in the centre of the zone; the stairs can be slipperyand lack a handrail. The eastern and western extents of the site are definedby dock entrances. The ground conditions on the site are generally firm atthe top of the foreshore area however the lower part of the foreshore belowthe jetty is deeper mud. There are some trip hazards in the form ofabandoned metalwork and the foreshore surface beneath the jetty is veryuneven.
archaeological and historical background
Very few artefacts of prehistoric date have been found in the local area. Recent work suggests that in thewest of the borough, Bronze Age activity was present on the high ground in the vicinity of modernBishopsgate. A hoard of bronze artefacts for smelting and re-use was found in the 19th century
500m tothe west of the site at Lower Thames Street, and flint flakes and pottery of similar date have beenrecovered from the environs of Tower Hill. An Iron Age inhumation burial was recovered from the Tower
of London during excavations in the 1960’s.
The area lay outside of the probable limits of the early Roman settlement and was certainly divided fromthe urban area by the construction of the city wall
AD180. To the east of the
lay an extensivecemetery stretching as far north as Bishopsgate and at least 1km to the east of the city walls. The earliestburials in the cemetery can be dated to the late 1st century and interments continued to be made until theend of the 4th century. The closest excavated sites are at Hooper Street and Prescot Street, approximately500m to the north of the site. Residual Roman artefacts were discovered during excavations at the RoyalMint site, immediately north of St Katharine
The main focus of mid-Saxon settlement was a busy trading port around Covent Garden, in an area knownas
. Re-occupation of the walled area of the Roman city only took place in the late 9th century,and was initially focused on a relatively small area of the riverfront. Some churches do however seem tohave been established in the more sparsely settled areas. One of these was All Hallows Barking by theTower. The church lay on land owned by Barking Abbey (founded 675) and its construction can be datedto
1000. Settlement within the walls thrived and by the late 11th century space within the walls was atsuch a premium that suburbs were already growing up along the principal arterial roads leading out of thecity. A late Saxon institution - the Knights Guild - was given a charter by King Edgar in the late 10th
century granting it a portion of land outside the walls ‘... left desolate and forsaken by the inhabitants...’.
This portion of land stretched from Bishopsgate to the Thames and included all of East Smithfield.
The Hospital of St Katharine was founded by Matilda, wife of King Stephen, in the early 12th century. Theconventual buildings of the hospital lay in the St Katharine
’s Dock area and were arranged around a
cloister which lay on the north side of the church. To the east of the conventual buildings lay a dock and
the riverside to the south became the site of St Katharine’
s Wharf. Further to the north the Cistercianabbey of St Mary Graces was founded by Edward III in 1350. The land on which it was established wasagricultural, confirmation of this is provided by the selection of part of the precinct as an emergency burialground during the Black Death (1348-9).
The Dissolution of the Monasteries (1538-40) resulted in the Abbey of St Mary Graces being surrenderedto the crown in 1539. The Hospital of St Katharine escaped the Dissolution, and the Great Fire butgradually fell into disrepair after the Plague decimated the area. The Hospital and church survived until theadvent of the Docks in the 19th century.
By the end of the 18th century various schemes to expand London’s dock capacity had lighted on t
of St Katharine’s as a promising location for a new wet dock. Promoters of the dock scheme portrayed the
area as being filled with hovels occupied by the lowest sections of society. An Act to establish the St
Katharine’s Dock was passed in 1825 and
work commenced to clear the 23 acre site, dispossessing