History un-earthed: ancient clay from London Bridge station transformed into art


Major progress was made over Christmas at the site of the new Cambridge North station, which is now 80% complete, to get it ready for its opening in May this year as part of Network Rail’s Railway Upgrade Plan.

A third of a tonne of clay, thought to be 54 million years old, has been un-earthed from beneath London Bridge station and turned into art inspired by the rail network and the station that is used by 54 million passengers each year.

Inspired by the sight of a piling machine digging deep into the foundations of London Bridge, which is currently being redeveloped by the Thameslink Programme, artist Alison Cooke asked Network Rail for a batch of the raw material. Happy to oblige, Network Rail provided a tour of the station construction site and access to the many historical artefacts that have been found during the station’s £1bn redevelopment so far.

The Southwark-based artist shared the clay with seven fellow members of the Associated Clay Workers’ Union (ACWU) to create pieces of contemporary art that reference the railway and the history of London Bridge.

The ceramic works will be displayed at Southwark Cathedral from 9 January until 5 February 2017, creating a window to the past for the railway users of today.

Artist Alison Cooke said, “I was inspired to undertake this project when I went on a residents’ tour of the London Bridge redevelopment site and saw the fresh clay un-earthed for the first time in millions of years. I’m so pleased with the results of the project, the responses are varied and show incredible diversity in ideas and interest in the site and its history.

“Thanks to Network Rail and Costain we have had the opportunity to work with this ancient clay; the resulting works are for London’s commuters, offered as a reminder to the passengers navigating the modernised London Bridge station of the earth and history beneath their feet.”

Simon Blanchflower, Network Rail’s Thameslink programme director, said: “I am delighted to see that not only will the Thameslink Programme bring huge long-term benefits to passengers across the south east through to London and beyond, but that we are also inspiring works of art.

“When the redevelopment of London’s oldest station is complete in 2018, it will allow us to introduce more trains and improve connections; all part of Network Rail’s railway Upgrade Plan. As the station evolves to meet the demands of the future, pieces of art like those in this exhibition allow us to keep a connection with our history.”



The exhibition:

ACWU: The London Bridge Clay Project

9th January – 5th February 2017

Southwark Cathedral (Lancelot’s Link), London Bridge, SE1 9DA

Monday–Friday 9.00am–6.00pm, Saturday–Sunday 10.00am–6.00pm

The featured artists are Stephanie Buttle, Diane Eagles, Duncan Hooson, Matt Raw, Alison Cooke, Amy Leung, Jo Pearl and Diane Eagles.

About Thameslink Programme

The Thameslink Programme is transforming north-south travel through London. When complete in 2018 it will give passengers:

  • New longer and more spacious trains running every 2 to 3 minutes through central London in the peak
  • Improved connections and better options to more destinations on an expanded Thameslink network including Cambridge and Peterborough
  • More robust tracks and state-of-the art signalling and more reliable trains to make journeys more reliable
  • Completely rebuilt stations at Blackfriars and London Bridge

Contact information

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Alexandra Swann
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