An iron stylus bearing an inscription – described as the sort of cheap souvenir you might bring back for a friend after visiting a foreign city – is among thousands of Roman-era artefacts discovered during excavations for Bloomberg’s new European headquarters in Cannon Street. The stylus, which is about the length of a modern pen, dates from about AD70 and was used to write on wax-filled wooden writing tablets. It is inscribed in Latin text which, translated by classicist and epigrapher Dr Roger Tomlin, reads: “I have come from the city. I bring you a welcome gift with a sharp point that you may remember me. I ask, if fortune allowed, that I might be able [to give] as generously as the way is long [and] as my purse is empty”. It is believed the “city” referred to is Rome. The stylus is one of some 14,000 items Museum of London Archaeology archaeologists unearthed on the dig – including 200 styli (although only one bears an inscription) – which took place on what was the bank of the (now lost) Thames tributary, the Walbrook, between 2010 and 2014. It is among items on show in an exhibition now on at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford called Last Supper in Pompeii. Head here for more details. Other finds from the excavations can be seen at the recently opened London Mithraeum Bloomberg SPACE. PICTURE: © MOLA

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Making headlines last month was the discovery – by mudlark Martin Bushell – of a skull fragment found on the south bank of the Thames.  While it was initially reported to the Metropolitan Police, radiocarbon dating soon discovered that the frontal bone (or piece from the top of the skull) was actually likely to be that of a man over the age of 18-years-old who lived in about 3,600 BC in the Neolithic Period. The Museum of London, who now have the fragment on display, state that traces of human activity dating from between 4,000-3,500 BC – mainly in the form of flint tools or weapons and pottery fragments – have been found along the River Thames floodplain. They say that those residing on what would be the site of London lived as semi-nomadic herders who supplemented their food sources by hunting and gathering and some agriculture. With some evidence that Neolithic people viewed the Thames as a sacred river, the remains could belong to that of a man dropped into the river as an offering – but the body may also have been swept down the river when his grave was swamped. The skull fragment is on display in the museum’s ‘London Before London’ gallery. PICTURE: © Museum of London.

WHERE: The Museum of London, 150 London Wall (nearest Tube stations are Barbican and St Paul’s); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

The remains of Captain Matthew Flinders, a Royal Navy explorer who led the first circumnavigation of Australia and is credited with popularising the name the country now bears, have been found by archaeologists working on the HS2 rail project in Euston. While the general area in which he was buried – the former St James’s burial ground – has long been known, archaeologists were able to narrow down the location of his grave among the 40,000 on the site thanks to a lead breast plate placed on top of his coffin upon which, conveniently, his name was written. The HS2 project will see a high speed rail link constructed between London and Birmingham and as part of the preparations for the project, the largest archaeological dig ever to take place in the UK is underway on the site of what will be the London terminus. Flinders was buried in St James’s burial ground in 1814 but when Euston station expanded westward into the burial ground in 1840s, his headstone was removed and the location of his grave thought lost (despite a persistent myth that he was buried under Platform 15). There is already a statue of Captain Flinders at Euston Station – unveiled on the bicentenary of his death in 2014 (originally at Australia House), it depicts both Flinders, busy charting Australia’s coastline, and his cat, Trim. There is now talk of a memorial marking the site of the grave.

An 18th century ice house has been (re)discovered beneath the streets of Marylebone during a residential development project known as Regent’s Crescent. The subterranean red brick ice house – which measures 7.5 metres wide and 9.5 metres deep and was built in the 1780s – was used by pioneering ice-merchant William Leftwich during the 1820s to bring high quality ice to wealthy households and service the trend to serve frozen treats to guests as well as supply increasing demand from food retailers and medical institutions. Leftwich, seeing a niche for clean, quality ice (ice sourced from local canals and lakes during winter was often dirty), shipped ice collected in Norway’s frozen lakes and then transported it into London via Regent’s Canal. Now listed as a scheduled monument by Historic England, the egg-shaped ice house was rediscovered by MOLA archaeologists who were working on the site on behalf of property developer Great Marlborough Estates. It will now be incorporated into the gardens of Regent’s Crescent which have been newly designed by Kim Wilkie as part of the £500 million development project. The Grade I-listed crescent was originally designed by John Nash (of Buckingham Palace and Brighton Pavilion fame) and built in 1819. The houses were destroyed during the Blitz and replica properties were built in the 1960s. But the ice house, an entrance tunnel and ante-chamber all survived the bombing and remain in what MOLA has called “excellent condition”. It is anticipated that the ice house chamber will be open to public viewing via a special corridor during archaeological and architectural festivals.

PICTURES: Top – Buildings archaeologists from MOLA record the interior of the ice house/A MOLA archaeologist brushes the near perfect exterior of the ice house exposed during excavation in 2015 (Images© MOLA).

Video games – their design and use both in terms of gaming but also in pushing boundaries – are the subject of a new exhibition opening at the V&A this Saturday. Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt will provide rare glimpses into the creative process behind games like The Last of Us, Journey and Kentucky Route Zero through original prototypes, early character designs and notebooks as well as cultural inspirational material ranging from a Magritte painting to a viral cat video. The display also features large scale, interactive and immersive multimedia installations featuring games like Minecraft and League of Legends, and explore how major technological advancements have transformed the way games are designed, discussed and played. Runs in Room 39 and North Court until 24th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see vam.ac.uk/videogames. PICTURE: V&A.

The Natural History Museum is celebrating Roald Dahl Day (13th September) with a James and the Giant Peach weekend. The South Kensington museum will this weekend offer a range of James and the Giant Peach-inspired family-friendly events and activities including the chance to see insects up close in the Darwin Centre and the Wildlife Garden as well as specimens in the Attenborough Studio. There’s also the chance to take in a ‘Whizzbanging Words’ session with a team from the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, and music from the three-piece band, Roald Dahl’s Giant Bugs. Runs from 11am to 4.50pm on Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free (but some events are ticketed – check website for details). For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk/events/james-and-the-giant-weekend.html

An exhibition revealing some of the historical artefacts found by some of London’s most prolific Mudlarks along the banks of the River Thames opens on Tuesday as part of Totally Thames. Hannah Smiles has been taking the pictures over the past year and they capture everything from Tudor-era pins to World War II shells, medieval pottery, human teeth and even messages in bottles. The photographs and artefacts themselves both form part of the display. A series of talks by Mudlarks accompanies the free display. It can be viewed at the Art Hub Studios, 5-9 Creekside, in Deptford until 16th September. For more information, head to www.totallythames.org.

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Little remains of this priory which once stood on the banks of the River Wandle in Surrey (and is now encompassed in Greater London).

The priory, which was founded as an Augustinian house in the early 12th century, rose to become one of the most influential in all of southern Britain.

The institution was created thanks to Gilbert, the Sheriff of Surrey, Huntington and Cambridge, who was granted the village of Merton by King Henry I. Gilbert came to live in Merton and there established a priory, building a church and small huts on land thought to be located just to the west of where the priory was later located.

Gilbert had been impressed with what he’d seen of the Augustinians, also known as the Austin friars, at Huntington and so gave control of the new church to their sub-prior, Robert Bayle, along with the land and a mill.

It was based on Bayle’s advice that the site of the priory was then moved to its second location and a new, larger wooden chapel built with William Gifford, Bishop of Winchester, coming to bless the cemetery. The canons – there were now 17 – moved in on 3rd May, 1117.

Among the high profile people to visit the new priory was Queen Matilda, who brought her son William with her. In the early 1100s, a certain Thomas Becket (later the ill-fated Archbishop of Canterbury) received an education here as did Nicolas Breakspeare (later the first English Pope, Adrian IV).

The priory expanded considerably over the next century and in 1217 its chapter house was the location of a peace conference between King Henry III and Louis, the Dauphin of France. The Statutes of Merton – a series of legal codes relating to wills – were formulated here in 1236.

The connection with royalty continued – in the mid-1340s, King Edward III is thought to have passed the Feast of the Epiphany here while King Henry VI apparently had a crowning ceremony here – the first outside of Westminster Abbey for more than 300 years – in 1437.

The priory remained in use until the Dissolution of King Henry VIII. The demolition of the buildings apparently started even before the priory had been formally surrendered to the commissioners – stones from its building was used in the construction of Henry’s new palace – Nonsuch – as well as, later, in the construction of local buildings.

The site came to be referred to as ‘Merton Abbey’ and, passing through various hands, was used to garrison Parliamentarian troops during the Civil War. It later became a manufacturing facility, works for the dying and printing of textiles, one of which became the workshops of William Morris.

Some of the priory buildings survived for some years after but the only remains now left as sections of the perimeter wall (the arch which now stands over the entrance to Merton parish church is reconstructed – there’s another ornamental gateway in the outer court wall which was also replaced with a replica in the 1980s).

The foundations of the unusually large chapter house, meanwhile, have been excavated and are now preserved in a specially constructed enclosure under a roadway. Construction is now underway to build better public access to the remains.

PICTURE: A ceiling boss from Merton Priory which still bears traces of its original red paint and guilding. It was found during excavations at Nonsuch Palace in 1959-60 is now on display in the Museum of London. Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) (licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0).

A Tudor-era bowling ball, Roman iron horse shoes and late 19th century ginger jars are among hundreds of historic objects unearthed during the Crossrail construction project to go on show at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Tunnel: the archaeology of Crossrail presents highlights from among the more than 10,000 objects which have been discovered during the project, the largest infrastructure project currently underway in Europe, since it kicked off in 2009. The finds, which span 8,000 years of human history, also include prehistoric flints found at North Woolwich, medieval animal bone skates and human remains found in the former 17th century Bedlam cemetery. The objects, which can be seen until 3rd September, are displayed in accordance to where along the new Elizabeth line they were found. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

bolshevik This year is centenary of the Russian Revolution and to mark the occasion, the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly is hosting a landmark exhibition on Russian art which takes in the period between 1917 – the year of the October Revolution – and 1932 when Josef Stalin began his violent suppression of the avant-garde. Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 features the works of the likes of avant-garde artists Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, and Kazimir Malevich and social realists like Isaac Brodsky and Alexander Deineka. More than 200 works are on show including loans from the State Russian Museum of St Petersburg and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, many of which have never been seen in the UK before. Highlights include Chagall’s Promenade (1917-18), Kandinsky’s Blue Crest (1917) and Malevich’s Peasants (c. 1930). Alongside the paintings, the display features photography, sculpture, film, posters and porcelain. Admission charge applies. Runs until 17th April. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Boris Mikailovich Kustodiev, ‘Bolshevik’ (1920) © State Tretyakov Gallery.

More than 100 robots are on display at the Science Museum in South Kensington as part of a new exhibition spanning 500 years of robotic history. Robots, which explores how robots have been shaped by religious belief, the industrial revolution, 20th century popular culture and dreams of the future, features everything from a 16th century mechanical monk to a 2.4 metre tall robot named Cygan dating from the 1950s, and one of the first walking bipedal robots. Visitors will be able to interact with 12 working robots and go behind the scenes to see recent developments in robotic research as well as speculate on what robots of the future might be like. Admission charge applies. Runs until 3rd September. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/robots.

A major exhibition celebrating the work of early 20th century UK modern artist Vanessa Bell – a central figure in the so-called ‘Bloomsbury Group’ – has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south this week. About 100 oil paintings as well as ceramics, fabrics, works on paper, photographs and related archival material are featured in the exhibition with the works arranged thematically so as to reveal Bell’s “fluid movement” between the fine and applied arts and focusing particular attention on her most distinctive period of experimentation from 1910 onwards. Vanessa Bell, which runs until 4th June, is presented alongside a photography display which brings together Bell’s photographic work with that of American musician, writer and artist Patti Smith. Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith features 17 photographs by Smith – who has long found inspiration in the work and lives of the Bloomsbury Group – and a selection of Bell’s photo albums. Both can be seen until 4th June. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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roman-gardening-toolsRoman tools and other artefacts from the era including a stamp for metal ingots and pottery are among objects found in London’s ‘lost’ Walbrook Valley which have gone on display at the Museum of London. Working the Walbrook features objects excavated during the past 170 years of digs around the watercourse which once cut the city in half, running from Finsbury Circus to Cannon Street. Created as part of a PhD project being supervised by the Museum of London and the University of Reading, the objects on show include an iron stamp dating from the Roman period inscribed with the letters MPBR (understood to be an abbreviation for ‘Metal Provinciae Britanniae’ – “the mines of the province of Britannia”) which is believed to have been used by officials to stamp metal ingots passing through London on their way to the Continent. Other items include Roman farming and gardening tools, and a pot decorated with a smith’s hammer, anvil and tongs which was found at the bottom of a well in Southwark and which may have been linked to worship of the god Vulcan. The free display is on show until March. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk. PICTURE: Gardening tools from Roman London. A pruning hook, bailing fork and shears © Museum of London

• A series of prints by Pablo Picasso spanning the period from the late 1940s to the late 1950s form the heart of a new exhibition at the British Museum in Bloomsbury. The prints, which include 16 lithograph prints and three aquatint prints, were recently acquired by the museum in what represents the final part of the museum’s effort to more fully represent the artist’s work as a printmaker. Six of the lithographs were inspired by the beauty of Picasso’s lover Francoise Gilot while others feature Bacchanalian scenes and portraits of German-born dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler. On display from Friday in Gallery 90A, they can be seen in the free exhibition until 3rd March. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

The details of some 160,000 people buried at Highgate Cemetery in north London have been made available online. Deceased Online has announced that all records for the period from May, 1839, to August, 2010 – a total of 159,863 people, are now available, including digital scans of original registers, details of who is buried in each grave and location maps for most graves. Notable people buried at Highgate include author Douglas Adams, philosopher Karl Marx and chemist and physicist Michael Faraday. For more, see www.deceasedonline.com

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roman-mortarium-made-by-albinus The most prized archaeological finds from a 1975 excavation of the General Post Office on Newgate Street, one of the largest archaeological sites ever excavated in London, are on show in a new exhibition at the Museum of London. Delivering the Past, the free display features objects from across a 3,000 year period and include everything from Roman era finds such as a dog skull, a rare amber die, a spoon and mortar with the makers’ names of Albinus, Sollus and Cassarius stamped on the side (pictured) to floor tiles and architectural fragments from the medieval parish church of St Nicholas Shambles. There’s also a 17th century Bellarmine beer bottle (these were widely imported from Germany in the 1600s), the only 19th century twisted clay tobacco pipe ever excavated in London, and a 19th/20th century ceramic fragment showing General Post Office branding. The exhibition runs until 8th January. The museum is also offering free 45 minute walks to notable excavation sites around Newgate Street every weekday until the end of October. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

• Japan’s native flora comes to Kew from this weekend with a new exhibition in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art. Flora Japonica features paintings from 30 of the Asian nation’s best contemporary artists as they attempt to capture the beauty of everything from camellias to cherry trees and the delicate Japanese maple. The watercolours have been produced based specimens collected from across Japan as well as, in a couple of cases, specimens found within Kew Gardens. Also on display are works never before seen outside Japan including historic drawings and paintings by revered botanists and artists such as Dr Tomitaro Makino (1863-1957), Sessai Hattori and Chikusai Kato (both Edo period artists), artefacts from Kew’s Economic Botany Collection including traditional Japanese lacquerware collected in the 1880s and wooden panels from 1874, and  illustrations from Kew’s collections such as a 17th century illustrated manual of medicinal plants. Runs from Saturday until 5th March after which the exhibition will move to Japan. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

An English Heritage blue plaque honouring late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury was unveiled at his childhood home in Feltham, in London’s west, earlier this month. Mercury’s parents bought the house in Gladstone Avenue in 1964 after the family had left Zanzibar for the UK. He was still living in the home when he met Queen band mates Brian May and Roger Taylor. The new plaque was revealed on 1st September, on what would have been the singer’s 70th birthday.  For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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Plague-Pit---Crossrail

Thirty skeletons found in a mass burial – the latest archaeological find at Crossrail’s Liverpool Street site – are believed to have been victims of the Great Plague of 1665. Made during the excavation of the former Bedlam burial ground in order to make way for a new eastern entrance to the station, the discovery comes during the 350th anniversary year of the Great Plague. Jay Carver, the lead archaeologist for Crossrail, said the mass burial – with the bodies placed in now long gone wooden coffins – was unlike other individual burials found in the cemetery and thus “is likely a reaction to a catastrophic event”. “Only closer analysis will tell if this is a plague pit from the Great Plague of 1665 but we hope this gruesome but exciting find will tell us more about one of London’s notorious killers.” Clues which suggest that may be the case include a headstone found nearby marked “1665” and the fact that the 30 people all seem to have been buried on the same day. Museum of London Archaeology osteologists will now analyse the skeletons to find out the cause of death. Archaeologists have excavated more than 3,500 skeletons from the site since excavation of the burial ground – used between 1569 to at least 1738 – began earlier this year. It suggested 30,000 Londoners were buried there during that period. For more on the the Great Plague, see our earlier post herePICTURE: © Crossrail Ltd.