10 (lesser known) statues of English monarchs in London…8.  King Alfred the Great…

Long thought to have been London’s oldest public statue (and certainly the oldest of a monarch), this statue of Anglo-Saxon King Alfred the Great stands in a quiet location in Trinity Church Square in Southwark.

The statue prior to conservation work in 2009. PICTURE: Svitapeneela/Wikipedia

The statue – which depicts the bearded king robed and wearing a crown – was believed to have medieval origins with some suggesting it was among those which north face of Westminster Hall since the 14th century and were removed by Sir John Soane in 1825.

But recent conservation work has shown that half of the statue is actually much older. In fact, it’s believed that the lower half of the figure was recycled from a statue dedicated to the Roman goddess Minerva and is typical of the sort of work dating from the mid-second century.

Measurements of the leg of the lower half indicate the older statue stood some three metres in height, according to the Heritage of London Trust. It is made of Bath Stone and was likely carved by a stone worker located on the continent. It probably came from a temple.

The top half, meanwhile is made of Coade stone and, given that wasn’t invented by Eleanor Coade until around 1770, the creation of the statue as it appears today is obviously much later than was originally suspected which may give credence to theory that it was one of a pair – the other representing Edward the Black Prince – made for the garden of Carlton House in the late 18th century.

Putting the two parts of the statue together would have required some specialised skills.

The Grade II-listed statue has stood in the square since at least 1826. Much about who created it still remains a mystery. The fact it incorporates a much older statue means the question of whether it is in fact London’s oldest outdoor public statue remains a matter of some debate.

10 (lesser known) statues of English monarchs in London…1. King Edward VI at St Thomas’…

In honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee, we have a new series looking at 10 lesser known statues of previous monarchs in London.

We kick off with not one, but actually two, statues of King Edward VI, the son of King Henry VIII and his third queen, Jane Seymour, can be found at St Thomas Hospital in Southwark.

Both of the statues were commissioned to commemorate the king’s re-founding of the hospital – which had been first founded in the 12th century and had been closed in 1540 as part of the Dissolution – in 1551 and which saw the complete rebuilding of the hospital under the stewardship of the hospital’s President, Sir Robert Clayton.

The 1682 statue. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

The oldest of the statues, now located outside the north entrance to the hospital’s North Wing on Lambeth Palace Road, was designed by Nathaniel Hanwell and carved from Purbeck limestone by Thomas Cartwright in 1682.

Peter Scheemakers’ bronze of King Edward VI. PICTURE: Secretlondon (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

It originally was part of a group – the King standing at the centre holding his raised sceptre surrounded by four figures which were innovative in that they depicted patients of the time – which adorned the gateway to the hospital on Borough High Street.

It was moved when the gate was widened in around 1720 and subsequently occupied several different positions – including spending some time in storage – before eventually, without the surrounding figures, being moved to its current position in 1976. It was designated a Grade II* monument in 1979.

The second of the two statues is a bronze figure in period dress which was created by sculptor Peter Scheemakers in 1737.

It can now be found inside the hospital’s North Wing, having been moved there last century, and like its counterpart, was designated a Grade II* monument in 1979.

The inscription on the front of the plinth describes the King as “a most excellent prince of exemplary piety and wisdom above his years, the glory and ornament of his age and most munificent founder of this hospital” and adds that the statue was erected at the expense of Charles Joye, Treasurer of the hospital.

10 historic stairways in London – 10. Nancy’s Steps…

PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed CC-BY-2.0)

We close our series of historic London stairs with a stairway that has raised its share of controversy in recent years, largely due to the plaques associated with it.

The steps, which are located in Southwark at the southern end of London Bridge and which lead down to Montague Close, are a remnant of the John Rennie-designed London Bridge which was completed in 1831 and which was replaced in the mid-20th century (and which was sold off and relocated to Lake Havasu in the US).

The plaque at the base of the steps. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed CC-BY-2.0)

The controversy arises through the plaques associated with the steps which state that the steps where the scene of the murder of Nancy in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist. There’s a couple of problems with that claim.

The first is that Nancy wasn’t murdered here in the book – it is in their lodgings that Bill Sikes kills Nancy believing she has betrayed him. The confusion probably comes about because the musical Oliver! did set Nancy’s murder on the steps.

The bridge does, however, play a role in the book and have a connection to Nancy and its probably due to this connection that it has its name, Nancy’s Steps.

Because it was on steps located here – “on the Surrey bank, and on the same side of the bridge as Saint Saviour’s Church [now known as Southwark Cathedral]” that Nancy talks to Oliver’s benefactors while Noah Claypole eavesdropped on the conversation (which leads him reporting back to Sikes and eventually to her murder).

The second error made in the plaque is that Rennie’s bridge (and hence the steps) was completed in 1831 and with Oliver Twist published in serial form just a few years later can’t be the “ancient” bridge referred to in the text. The reference can only relate to the medieval bridge which occupied the site for hundreds of years until it was demolished following the completion of Rennie’s bridge.

Treasures of London – Southwark Bridge…

Southwark Bridge lit up to mark its 100th birthday. PICTURE: Courtesy of the City of London Corporation.

Southwark Bridge celebrated its 100th birthday earlier this month so we thought it a good time to have a quick look at the bridge’s history.

The bridge was a replacement for an earlier three-arch iron bridge built by John Rennie which had opened in 1819.

Known by the nickname, the “Iron Bridge”, it was mentioned in Charles Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend and Little Dorrit. But the bridge had problems – its narrow approaches and steep gradient led it to become labelled “the curse of the carman [cart drivers] and the ruin of his horses”.

Increasing traffic meant a replacement became necessary and a new bridge, which featured five arches and was made of steel, was designed by architect Sir Ernest George and engineer Sir Basil Mott.

Work on the new bridge – which was to cost £375,000 and was paid for by the City of London Corporation’s Bridge House Estates which was originally founded in 1097 to maintain London Bridge and expanded to care for others – began in 1913 but its completion was delayed thanks to the outbreak of World War I.

The 800 foot long bridge was finally officially opened on 6th June, 1921, by King George V who used a golden key to open its gates. He and Queen Mary then rode over the bridge in a carriage.

The bridge, now Grade II-listed, was significantly damaged in a 1941 air raid and was temporarily repaired before it was properly restored in 1955. More recently, the bridge was given a facelift in 2011 when £2.5 million was spent cleaning and repainting the metalwork in its original colours – yellow and ‘Southwark Green’.

The current bridge has appeared in numerous films including 1964’s Mary Poppins and, in more recent times, 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Lost London – Bear Garden, Southwark

The Bear Garden as depicted in Visscher’s Map of London which was published in 1616 but represented the city as it was several years earlier.

The Bear Garden was among numerous structures built in Southwark during the Elizabethan era for public amusement: in this case the “amusement” being what we now see as the rather cruel activities of bear and bull baiting and other “sports” involving animals.

Built sometime prior to the 1560s, the Bear Garden (also written as Beargarden) itself was a polygonal wooden, donut-shaped structure, much like the theatres such as the Rose and Globe, where the activities took part on the floor in the middle while the audience sat around the donut’s ring.

While it’s known it was located in Bankside (among several other premises showing animal sports), its exact location continues to be a matter of debate (and it is thought to have moved location at least once).

The Bear Garden was patronised by royalty – Queen Elizabeth I apparently visited with the French and Spanish ambassador – but it was also marked by tragedy when part of the tiered seating collapsed in 1583, killing eight people and forcing the premises to close down for a brief period.

It was torn down in 1614 and replaced with the Hope Theatre with the intention of it serving as a dual purpose premises, providing both stage plays and animal sports like bear-baiting, but the latter eventually won out and it simply became known once again as the Bear Garden.

The Hope may have pulled down in the 1650s after animal sports were banned by the Puritans (the Commonwealth commander Thomas Pride was apparently responsible for putting down or shooting the last seven bears). Whether it was demolished or not, it was again in use after the Restoration – Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn both visited during this period – but the last mention of it was in the 1680s.

The street named Bear Gardens in modern Southwark stands today in the approximate area where the Bear Garden is generally thought to have been located.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – A recap…

We’ve finished our series on London sites related to the story of Thomas Becket. Before we move on to our next special series, here’s a recap…

1. Cheapside…

2. Merton Priory…

3. Guildhall…

4. London churches…

5. The Tower of London…

6. Westminster Abbey…

7. Southwark…

8. St Thomas Becket memorial…

9. St Thomas’ Hospital…

10. The Pilgrim’s Way…

We’ll launch our new series next Wednesday.

10 London sites related to St Thomas Becket – 9. St Thomas’ Hospital…

Following Thomas Becket’s brutal murder in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, King Henry II is ordered by Pope Alexander III to perform acts of penance for his death, going on a public pilgrimage to Canterbury where he spent a night in prayer at Becket’s tomb and was whipped by monks.

The Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garrett Museum now resides in the former St Thomas’ Church which probably started life (in a previous version) as the chapel for the medieval hospital. PICTURE: Calstanhope (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0).

Becket’s renown, meanwhile, quickly grew in the aftermath of his death and miracles soon began to be attributed to him. And then, little over two years after he was killed, the Pope declared him a saint. It’s believed that soon after that, in 1173, St Thomas’ Hospital in Southwark- which had been founded a couple of years earlier – was named in commemoration of him.

The hospital was run by a mixed-gendered order of Augustinian canons and canonesses, believed to be of the Priory of St Mary Overie, and provided shelter and treatment for the poor, sick, and homeless. Following a fire in the early 13th century, the hospital was relocated to a site on what is now St Thomas Street.

In the 15th century, Dick Whittington endowed a ward for expectant unmarried mothers at the hospital and in 1537, it was the location for the printing of one of the first English Bibles – which is commemorated in a plaque at the former site of the hospital.

When the monastery at Southwark, which oversaw the hospital – also referred to as the Hospital of St Thomas the Martyr, was closed in 1539 during the Dissolution, the hospital too was closed. It did reopen a decade later but was dedicated to St Thomas the Apostle instead of St Thomas Becket (and has remained so since). The name change was political – King Henry VIII had ‘decanonised” St Thomas Becket as part of his reform of the church in England.

The hospital was rebuilt from the end of the 17th century (the long-deconsecrated Church of St Thomas in St Thomas Street, home to the Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garrett, is the oldest surviving part of this rebuild) but it left Southwark in 1862 when the site was compulsorily acquired to make way for the construction of the Charing Cross railway viaduct from London Bridge Station.

Following a temporary relocation to Royal Surrey Gardens in Newington, it moved into new premises at Lambeth – across the river from the Houses of Parliament – in 1871. It has since been rebuilt and merged with Guy’s Hospital.

Correction: Apologies – we had typo in the copy – the date Becket was made a saint was, of course, 1173!

Lost London – ‘Canute’s Canal’…

A waterway said to have been cut by the Viking Canute (also spelled Cnut) in the 11th century, the canal, according to the story, was constructed so his fleet of ships – blocked by London Bridge – could get upstream.

The entrance to Greenland Dock from The Thames in 2012 – one of the many places posited as the location where Canute’s Canal started. PICTURE: Public Domain

The story goes that in May, 1016, the Dane Canute (and future King of England), led an army of invasion into England to reclaim the throne his father, Sweyn Forkbeard, had first won three years earlier.

Canute needed to get his ships upriver of London Bridge to besiege the city which was held by the Saxons under Edmund Ironside (made king in April after his father Athelred’s death) but was blocked by the fortified, although then wooden, London Bridge.

So Canute gave orders for the digging of a trench or canal across some part of Southwark so his ships could pass into the river to the west of the bridge and he could encircle the city.

The canal – also known as ‘Canute’s Trench’ – was duly dug and the city was besieged – although the Vikings lifted the siege without taking the city (which does seems like a lot of work for not much result in the end) and the war was eventually decided elsewhere.

Various routes of the canal have been posited as possibilities – including the suggestion that there was an entry at Rotherhithe (Greenland Dock has been sited as one location) and exit somewhere near Lambeth or further south at Vauxhall (and one possibility is that Canute, rather than digging a long canal, simply cut through the bank holding back the Thames on either side of London Bridge and flooded the lands behind).

Various waterways have also been identified with it including the River Neckinger, parts of which survive, and the now lost stream known as the Tigris.

Whether the canal actually existed – and what form it took – remains a matter of some debate (although the low-lying, marshy land of Southwark at the time surely would have helped with any such project). But whether lost or simply mythical, the truth of ‘Canute’s Canal’ remains something of a mystery. For the moment at least.

10 London buildings that were relocated…5. The Wellington Clock Tower…

The Wellington Clock Tower (left), pictured in Swanage in 2012. PICTURE: Neil Alexander McKee (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

Now situated on the seafront of the town of Swanage in Dorset, the Wellington Clock Tower was originally located at the southern end of London Bridge.

The tower was erected in 1854 as a memorial to the Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, who had died two years earlier.

The then proposed Wellington Clock
Tower depicted in the London Illustrated
News in June, 1854

Its construction was funded through public subscription and contributions of railway companies with the support of the Commissioners for Lighting the West Division of Southwark. It was designed in the Perpendicular Gothic style by Arthur Ashpitel and, after the foundation stone was laid on 17th June, 1854, took six months to build.

The three level structure, which was topped with a tall spire, housed a clock with four faces. The clock was made by Bennett of Blackheath for the 1851 Great Exhibition but the constant rumbling of the carts passing its new location apparently meant the mechanism never kept good time.

There was also small telegraph office in the ground floor room of the tower. A statue of Wellington was intended to be placed within the open top level but funds apparently ran out before it could be commissioned and it never appeared (Wellington’s declining popularity at the time may have also been a factor).

The location of this rather splendid structure meant, however, that it was soon overshadowed by construction of nearby raised railway lines. When the Metropolitan Police condemned the tower as an obstruction to traffic, it was the final straw and having spent little more than a decade in position, the decision was made to demolish the tower.

It was taken down in 1867 but rather than simply being scrapped, Swanage-based contractor George Burt had the building shipped in pieces – they apparently served as ballast during the journey – to his hometown in Dorset where he presented it as a gift to fellow contractor Thomas Docwra. Docwra had the tower reconstructed in a seafront location on the grounds of his property, The Grove, at Peveril Point.

The rebuilt tower lacked the original clock – its faces were replaced with round windows – and in 1904 the spire was also removed and replaced with a small cupola (there’s been various reasons suggested for this, including that the spire was damaged in a storm or because it was felt to be sacrilegious by the religious family which then owned the property).

The tower, which was granted a Grade II heritage listing in 1952, can still be seen on the Swanage waterfront today.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 54 and 53…

The next two entries in Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts countdown…

54. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 6. 9 Bywater Street, Chelsea…

53. Where’s London’s oldest…outdoor statue?

LondonLife – The silent city…

PICTURE: Rotana Ty (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Famous Londoners – Thomas Guy…

Bookseller and philanthropist, Thomas Guy’s memory is still preserved in the London hospital which still bears his name (pictured above).

Guy was born the son of Thomas Guy, Sr, a lighterman, carpenter and coalmonger (and Anabaptist) in Southwark, in about 1644. But his father died when he was just eight-years-old and his mother Anne moved the family to Tamworth, her home town, where he was educated at the local free grammar school.

In 1660, he returned to London where he was apprenticed to a bookseller in Cheapside. Eight years later (and having lived through the Great Plague and The Great Fire), his apprenticeship completed and now admitted as a freeman to Worshipful Company of Stationers, he opened his own bookstore on the corner of Cornhill and Lombard Street  in the City of London where he found success in selling illegal fine quality printed Bibles from what is now The Netherlands.

He went on to obtain a contract from Oxford University for the printing of Bibles, prayer books and other classical works – a move which saw his fortune begin to take off, so much so he apparently renamed his shop the ‘Oxford Arms’.

But Guy also became a noted investor and it was through doing so – particularly his success in investing in and then offloading shares in the booming South Sea Company (before it collapsed) – which, alongside his success as a publisher, helped to create his fortune.

He had a somewhat notorious reputation for frugality (there is a somewhat dubious story that he broke off an engagement with a maidservant following a dispute concerning some paving works she authorised without his permission) but is also known to have been a significant philanthropist.

His giving included funding upgrades to his former school in Tamworth as well the building of almshouses there in 1678. In fact, his connections with the town were still deep – he represented the town as its MP between 1675 to 1707 – he was so angry was he at his rejection in 1608 that he threatened to pull down the town hall and, later, in his will specifically deprived the inhabitants of Tamworth of use of the almshouses.

Guy had, meanwhile, refused the offer of taking up the post of Sheriff of London after he was elected, apparently because of the expense involved, and paid a fine instead.

He was appointed a governor of St Thomas’s Hospital in 1704 which he also funded the expansion of (using the money he’d made through his investment in the South Sea Company), building three new wards. Having obtained permission to build a hospital for “incurables” discharged from St Thomas’ Hospital, he began building his own hospital, Guy’s, near London Bridge in 1722.

Guy never married and died at his home in the City on 27th December, 1724. He laid in state in the Mercer’s Chapel before being buried in the crypt beneath the chapel at Guy’s Hospital (a fine monument by John Bacon now stands over the site).

He left considerable bequeathments to various charitable organisations as well as to relatives but the bulk of his estate went to his hospital – which was now roofed – so that the works could be completed. The bronze statue outside the hospital, by Scheemakers, depicts guy in his livery.

PICTURE: David Adams

London pub signs – The Sugar Loaf…

The name of this City of London establishment relates directly to the trade that once existed in nearby environs – namely in sugar.

Located at 65 Cannon Street, the area to the south of the pub was once a centre of the city’s sugar refinement industry.

There were several small sugar refineries there – where raw sugar was taken and transformed into cone-shaped sugar loaves – but these were apparently destroyed when Southwark Bridge was built in the early 19th century.

The now Grade II-listed pub is said to date from the 1830s. More recently, it was part of the Charrington group before becoming one of the O’Neill’s Irish-themed pubs in the late 1990s. It became part of the Nicholson’s group a few years ago.

For more, see www.nicholsonspubs.co.uk/restaurants/london/thesugarloafcannonstreet.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Treasures of London – The Southwark Needle…

A 16 metre long splinter of stone sticking up in the air at the southern end of London Bridge, the Southwark Needle (its official name is actually the Southwark Gateway Needle) was erected in 1999.

Made of Portland stone and sitting on an angle of 19.5 degrees, it was designed by Eric Parry Architects as part of the Southwark Gateway Project which also included the creation of a new tourist information centre.

There’s been much speculation about what the pointed obelisk actually represents with some believing that the sharp spike is a kind of memorial to those whose heads were placed on spikes above the gateway which once stood at the southern end of London Bridge.

It seems, however, that the subject remembered in the monument is rather more mundane – it’s a marker and apparently points across the Thames the Magnus the Martyr church which marked the start of where London Bridge was formerly located (several metres to the east of the current bridge’s location). And for those trying to figure out how the needle points to that, word is that is the line of the base of the marker which points to the start of the old bridge – not the sharp end of the obelisk.

The needle is now commonly used as a meeting point.

PICTURE: Donald Judge (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

10 most popular (new) posts of 2018…Numbers 4 and 3…

The next two posts on our annual countdown…

4. LondonLife – Still waters at Hampstead Heath…

3. Lost London – Jacob’s Island…

 

Lost London – Horsemonger Lane Gaol…

This Southwark establishment was built to the designs of Surrey surveyor George Gwilt in the 1790s and survived until the late 19th century.

Constructed adjacent to the Sessions House as a replacement for a former Tudor-era jail, it was once the largest prison in the country housing as many as 300 inmates, male and female. Quadrangular in shape, it featured three wings for criminals and a fourth for debtors and was three stories tall.

The prison had a constant turnover of temporary residents – during 1837, it’s recorded that some 1,300 debtors and 2,506 criminals spent time here.

Famous inmates included writer and intellectual Leigh Hunt (imprisoned for two years for libelling the Prince Regent – he met Lord Byron for the first time here) as well as Colonel Edward Despard, an Irishman found guilty of high treason and, along with six others, sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered (commuted to hanging and beheading and carried out on 21st February, 1803).

The prison was also a site of executions and more than 130 men and women were apparently executed here (Charles Dickens wrote to The Times of his horror after attending the hangings of murderers Maria and Frederick Manning here).

The executions initially took place on the roof of the gatehouse but were later moved inside the prison.

In the mid-1800s, the prison was renamed the Surrey County Gaol or New Gaol (Horsemonger Lane was renamed Union Road and is now Harper Road).

The gaol was closed in 1878 – it no longer met required standards – and demolished three years later on 1881 and the site is today a public park called Newington Gardens.

Lost London – St George’s Circus Clocktower…

Erected around the turn of the 19th century to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (some put the date  of its erection at about 1897; others in about 1905), the clocktower replaced an obelisk that had previously stood in the centre of St George’s Circus in  Southwark.

The rather ornate tower was designed by architect and engineer Jan F Groll and featured four oil lamps to help light the intersection, described as the first purpose-built traffic junction in England.

It survived until the late 1930s when it was demolished after being described as a nuisance to traffic.

Meanwhile, the Robert Mylne-designed obelisk had been first erected in 1771 and marked one mile from Palace Yard, one mile 40 feet from London Bridge and one mile, 350 feet from Fleet Street (Mylne, incidentally, was the architect of the original Blackfriars Bridge).

Following its removal, it was taken to Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park where it stood until 1998 when it was moved back to its position in St George’s Circus where it now stands. It was Grade II*-listed in 1950.

There’s a replica of the obelisk in Brookwood Cemetery – it marks the spot where bodies taken from the crypt of the Church of St George the Martyr, located in Borough High Street, in 1899 were reinterred to ease crowding.

PICTURE: Once the site of a clocktower, the obelisk has since been returned to St George’s Circus (Martin Addison/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0/image cropped)

10 (lesser known) memorials to women in London – 5. Ada Salter…


Since 1991, a statue of Dr Alfred Salter (as well as his daughter Joyce and cat) had sat on the south bank of the River Thames in Bermondsey.

But after the statue of Dr Salter – MP for Bermondsey for many years – was stolen in 2011 (presumably for scrap value) and the statues of Joyce and the cat subsequently put into storage, it was decided to reassemble the group but this time adding in a new figure – that of Dr Salter’s wife Ada, whose story was certainly as significant as his.

A social reformer, environmentalist and pacifist, Ada Salter (1866-1942) was co-founder and president of the Women’s Labour League, one of the first women councillors in London (she was elected to Bermondsey in 1909) and, on being appointed Mayor of Bermondsey in 1922, the first woman mayor in London and the first Labour woman mayor in Britain.

In 1931, she was elected chair of the National Gardens Guild. Together the couple, who were both Quakers, dedicated much of their lives to helping the people of Bermondsey, regenerating slums, building model housing and planting thousands of trees.

A campaign was subsequently launched to raise funds to replace the statue of Dr Salter and install a new one of Ada and, on raising £120,000 (the £60,000 raised was matched by Southwark Council), artist Diane Gorvin, who had designed the original statue of Dr Salter, was commissioned to make them.

The resultant statues – known collectively as ‘The Salter Statues’ and ‘Dr Salter’s Daydream’ – were unveiled where the previous grouping had been found at Bermondsey Wall East near the Angel pub, in November, 2014.

While Dr Salter sits on a granite bench looking toward the river and his daughter Joyce, who leans against the river wall watched by the family cat, Ada stands nearby – also looking at her daughter – but with a spade in her hand.

Writes the artist: “The idea was to show Dr Salter in old age remembering  his young daughter when she was still alive. Ada is represented with a spade as she was so instrumental in tree and planting schemes for Bermondsey. Her left hand is designed to hold real flowers. It was important to celebrate the work of this couple who dedicated their lives to helping the local community.”

There’s a poignant aspect to the statues in that Joyce, the couple’s only child, had died at the age of eight from scarlet fever in 1910.

Ada Salter also has a garden named after her in Southwark Park.

PICTURE: Top – Loz Pycock (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 – image cropped and lightened); Right – Marc Pether-Longman (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0); Below – Steve James (licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Treasures of London – Roman sarcophagus…


Excavated in a dig in Southwark during the summer of 2017, this Roman sarcophagus is now at the centre of a new exhibition, Roman Dead, at the Museum of London Docklands.

The site of the find, on the corner of Harper Road and Swan Street in Borough, is located in what is known as the ‘Southern Cemetery’, one of a number of distinct burial grounds located on the outskirts of the Roman city of Londinium. Some 500 Roman burials have been found in the southern site but the stone sarcophagus was the first discovery of its kind there.

The 1,600-year-old sarcophagus measures approximately 2.4 metres long, 75cm wide and 65 centimetres high. The lid of the coffin had been partly pushed to one side, indicating that it may have been disturbed by grave robbers during the 18th century. The interior was left partly filled with soil and small bones and a damaged Roman bracelet were found nearby – a possible indication that it was a child buried there.

Gillian King, senior planner for archaeology at Southwark Council, told the BBC at the time of the find that the grave owner must have been “very wealthy and have had a lot of social status to be honoured with not just a sarcophagus, but one that was built into the walls of a mausoleum”.

The sarcophagus is only the third to be discovered in London – one was discovered at St Martin-in-the-Fields near Trafalgar Square in 2006 and another in Spitalfields in 1999.

Roman Dead is running at the Museum of London Docklands until 28th October. Admission is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london-docklands.

PICTURE: Top – The sarcophagus being prepared for display; Side – The sarcophagus as it was found (© Southwark Council).

 

 

LondonLife – Dawn by The Shard…

PICTURE: Tom Coe/Unsplash