Chiz Harward, Nick Holder, Christopher Phillpotts, and Christopher Thomas
Museum of London Archaeology, £32
Review Sheila Sweetinburgh
This detailed analysis of one of the most important Augustinian priories with its associated hospital in medieval England is the product of an extremely large and long-running archaeological excavation in the Spitalfields area. The book is well organised and beautifully illustrated with a host of colour photographs and line-drawings, accompanied by extremely helpful tables and graphs. Following the introductory chapter, the next two sections provide a chronological, ten-phase analysis of the archaeological findings and their relationship to the development of the site from the pre-hospital cemetery to the dissolution of the priory in 1539. The specialist reports are well laid-out in chapter five, and the level of finds is truly staggering.
However, what marks this book out as especially valuable is chapter four. By bringing together a series of thematic essays that explore the development of the priory and hospital over their entire history, it is possible to understand more about such issues as food and drink, water, and sewerage provisions, as well as the availability and use of medical
treatments. Furthermore, the excavations of one of the largest cemeteries in London has provided a nationally important dataset that offers ideas on numerous aspects of life and death in London and, by extension, England in the Middle Ages. The analysis throughout this section is extremely detailed, with numerous tables, graphs, and plans of the various cemeteries by period, giving fascinating insights into such matters as demography, disease, and nutrition, as well as evidence of the variety of burial practices followed over time and for different groups in society.
There is also a useful extensive bibliography. However, considering that St John’s Hospital at Canterbury is used as a comparative institution on several occasions, it is surprising that the authors did not refer to the work on that hospital and the associated Augustinian priory by Canterbury Archaeological Trust. Overall, this is an extremely important book that will be of great benefit to archaeologists and historians alike.