It seems that hundreds of years after they were buried on the grounds of the notorious Bedlam Mental Asylum, the bones of the dead are finally being unearthed at the site of the new Liverpool Street Station extension. But it seems that the bones of the famous ghost of the underground station is unlikely to be among them.
Bethlem Royal Hospital has occupied three sites since its founding and was originally the site of a priory as early as 1247 and as a hospital since 1330. The original site, near Bishopsgate, was just outside the walls of the City of London before it moved to Moorfields near the Moorgate in the 17th century and then to St George’s Fields in Southwark in the 19th century. It finally moved to its current location at Monks Orchard in 1930.
By the 1400s, most of the patients in the hospital were ‘lunatics’ which were people who had conditions such as epilepsy, learning disabilities and dementia. Inmates were manacled and chained inside the single story building and even had visitors – Londoners who paid a penny to stare at them. Treatments included restraints, being doused with water, isolation and being beaten.
The spot started out as the hospital’s vegetable patch in the 1560s and as graveyards around the city overflowed, the hospital began to use the site to bury the poor and non-conformists along with inmates. It is believed there could have been as many as 20,000 people buried there originally.
A team of more than 100 archaeologists are working across the 40 sites that are part of the Crossrail extension, working to discover as much as they can about the skeletons but the work is difficult as even if the bodies were in coffins, the nameplates are unreadable.
The team are also working to understand what the people died from, some of who were children. Evidence include deaths from rickets and late-stage syphilis.
Ghost of Liverpool Street
However, it seems from his appearance, the ghost of Liverpool Street Station will not be among the bodies uncovered during the dig. It seems unlikely that any of the residents of the hospital would have been dressed in white overalls.
In the summer of 2000, a Line Controller was monitoring the 24-hour CCTV cameras that cover the whole of the station when he noticed a man in white overalls standing at the entrance of the Central Line’s eastbound tunnel. It was 2am and the station was closed for the night so there should have been no one there. The Controller rang the Station Supervisor, who had worked on the underground for 23 years, and asked him to see what the contractor was doing.
He went to the tunnel but could find no trace of the man. Using the phone at the bottom of the escalator, he called the controller to say the man had vanished. The Controller was mystified because he could see the man in the overalls standing beside the Supervisor on the monitors.
The Supervisor assured him no one else was present and a check was conducted to see if some sort of fault had developed on the CCTV but nothing could be found. The Supervisor conducted another search but still couldn’t see the man. A second call resulted in the same conversion – the Controller could see the man within touching distance of his colleague.
The search was eventually called off and as the Supervisor left the platform, he noticed that there was a pair of white overalls on the bench near where he had been standing.