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The Royal Hospital Greenwich London

Boston, Ceridwen and Witkin, Annsofie and Boyle, Angela and Wilkinson, David and Allen, Leigh and Brown, Duncan H and Charles, Bethan and Dean, Brian and Lindsay-Gale, Lorraine and Marquez-Grant, Nicholas and Dylewski, Markus and Hemingway, Amy Tiffany and Slater, Georgina (2008) The Royal Hospital Greenwich London. [Client Report]

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Between July 1999 and September 2001, Oxford Archaeology (OA) undertook detailed archaeological works at Devonport Buildings, King William Walk, Greenwich, London, on behalf of Mount Anvil. These works were in advance of redevelopment, which comprised a new Conference Facility, Student Accommodation and an electricity sub-station. The proposed redevelopment lay within an area formerly used as the ratings’ burial ground of the Royal Hospital Greenwich, which originally had contained the remains of an estimated 20,000 retired seamen and marines of the Royal Navy, interred between 1749 and 1856. Most Greenwich pensioners were veterans of Britain’s wars with the Dutch, the Americans, the Spanish, the French Republic and Napoleon. This report includes the results of the desk-based assessment, archaeological evaluation, watching briefs and excavation phases of the project. A total of 107 skeletons were recovered from 55 graves. As may be expected, the majority were older adult males, but a small number of women and adolescents were also present. The assemblage was remarkable for the high prevalence of a wide range of pathological conditions, which clearly illustrated the rigours of life in the Royal Navy at this time, and the advanced age of the assemblage. These included numerous fractures, rickets, tuberculosis, syphilis, scurvy, cancer and a range of non-specific infections. Amputations and craniotomies were also identified. Evidence for wooden coffins and shrouds was recovered from many graves, the former represented by iron coffin fittings and nails. Unfortunately, due to severe iron corrosion, no individuals could be identified from breastplate inscriptions. Small quantities of pottery, ceramic building material, animal bone, glass and clay pipe were recovered from the grave fills but appeared to be residual. In addition to graves, a small number of other features were excavated, including the foundations of a number of brick-built structures, pits and ditches. Most post-dated the use of the cemetery. Although it was not possible to identify individuals, a wide range of documentary sources on the retired seamen and marines from the Royal Hospital Greenwich were consulted. This has greatly aided in the interpretation of the assemblage. From the time of the Napoleonic Wars, interest in Nelson and the Royal Navy has remained intense, and military historians have devoted considerable attention to battle tactics, the structure of the ships of the line, and biographical details of Nelson and other commanders. Interest in the social context of the Royal Navy, in particular the daily life of the ratings or common seamen and marines, is relatively recent and is historical in approach. The skeletal sample of the Greenwich pensioners is unique in being the only large assemblage of Royal Navy veterans to undergo systematic osteological analysis. Coupled with the sheer range of pathological conditions, its uniqueness makes this specialist assemblage one of considerable osteological importance, and one that warrants more research in the future.

Item Type: Client Report
Subjects: Geographical Areas > English Counties > Greater London
Period > UK Periods > Post Medieval 1540 - 1901 AD
Divisions: Oxford Archaeology South > Fieldwork
Depositing User: Scott
Date Deposited: 24 Feb 2015 10:54
Last Modified: 06 Jul 2023 11:57
URI: http://eprints.oxfordarchaeology.com/id/eprint/2454

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