Unearthing 10,000 years of British history: London’s earliest settlers, the body of a bare-knuckle fighter who trained Lord Byron and a WW2 bombing decoy are revealed in ‘once-in-a-generation’ HS2 dig
- A graveyard next to London Euston – which will be the hub of the new high-speed line – is being excavated
- Bill ‘The Terror’ Richmond, who escaped slavery and won the favour of King George IV, is buried at the ground
- Archaeologists have already found a hunter-gatherer site, Neolithic tools, and medieval pottery on the route
The body of a bare-knuckle fighter who escaped slavery in America and went on to spar with Lord Byron could be unearthed as archaeologists dig up 10,000 years of British history along the line of HS2.
Researchers will dig up a graveyard next to London Euston station where Bill ‘The Terror’ Richmond, a fighter who also earned the favour of King George IV, was buried.
Neolithic tools, medieval pottery and Victorian time capsules have already been discovered in the early stages of the dig which organisers say is a ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity to explore British history.
A hunter-gatherer site on the outskirts of London, a Roman British town near Aylesbury and a World War II bombing decoy in Lichfield are among the historic sites which fall along the route of the new high speed line.
Archaeologists excavating a burial at Park Street, Birmingham, during what has been described as a ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity to uncover British history by digging along the route of the high speed line
WHO WAS BILL ‘THE TERROR’ RICHMOND?
Bill Richmond was born in slavery in 1763 in Staten Island, New York, then under British colonial rule.
The area was seized by forces loyal to King George III during the American Revolutionary War.
Lord Percy – who had commanded the British troops – witnessed Richmond in tavern brawls against British soldiers.
Archaeologists will also dig up a graveyard next to London Euston station where Bill ‘The Terror Richmond’ (pictured), a bare-knuckle fighter who taught Lord Byron, was buried
Percy brought Richmond back to Britain in 1777 where he started to fight more regularly.
He fought British champion Tom Cribb in 1805, losing after 76 rounds.
While in London he earned the favour of Lord Byron who asked Richmond to train him.
He was also acquainted with King George IV and attended his coronation in 1821.
He died in December 1829.
A burial ground next to Euston station – which will be the London hub of the new high-speed railway – is being dug up as part of the renovation of the terminus.
Some 60,000 people were buried at the St James’s Gardens site between 1788 and 1853.
They included Captain Matthew Flinders who led the first circumnavigation of the continent of Australia and is credited with naming it.
Bill ‘The Terror’ Richmond – an American bare-knuckle fighter who was born a slave but came to London where he taught Lord Byron to spar – was also buried at the Camden graveyard.
Richmond was born a slave in New York but escaped during the Revolutionary War when loyalist forces seized Staten Island in 1776.
King George IV was also among his admirers in Britain and Richmond attended his coronation in 1821.
In total, more than a thousand archaeologists are set to explore more than 60 separate sites over the next two years, from prehistoric and Roman settlements to those from the Industrial Revolution and the 20th century.
The work has already revealed prehistoric flint tools which were made thousands of years ago in what is now the London borough of Hillingdon.
The tools found in the Colne Valley are believed to date from early settlers who lived in the Mesolithic to the Iron Age between around 8,000 BC and AD 43.
In more recent history two Victorian time capsules buried nearly 140 years ago were discovered last year.
They were buried to mark the opening of the UK’s first ‘sober’ hospital, the now-derelict National Temperance Hospital in London.
During the dig along the route researchers will excavate a Romano-British town in Fleet Marston, Aylesbury, and uncover the remains of a medieval manor in Warwickshire.
A thousand-year-old demolished Anglo-Saxon church and burial ground will offer historians the chance to re-tell the story of a Buckinghamshire village.
Archaeologists also hope to out more about the Black Death – which devastated Europe’s population in the 1340s – and its impact on medieval villages.
The time capsules were buried to mark the opening of the UK’s first ‘sober’ hospital, the now-derelict National Temperance Hospital in London. Workers on the site are pictured lifting the hospital’s foundation stone during excavation work last year
Earth being sifted for artefacts in Buckinghamshire ahead of the construction of HS2, during what has been described as a ‘once-in-a-generation’ opportunity for archaeologists
A hunter-gatherer site on the outskirts of London , a Roman British town near Aylesbury and a World War II bombing decoy in Lichfield are among the historic sites which fall along the route
Prehistoric flints discovered during archaeological excavation. The tools found in the Colne Valley are believed to date from early settlers who lived in the Mesolithic to the Iron Age between around 8,000 BC and AD 43
Ancient skeletons, Neolithic tools, medieval pottery and Victorian time capsules have already been discovered during early digs
A four-part documentary on the history of Britain that is exposed by the project will air on the BBC next year or in 2020.
Duncan Wilson, chief executive of government heritage body Historic England, said it was a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity’.
The dig could increase our understanding of ‘how people have shaped England’s landscapes over thousands of years, from the first prehistoric farmers through Roman and Saxon and Viking incomers to the more recent past,’ he said.
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Mark Thurston, HS2 chief executive, said: ‘Before we bore the tunnels, lay the tracks and build the stations, an unprecedented amount of archaeological research is now taking place between London and Birmingham.
‘This is the largest archaeological exploration ever in Britain, employing a record number of skilled archaeologists and heritage specialists from across the UK and beyond.’
The dig is getting underway ahead of the construction of the high-speed railway, which will first link London and Birmingham and then be extended further north.
In 2017, two Victorian time capsules buried nearly 140 years ago, to mark the opening of the UK’s first ‘sober’ hospital, were uncovered during the demolition of the derelict National Temperance Hospital in London
Prehistoric flints discovered in what is now the London borough of Hillingdon are among the archaeological finds on the HS2 dig. The tools found in the Colne Valley are believed to date from early settlers who lived in the Mesolithic to the Iron Age
Medieval pottery which has been discovered in Buckinghamshire ahead of the construction of HS2. In total, more than a thousand archaeologists are set to explore more than 60 separate sites over the next two years
WHAT IS HS2 AND HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
HS2 (High Speed 2) is a plan to construct a a new high-speed rail linking London, West Midlands, Leeds and Manchester.
The line is to be built in a ‘Y’ configuration. London will be on the bottom of the ‘Y’, Birmingham at the centre, Leeds at the top right and Manchester at the top left.
Work on Phase One began in 2017 and the government plans envisage the line being operational by 2026.
The HS2 project is being developed by High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd.
The project has a projected cost of £56 billion ($77 billion), up from the initial cost of £32.7 billion ($45 billion) in 2010.
Last year’s annual report showed that the company established by the government to build the railway spent £500 million in the year to March 31 – up almost 30 per cent from £352.9 million the year before.
It takes the total amount spent by HS2 so far to more than £1.9billion since 2009.
Separate accounts published by the Department for Transport also showed it had spent another £366 million on HS2.
The bulk of this was on compensating individuals and businesses who own property and land near the planned line.
Euston station is being revamped with 10 new platforms to house the high-speed trains.
A new station will also be built at Old Oak Common in north-west London, which will link the line to Heathrow Airport via Crossrail.
In Birmingham there will be two new stations – Birmingham Interchange, close to the city’s airport and the M42, and Birmingham Curzon Street in the city centre.
The project has a projected cost of £56 billion ($77 billion), revised up from the initial cost of £32.7 billion ($45 billion) in 2010.
The new high-speed lines will also link to existing routes where ‘classic-compatible’ trains will continue further north, cutting journey times from London to Newcastle and Scotland.
There were initial plans to link the line to the Continent with a branch to High Speed 1 – which connects London to the Channel Tunnel – but that proposal was later dropped.
The first trains are scheduled to run between London and Birmingham in 2026.
The new high-speed rail route is expected to link London to Birmingham by 2026 before the route is extended further north to Manchester and Leeds. There were initial plans to link the line to the Continent but that proposal was later dropped
An artist’s impression of the new Euston station which will have 10 high-speed platforms. A burial ground next to Euston – which will be the London hub of the new high-speed railway – is being dug up as part of the renovation of the terminus
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE STONE AGE?
The stone age is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools that covers more than 95 per cent of human technological prehistory.
It begins with the earliest known use of stone tools by hominins, ancient ancestors to humans, during the Old Stone Age – beginning around 3.3 million years ago.
Between roughly 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, the pace of innovation in stone technology began to accelerate very slightly, a period known as the Middle Stone Age.
By the beginning of this time, handaxes were made with exquisite craftsmanship. This eventually gave way to smaller, more diverse toolkits, with an emphasis on flake tools rather than larger core tools.
The stone age is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools that covers more than 95 per cent of human technological prehistory. This image shows neolithic jadeitite axes from the Museum of Toulouse
These toolkits were established by at least 285,000 years in some parts of Africa, and by 250,000 to 200,000 years in Europe and parts of western Asia. These toolkits last until at least 50,000 to 28,000 years ago.
During the Later Stone Age the pace of innovations rose and the level of craftsmanship increased.
Groups of Homo sapiens experimented with diverse raw materials, including bone, ivory, and antler, as well as stone.
The period, between 50,000 and 39,000 years ago, is also associated with the advent of modern human behaviour in Africa.
Different groups sought their own distinct cultural identity and adopted their own ways of making things.
Later Stone Age peoples and their technologies spread out of Africa over the next several thousand years.
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