The Chinese government bought the former royal mint against the Tower of London in 2018 to set up a new embassy. Built in 1809, the building was erected on top of an ancient Cistercian monastery called St Mary Graces, which housed thousands of Britons who died from the bubonic plague. The Black Death killed up to 200 million people worldwide, and killed 30 percent to 50 percent of London’s population after arriving around June 1348.
Tower Hamlets council members have warned that China’s plans will include building safe basements and underground conference rooms.
Because of the mass grave under the former royal mint, council members fear that the construction of the embassy will disrupt the monastery and the bodies.
Peter Golds, a member of the Board of Governors of Island Gardens Ward, said the cemetery of the Royal Mint “is a site of major historical importance” and should not be disrupted.
He added, “What worries me is that there are foundations, artifacts across this site … and burial sites for the Black Death victims.”
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Cllr Golds has also called on the England Historical Government Authority to conduct a full site survey.
“This is a site of great historical importance and also the last resting place for hundreds, if not thousands, of Londoners who lost their lives in a major pandemic,” he added.
“The embassy itself will require extensive construction. It will have, as with all embassies, deep and secure basements. What worries me is that across this site there will be foundations and possibly artifacts of the last Cistercian monastery to be built in England. (… )
I hope that a survey and investigation will be conducted to see if any of the proposed developments are impeding excavated burial sites. If this is the case, then steps must be taken to remove the remains with care and dignity. “
Historic England has already stressed that the archeology of the site is “extremely important” with “layers of history”.
A spokeswoman for the government agency said: “We are in contact with potential applicants, and we have emphasized the importance of preserving the remains of the monastery, identifying any traces of the remaining medieval burials and limiting them tightly, and conducting a comprehensive archaeological investigation and recording.
“The proposals for the site are in the pre-implementation stage, and we will continue to provide advice on influencing key historical elements both above and below ground as new embassy plans evolve, to reduce damage and increase the understanding of the site’s rich history.”
A recent review of the town places the monastery in a level 1 rating, the same impotence as the corresponding Tower of London /
The same former royal mint is listed in Class II, along with other buildings that were built over time.
Consultations on China’s proposals to build its largest British embassy began in November, sparking a rift with members of the Tower Hamlets and Chinese ambassadors.
Cllr Golds and liberal Democrat Cllr Rabina Khan have written to Mayor John Biggs to ask the council to raise public opposition of Muslim prisoners with the UK and Chinese governments, referring to the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang.
Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to Britain, also wrote to Mayor Biggs warning council members against “trying to disrupt” the new embassy.
“We are an open and tolerant place here on the East End. We want to be good partners and support good relationships,” Mayor Biggs said amid the disagreement at the time.
“But I and many members of our community are very concerned about the human rights record in China on a number of issues, and at the moment in particular the horrific treatment of the Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslims.”