From the Unusual to the Banal: the Archaeology of Everyday Life in Victorian London


From the Unusual to the Banal: the Archaeology of Everyday Life in Victorian London

Alastair Owens, Nigel Jeffries, Rupert Featherby and Karen Wehner

Museum of London Archaeology, Research Matters, No. 4, May (2010)

Abstract

This Research Matters reports on an innovative collaborative project undertaken by Alastair Owens and Karen Wehner of Queen Mary, University of London and Nigel Jeffries and Rupert Featherby of Museum of London Archaeology. The research was funded by the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council, and involved bringing together documentary historical records with archaeological evidence in order to try to understand everyday life among households in three distinct localities in 19th-century London. The use of archaeological evidence in the analysis of the economic, social and cultural history of Victorian London has been very limited, but it offers the potential for new insights into experiences of metropolitan life. Our project drew upon some of the vast collections of 19th-century archaeological finds that have been curated by the Museum of London at its London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC), exploring assemblages of objects retrieved from excavations in Limehouse in the East End, New Palace Yard in Westminster and Sydenham in South East London.




It deployed an ‘ethnographies of place’ approach (described below) to analyse these objects and related documentary sources in order to address a number of key questions:

• What does archaeological evidence tell us about everyday domestic life in the city?

• How does the material culture of everyday life vary across different localities in the city?

• How does the inclusion of archaeological evidence challenge or necessitate a revision of existing historical understanding of life in Victorian London?

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