During surveys to prepare for the restoration of the Palace of Westminster, a 200-year old carved bone in the shape of a fish was discovered.

The fish, a gaming counter possibly used in 18th Century card games, was found by Roland Tillyer, Senior Geoarchaeologist at Museum of London Archaeology whilst monitoring the digging of a borehole deep in the earth under the House of Lords’ Royal Court.

Michael Marshall, MOLA Finds Team Leader said: “This carved bone fish is a gaming counter. Counters like this were commonly used at gaming tables in Britain during the 18th and 19th century and were used as tokens for scoring.

(c) MOLA

“A famous literary description of this practice comes from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (published in 1813) where Lydia Bennet is described as winning and losing fish while playing games of ‘lottery tickets”.

Since survey work started in July 2022, over 7,500 hours of specialist intrusive and disruptive surveying work has been completed. This work, in addition to the tens of thousands of hours of planning and visual inspection research completed since 2018 will inform decisions about the restoration of the historic Palace of Westminster.

Other discoveries found during the works included identifying the position of hidden voids that were built as ventilation shafts in the original design, condition of critical utilities, sampling of building materials, heating, cooling, and mechanical and electrical systems that have reached the end of their lifespan.

The find follows the possible discovery of a section of the original medieval Thames River wall in November 2022, that is believed to run underneath the length of the Houses of Parliament.

David Goldstone, CEO of the Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Delivery Authority, said: “We’ll take the important data from this extensive research to inform our future restoration plans for the building, ensuring that we tackle critical issues and preserve and protect the building and the thousands of staff and visitors that use the building every day.”


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