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The medieval mystery of the man in the mud

A skeleton found buried face-down in the Thames mud, clad in heavy leather boots. How did he get there? What killed him? Who was the booted man? Archaeologists from MOLA Headland give us clues to answer a medieval mystery.

Alwyn Collinson

Digital Editor

12 December 2018

Archaeologists excavating the site of the Thames Tideway Tunnel have made an unusual discovery at Chambers Wharf, Bermondsey, downstream from the Tower of London. Infrastructure archaeologists from MOLA Headland were preparing the ground for Tideway: the London "super sewer", a 25 kilometre tunnel that will funnel away the capital's waste and stop pollution of the river Thames. As with all major construction work in London, archaeologists first examine the site, uncovering relics from two thousand years of the city's history. This time, they found a human skeleton, dating from the late 15th century.

All of the archaeological discoveries from Chambers Wharf, including these human remains, will be deposited at the Museum of London to preserve them for future Londoners. We will almost certainly never know exactly who the booted man was or how he died, but the clues from his body and boots are an invaluable insight into London's history. As Beth Richardson, Finds Specialist at MOLA Headland, has said:

“By studying the boots we’ve been able to gain a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of a man who lived as many as 500 years ago. They have helped us to better understand how he may have made his living in hazardous and difficult conditions, but also how he may have died. It has been a privilege to be able to study something so rare and so personal.”

The boots are a unique find for London and interesting both because they are ‘high’ boots, but also because they are a pair. Medieval footwear is more often found individually rather than in pairs and the only other surviving pair from London is a pair of lower, ankle boots – a far more common style. Many examples of the leather footwear worn by medieval Londoners can be found in our Collections Online.