Archaeology meets Who Do You Think You Are? Linking present day people and archaeological finds from 1820s Spitalfields

By nigel jeffries on 30 Jun 2011

Thanks to my earlier blog about Museum of London Archaeology’s ( research on Regency and Victorian Spitalfields, I had reply from Rick and Roy Glanvill.

We focused on finding the descendents of the people that had occupied the remains of some of the houses we excavated that once stood on Fort, Steward and Duke Street. Rick and his uncle Roy are the descendents of the silk manufacturer James Vernell who lived at 24 Fort Street. During our extensive excavations around the present day market completed a decade ago we uncovered a cesspit that served this property. The cesspit – a brick-lined feature dug in the ground to deposit human waste, rubbish and refuse and covered with a wooden structure called a privy – was filled with large quantities of pipes, glass wine bottles, wine glasses and tumblers, and ceramic dining and tea drinking wares, alongside a host of other bric-a-brac in the mid 1820s. It was clear this happened over a short period of time.

Just some of the boxes of finds found in the cesspit of 24 Fort Street, Spitalfields

A selection of objects laid out from the boxes in the above picture

To understand the lives of the people who lived in these now demolished streets and project this onto the archeological finds, we adopted a genealogical approach to understanding these ‘time capusles’ and linking them to the people responsible with throwing them away.

Through using historical sources spread across a range of London archives, in particular the City of London’s Guildhall Library Archive ( and the London Metropolitan Archive (, we found that James Vernell and his wife Elisabeth Ive Vernell who occupied 24 Fort Street between 1814-25 were therefore the most likely candidates responsible for the rubbish. 24 Fort Street was one of the more expensive and larger properties to rent on the street during this time. James was described as a silk manufacturer, and we found through the 1816 dated trial of William Lee in the Old Bailey criminal court (t18161030-21 that he kept stock and silk samples on the ground floor of this two-storied house and employed a clerk. He issued commissions to the poorer journeymen weavers living to the east of this area, especially Brick Lane and Bethnal Green.

Rick and Roy visited our archaeological archive (the LAARC:, a resource where the finds from all archaeological sites in London are eventually deposited, in order to view the the boxes and boxes of things used by their relations. Both are direct descendents of James’ brother, John Vernell, also a silk manufacturer who lived on neighbouring Steward Street. John and James were highly successful, with James leaving the equivalent of over £800,000 to John upon his death in the 1850s, having spent his last years living in the fashionable Tavistock Square in London’s Bloomsbury.

The pictures below show the results of Rick and Roys recent visit. I feel it is a great example of how detective work across a number of different archives, both archaeological and historical, can be united and bring the past into the present.

Enjoy. P.S you can follow me on Twitter @nigeljeffries

Roy and Ray Glanvill handle their descendent's crockery

Roy and Ray Glanville, with Ray enjoying a pipe...

One thought on “Archaeology meets Who Do You Think You Are? Linking present day people and archaeological finds from 1820s Spitalfields

  1. Jill Browne says:

    I am thrilled and grateful for this work and for the fact you put it online. I’m a descendant of the Vernells (more or less, it’s complicated) and was inspired by them to write a mock historical spoof, as well as to do more serious digging. I hope I can see these artifacts one day. Thank you so much for doing this work.

    Jill Browne, Calgary, Canada

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