CASE STUDY: MOLA – Archaeology and Social History

MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) excavated the site of the Boar’s Head, a Jacobean playhouse located in Aldgate, London, on behalf of Unite Students. Unearthing the remains of this early performance site not only teaches us more about the evolution of theatre in the UK, but it also contributes to placemaking and rekindles our connection to women and their significant roles in London’s past.

Three women take the lead at the Boar’s Head. Jane Poley, an adept businesswoman, owned and ran the Boar’s Head, a playhouse and inn, at various times from 1558 until her death in 1601. It was on this stage that actors under the patronage of Queen Anne of Denmark performed. It was the Queen’s men who hired Mary Phillips to keep the gallery doors – preventing people sneaking in without paying. Mary was one of many women working in playhouses at the time, and we know of her name from her lawsuit against Richard Christofer, who slandered her and women doorkeepers collectively.

In the current development, Unite Students are working with exhibition curator, Jackie Keily, and senior archaeologist, Heather Knight, to incorporate the archaeology and social history of the site to inform its design and exhibitions. As you walk by the student housing, you will see Jane Poley, Queen Anne, and Mary Philips displayed in the windows of the Hayloft Point, the name of the Students development.

Being able to connect visually with the history of the site contributes to its unique character and serves as an inspiration to women by highlighting their roles as leaders in local business and community. Also, a performance space within the development links directly to its playhouse past, further anchoring the development in its historical context and providing a space for current and future community members to gather and create.

In this instance, archaeology is not only part of the pre-mitigation works, but it creates value through and beyond the lifecycle of development. This project illustrates archaeology’s capacity to serve as a reservoir to inspire design and contribute to placemaking, to create a meaningful social legacy for the local community and beyond, and to unearth forgotten pasts that will serve to inspire today’s and future generations.

To find out more, click the link below.

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Museum of London Archaeology

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