Lying beneath a glass pavement close to Spitalfields Market is a charnel house, an amazing reminder of the area’s medieval past. It’s located in a sunken courtyard accessed by steps and is only occasionally open to the public.
The charnel house was a repository or storeroom for human bones that had been removed from the adjacent cemetery to enable further burials. For those of you with a squeamish nature you will be pleased to know that the human remains have been removed.
Drawing of Priory and Hospital of St Mary Spital - The Charnel House is the small building on the front left handside
It formed part of the Augustinian Priory and Hospital of St Mary without Bishopsgate, known as St Mary Spital, which lay just outside the City of London. The hospital was founded in 1197 and was one of a number of medical institutions in medieval London that looked after the sick and the poor.
The charnel house dedicated to St Mary Magdalene and St Edmund the Bishop dates from the early 1300s. It was originally built as a chapel crypt within the priory’s cemetery and was in use until the dissolution of the monasteries when the hospital closed in 1539. It was then converted into a family home until it was demolished in the 1700s.
The building consisted of two floors, above was a chapel were services were held for the deceased whose bones were stored in a vaulted crypt below. The charnel house was discovered in 1999 and today visitors can view a large vaulted chamber and its surviving walls.
Address: Directly in front of One Bishops Square, London, E1 6AD
Nearest Tube Station/ Train Station: Liverpool Street Station. The station is in Travelcard Zone 1. The charnel house is an easy 5 minutes walk from the station.
Opening Hours: Only occasionally open to the public when archaeologists are on site to explain its history.
The author of this blog is a qualified City of London and City of Westminster Tour Guide who leads guided walks combining world famous landmarks with hidden treasures often missed by the crowds.