The Chinese Government bought the former Royal Mint opposite the Tower of London in 2018 to create a new embassy. The building was constructed in 1809, and was built on top of an old Cistercian abbey called St Mary Graces, which housed thousands of Brits who died from the bubonic plague. The Black Death killed up to 200 million people worldwide, and killed 30 percent to 50 percent on Londoners after arriving around June 1348.
Tower Hamlets councillors have warned China’s plans will include building secure basements and underground meeting rooms.
Because of the mass grave underneath the former Royal Mint, the councillors are afraid constructing the embassy will disrupt the abbey and the bodies.
Peter Golds, Conservative councillor for Island Gardens ward, said the Royal Mint grave sit “is a site of major historical importance” and should not be disrupted.
He added: “My concern is that across this site will be foundations and artefacts… and the burial sites of victims of the Black Death.”
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Cllr Golds also called on Government body Historic England to carry out a full survey of the site .
He added: “This is a site of major historical importance as well as the last resting place of hundreds if not thousands of Londoners whose lives were lost in a great pandemic.
“The embassy itself will require extensive building. It will, as do all embassies, have deep and secure cellars. My concern is that across this site will be foundations and potentially artefacts of the last Cistercian monastery to have been established in England. (…)
“I hope that a survey and investigation is undertaken to see if any of the proposed developments impede on the excavated burial sites. If so, steps should be taken to remove remains with care and dignity.”
Historic England has already stressed the archaeology at the site is “hugely important” with “layers of history”.
A spokeswoman for the Government body said: “We are in contact with the prospective applicants, and have emphasised the importance of preserving the intact abbey remains, identifying and tightly limiting any impacts to the surviving mediaeval burials, and undertaking thorough archaeological investigation and recording.
“The proposals for the site are at pre-application stage, and we will continue to advise on the impact on key historic elements both above and below ground as the plans for a new embassy develop, to minimise harm and maximise understanding of the site’s rich history.”
A recent review of the borough place the abbey into Tier 1 classification, the same impotence as the opposing Tower of London/
The former Royal Mint itself is listed at Grade II, along with other buildings built over time.
Consultation over China’s proposals to build their largest British embassy began in November, sparking a row with Tower Hamlets councillors and Chinese ambassadors.
Cllr Golds and Liberal Democrat Cllr Rabina Khan wrote to borough Mayor John Biggs to ask the council to publicly raise opposition of Muslim prisoners with the UK and Chinese Governments, referencing the treatment of Uighur Muslim’s in Xinjiang.
Liu Xiaoming, Chinese ambassador to Britain, also wrote to Mayor Biggs warning councillors are “attempting to disrupt” the new embassy.
Mayor Biggs said amid the row at the time: “We are an open and tolerant place here in the East End. And we want to be good partners and support good relationships.
“But I and many in our community are very concerned about China’s human rights record on a number of issues, and currently in particular the appalling treatment of the largely Muslim Uighurs.”