25th October 2023
Mystery burial crypt discovered beneath St. Bartholomew’s Hospital
The staff of 900-year-old St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, a renowned teaching hospital in central London, were buzzing with excitement recently, following the unexpected discovery of a burial crypt hidden beneath its historic grounds. The revelation came to light when the hospital’s estates team uncovered the entrance to the chamber, concealed beneath a flagstone whilst carrying out repair work to the Princess Alice Garden in preparation of a visit from the Duke of Gloucester.
Perega has taken a central role in securing the long-term preservation of the crypt, enacting protective measures to shield the crypt from any potential harm from heavy loads over the vault.
St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, famously known as the birthplace of the Barts Health NHS Trust, boasts a rich history that spans centuries. Founded in 1123, the hospital has provided continuous patient care on the same site for longer than any other hospital in England. This historical treasure is also home to a unique small chapel known as Barts-the-Less, which sits within the hospital complex surrounded by a small patch of land. It was around the chapel that the entrance to this hidden burial crypt was found.
A short while after the initial discovery, the estates team successfully secured diocese approval and, in collaboration with archaeologists, conducted a thorough inspection of the chamber. The crypt measures approximately one by two meters on plan, within which a single coffin and human bones were discovered.
Our Associate, Sam Coleman, expressed his excitement about the find, “This is truly unusual for a hospital site. The crypt appears to date back to the early 1800s and seems to have been concealed during landscaping. We had to take some precautions to make sure the crypt remains intact, as the arch over is quite shallow and thin. Figuring out how much load the ground above it could handle was a bit tricky given its historical nature.”
Sam and his team advised on reinforcing the crypt’s arched roof. All strengthening works were designed to be easily removable to avoid damaging the original fabric of the crypt. Brass signs have also been embedded in the floor to indicate weight limits and metal studs will be placed around the crypt as a precautionary measure, ensuring that no heavy vehicles, machinery or other heavy loads are situated above the area.
Despite the excitement, the crypt’s purpose, its inhabitants, and its historical significance remain a mystery. Neither the Church records nor hospital archives shed any light on its existence.
As St. Bartholomew’s Hospital prepared for their royal visit, the reinforcement and landscaping works were paused only a short while whilst this unexpected discovery was managed.
Passersby on the street had the opportunity to catch glimpses of the ongoing excavation, drawing curious onlookers and infusing an air of excitement into the hospital’s surroundings. Despite the unexpected discovery, the works were finished in time for the Royal visit which was part of the hospital’s 900th anniversary celebrations.
The mystery of the St. Bartholomew’s Hospital burial vault continues.
To find out more about Perega’s work in the historic sector, please click here.