Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Uncovering the Past, Making Sure There's No Cover-up in Present

 ARCHEOLOGICAL excavations due to start soon at Liverpool Street, in London's central business district, will uncover the bones of many poor, forgotten Londoners, buried in part of the 16th -17th century Bedlam cemetery.  

Among them they could find the remains of Robert Lockyer, a Leveller, one of those who fought in Cromwell's army against the monarchy, only to be suppressed when they spoke out against propertied privilege, and demanded the right to vote for all.  Lockyer, who is thought to have lived on nearby Bishopsgate, was elected as an 'Agitator' by the soldiers, but executed by firing squad in April 1649. 

Though the killing was in St.Paul's cathedral churchyard, his bullet-ridden corpse was thrown into a grave in the Bedlam cemetery.  But if the aim had been to crush the Leveller's movement before it gained sympathy among working people in London, it was not entirely successful. Some 4000 people, many wearing Leveller green ribbons, attended Lockyer's funeral at Bedlam.

The cemetery was eventually closed, and in the 18th century it was built over, then in 1829, working-class housing was cleared to make way for Liverpool Street railway station.  In recent times new office building spreading north and east of Liverpool Street has expanded the business area, and raised "market values" of property in adjoining areas, increasing pressure on working-class people to make way for the more affluent and fashionable.

Only now, the story and remains of much earlier generations' hardships and struggles are getting attention.  This bit of history is being brought to light by the Crossrail project.  
The site at Liverpool Street has to be excavated for the construction of  the eastern entrance  of the new east-west London railway, Crossrail’s station complex there.

As well as the possibility that Lockyer's grave might be rediscovered, archaeologists are also hoping that they may find another important Leveller grave – that of John Lilburne, the movement’s most prominent leader. Dying of natural causes at the age of 43, he was buried there in 1657. Known as ‘Freeborn John’, Lilburne had been flogged, pilloried, gagged and imprisoned as a threat to King Charles I. The Cromwellian authorities had him arrested for high treason, and later  exiled and then imprisoned.  He was on parole from his last prison sentence when he died.

A different kind of  investigation will open on Monday, February 23, charged with uncovering the facts about a more recent death.  Rene Tkacik, 43, was fatally injured on March 7 last year, when he was hit by a section of freshly applied Shotcrete. This is the technique of firing concrete mix through hoses at high velocity, so that it hardens on impact on a surface or around reinforcing rods. 

Recalling that electrician Frank Morris was sacked from Crossrail after raising safety concerns, and only  reinstated after a year long campaign (Frank has since been elected to the Unite union executive), London Hazards Centre says there has been much concern over Crossrail safety, including the use of shotcrete. Following Rene Tkacic's death a whistleblower compiled a list of accidents and near misses, including workers injured by falling concrete. He said that having approached contractors BBMV and Crossrail seeking assurances that steps be taken to avoid any further injuries and deaths, they failed to action his concerns. He also notified the Health and Safety Executive.

Last year two enquiries were called.

On Monday, an inquest on Rene's death will commence, at St.Pancras Coroners' Court. The Hazards Centre and the  Construction Safety Campaign have asked people to gather at 9.15 am  for a silent vigil outside the court.  

For more info. on LHC,  shotcrete, and Crossrail, see:

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