London Explained – Londinium…

Simply put, this is the name London was given during Roman times (and perhaps derives from an earlier Celtic word – although this remains the matter of much speculation).

There’s no substantial evidence of a settlement where London now stands until after the arrival of the Romans in 43 AD. The location was selected for the ease with which the Thames could be bridged and two hills which stand in what is now the city of London – Ludgate Hill on which St Paul’s cathedral stands and Cornhill – which could be fortified as a military stronghold.

A reconstruction of Londinium in 120 AD by Peter Froste which has was on show in the Museum of London. PICTURE: Carole Raddato (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

The fledging settlement was destroyed during the revolt of Queen Boudicca of the Iceni in 60 AD but rebuilt centred on Cornhill and the Walbrook stream. By the 70s AD, the main public buildings of the forum and basilica were placed on high ground east of the Walbrook and by the end of of the first century AD further grand buildings – the governor’s palace, amphitheatre and baths – had been added. Waterfront infrastructure for shipping – including quays and warehouses – stretched along the northern side of the river.

A fort was added and public buildings renovated before the visit of the Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD. Another fire destroyed much of the city but it was again rebuilt and late in the 2nd century walls were built around it, partially encircling a site of some 330 acres. Buildings subsequently constructed in the 3rd century included the Temple of Mithras and a monumental arch.

There were known to have been “suburbs” including at both Southwark and to the west around Trafalgar Square and cemeteries were built outside the walls.

The city’s population had already contracted somewhat by the time the legions were recalled to Rome in 410 AD. While the walls still offered the inhabitants some protection 50 years after the withdrawal of the legions, there’s scant evidence for how much longer it remained inhabited with the Anglo-Saxons known to have viewed the ruins of the Roman buildings with some trepidation.

Lost London – Greenwich’s Romano-Celtic temple…

Although little now remains of it (and none to be seen above ground), a mound in Greenwich Park is thought to have once been the location of a Romano-Celtic temple.

Site of the temple remains in Greenwich Park. PICTURE: Matt Brown (licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Given its site close to Watling Street – the main Roman road linking London and the Kent ports, it’s believed that the temple may have served travellers as well as the local community. The Historic England listing for the ruins, which are a scheduled monument, suggests the temple was in use by 100AD and continued to be used until about 400AD.

The remains, which are now located on the eastern side of Greenwich Park on a site known as Queen Elizabeth’s Bower, was excavated in 1902 after they were stumbled across during works on the park. Three different floor surfaces were revealed, one of which was a tessellated pavement, along with the right arm of an almost life-sized statue, fragments of stone inscriptions and more than 300 coins dating between the 1st and 5th centuries.

A further excavation occurred in the early 1970s and another in 1999 – all of which provided further evidence of a temple.

Finds from the 1999 dig – which was undertaken by TV Channel Four’s ‘Time Team’, Birkbeck University of London and the Museum of London in the creation of a programme broadcast the following year – included part of an inscription to Jupiter and the spirits of the emperors and a stamped tile.

It is thought the temple precinct, known as a temenos, would have included a main temple building known as a cella as well as ancillary buildings and been surrounded by a stone wall.

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.

LondonLife – Largest Roman mosaic found in 50 years…

MOLA archaeologists at work on the mosaic unearthed in Southwark. PICTURE: © MOLA/Andy Chopping

The largest Roman mosaic to be unearthed in London in 50 years has been found near The Shard in Southwark.

The well-preserved mosaic, parts of which are thought to be 1,800-years-old, features two highly decorated panels.

The largest of the two shows large, colourful flowers surrounded by bands of intertwining strands – a motif known as a guilloche – while the design also features lotus flowers and several different geometric elements, including a pattern known as Solomon’s knot which is made of two interlaced loops.

The smaller panel features a simpler design, with two Solomon’s knots, two stylised flowers and striking geometric motifs in red, white and black. Its design is the “almost exact parallel” of a mosaic found in the German city of Trier which suggests a travelling group of artists may have been responsible for both.

The mosaic is believed to be floor of a dining room or ‘triclinium’ of a Roman ‘mansio’, an “upmarket ‘motel'” which offered accommodation, stabling, and dining facilities to people of high rank. The room would have contained couches on which people would have reclined to eat and would have featured brightly painted walls. Fragments of colourful wall plaster have been found on the site as well as traces of an earlier mosaic underneath the one they discovered.

Location of The Liberty of Southwark site in Roman London (detail). PICTURE: © MOLA reproduced with permission of Ordnance Survey.

The discovery was made by archaeologists from Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) during an excavation ahead of building work on a new mixed use development to be constructed on the site, which was previously used as a car park.

MOLA site supervisor, Antonietta Lerz, described the discovery in a statement as a “once-in-a-lifetime find in London”.

“It has been a privilege to work on such a large site where the Roman archaeology is largely undisturbed by later activity-when the first flashes of colour started to emerge through the soil everyone on site was very excited!” 

The archaeologists have identified another large Roman building neighbouring the mansio which they believe is likely to have been the private residence of a wealthy individual or family.

Plans for the future display of the mosaic are currently under discussion.

MOLA archaeologists at work on the mosaic unearthed in Southwark. PICTURE: © MOLA/Andy Chopping

This Week in London – Nero at the British Museum; Stephen Hawking’s office to be recreated at the Science Museum; and, Blue Plaque for Indian engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia…

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Head from a bronze statue of the emperor Nero. Found in England, AD 54– 61. PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

A bronze head of the Roman Emperor Nero found in the River Alde in Suffolk – long wrongly identified as being that of the Emperor Claudius – and the Fenwick Hoard – which includes Roman coins, military armlets and jewellery – are among the star sights at a new exhibition on Nero at the British Museum. Nero: the man behind the myth is the first major exhibition in the UK which takes Rome’s fifth emperor as its subject. The display features more than 200 objects charting Nero’s rise to power and his actions during a period of profound social change and range from graffiti and sculptures to manuscripts and slave chains. Other highlights include gladiatorial weapons from Pompeii, a warped iron window grating burnt during the Great Fire of Rome of 64 AD, and frescoes and wall decorations which give some insight into the opulent palace he built after the fire. The exhibition, which opens today, runs until 24th October in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/nero/events.aspx.

The office of late theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking will be recreated at the Science Museum, it was announced this week. The contents of the office, which Hawking, the author of the best-selling A Brief History of Time, occupied at Cambridge’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics from 2002 until shortly before his death in 2018, includes reference books, blackboards, medals, a coffee maker and Star Trek mementoes as well as six of his wheelchairs and the innovative equipment he used to communicate. The museum, which reportedly initially plans to put the objects on display in 2022 and later recreate the office itself, has acquired the contents through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows families to offset tax (his archive will go to the Cambridge University Library under the same scheme).

Nineteenth century civil engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia – the first Indian Fellow of the Royal Society – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Richmond home. The plaque, which can be found on 55 Sheen Road – the villa Cursetjee and his British family moved to upon his retirement in 1868, was installed to mark the 180th anniversary of his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Cursetjee is considered the first modern engineer of India and was the first Indian at the East India Company to be placed in charge of Europeans. He was at the forefront of introducing technological innovations to Mumbai including gaslight, photography, electro-plating and the sewing machine. Cursetjee first visited London in 1839 and travelled regularly been Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and London until his retirement. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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10 London hills – 3. Tower Hill…

The site of scaffold on Tower Hill. PICTURE: Bryan MacKinnon (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The last of the three hills at least partly within the walls of the old City of London is Tower Hill, located at the City’s eastern end.

Famed as a site of public execution, Tower Hill – which rises to almost 14 metres above sea level – was traditionally where traitors who had been imprisoned in the nearby Tower of London met their final moments.

More than 120 people have been executed on the site, everyone from Sir Simon de Burley, tutor to King Richard II, in 1388, through to Thomas Cromwell in in 1540 and a soldier arrested during the Gordon Riots of 1780.

These days the gallows and scaffold – and the crowds which accompanied them – are long gone, marked by a stone set in the pavement at the western end of Trinity Square.

The hill, which is just to the north of the Tower of London and takes its name from it, was historically part of the tower liberties – meaning authorities could ensure nothing was developed on it which would affect the defences of the fortress.

It is the site of one of the remaining sections of the Roman and medieval wall which once surrounded the City of London (the hill is located on both sides of the wall).

A Tube station, Tower Hill, which opened in 1884 (it was originally named Mark Lane and the name changed to Tower Hill in 1946; it relocated to the current site in 1967).

The hill is also home to the Tower Hill Memorial – a pair of memorials dedicated to the mercantile marines who died in World War I and World War II – set inside the public park known as Trinity Square Gardens.

10 London hills – 2. Cornhill…

Looking along the street named Cornhill from its western end with the Royal Exchange on the left. PICTURE: Teseum
(licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

The highest of the city’s three ancient hills (at 17.7 metres or 58 feet above sea level), it was on Cornhill that the first Romans settled following the invasion of 43AD and the later the site of the basilica.

In medieval times, a grain market was established on Cornhill which gave it the name it now bears.

Cornhill was also the location of a pillory (Daniel Defoe famously spent a day here in 1703 after writing a seditious pamphlet), stocks, and a prison known as the Tun where street walkers and lewd women were incarcerated.

Remembered in the name of the street which today runs from Bank junction to the western end of Leadenhall Street as well as being the name of one of London’s 25 wards, the hill is the site of several churches.

These include the aptly named St Michael Cornhill and St Peter-upon-Cornhill (said to be the oldest place of Christian worship in London) as well as the curiously named St Benet Fink (despite being rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of 1666 this was eventually demolished in 1844 when the Royal Exchange was rebuilt).

The hill was also the location of The Standard, at the junction of Cornhill and Leadenhall Streets. Constructed in 1582, this was the first mechanically pumped public water supply in London. It was sometimes used as a point from where to measure distances out of London.

The area became famed for its coffee houses in the 16th to 19th centuries (Pasqua Rosée opened what is claimed to be London’s first in St Michael’s Alley in 1652) and as such was a financial centre. Much of Cornhill is now occupied by offices.

What’s in a name?…London Wall…

The name of this street is self-explanatory – it follows the line of part of the wall that once surrounded the City of London, of which only fragments now remain.

The wall dates from as far back as Roman times and this street – which runs from the intersection with Aldersgate Street to the west to Old Broad Street in the east – broadly follows the course of its northern edge.

View from the west end of London Wall. PICTURE: Romazur (licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

The road was re-laid out – it features dual carriageways at the east and west ends – after the area was devastated by bombing during World War II.

A roundabout at the western end of London Wall – named the Rotunda – provides a link with Aldersgate Street, which runs perpendicular, and in the centre was built the Museum of London (which is now being relocated to West Smithfield).

Looking toward the eastern end of London Wall with All Hallows on the Wall to the left. PICTURE: Keith Murray (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The western end of the street, part of which is straddled by the hulking early 1990s building known as Alban Gate, has until recent years also featured a series of raised walkways which were part of the post war redevelopment of the area (and partly integrated with office buildings).

Known as ‘pedways’, some of them are now in the process of being replaced with a more modern take on the idea (such as can be seen at London Wall Place).

Part of the Roman gate, known as Bastion 14, near the western end of London Wall. PICTURE: Ethan Doyle White (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The street features a number of remnants of the actual wall along its length including the remains of a Roman gate close to the western end (on the street’s north side, it’s known as Bastion 14) and in St Alphage Gardens (St Alphage, London Wall is one of several now lost churches along the street – St Olave, Silver Street is another).

Close to the eastern end of the street is the church of All Hallows-on-the-Wall which dates from 1767 (replacing an earlier church that had survived the Great Fire of London).

Other prominent buildings on London Wall include the Brewer’s Hall, the Carpenter’s Hall and the Plaisterer’s Hall.

Exploring London’s 100 most popular posts of all time! – Numbers 96 and 95…

The next couple in our year-long countdown

96. Treasures of London – Swiss Court…

95. Lost London – The Roman basilica and forum…

LondonLife – Roman “pen” souvenir among thousands of finds on Bloomberg site…

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

This Week in London – ‘Beasts of London’; the Cold War remembered; Prince Albert and the V&A; and, ‘Power UP’ returns..

A state-of-the-art, multi-sensory experience focusing on the beasts, large and small, that have helped shaped London opens at the Museum of London tomorrow. Beasts of London, being run in conjunction with the Guildhall School and Music & Drama, tells the story of the capital from before London existed through to the city today, all through the perspective of animals. Inspired by objects in the museum’s collection, the nine “episodes” of the experience encompass subjects including the arrival of the Romans, the creation of the first menageries during the medieval period, the plague years of the 1600s, the first circuses in the late 1700s, the end of the animal-baiting period in the Victorian era and the role of animals in today’s contemporary city. There’s also a special episode on the contribution horses have made to the city. Well-known identities including Kate Moss, Brian Blessed, Pam Ferris, Nish Kumar, Stephen Mangan, Angellica Bell and Joe Pasquale provide voices for the animals alongside actors from the Guildhall School. The family-friendly experience can be enjoyed until 5th January, 2020. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/beastsoflondon. PICTURE: Lion sculpture; courtesy Museum of London.

A new exhibition about Britain’s role in the Cold War opens at the National Archives in Kew today – exactly 70 years since the formation of NATO. Protect and Survive: Britain’s Cold War Revealed features original documents including political memos, spy confessions, civil defence posters and even a letter from Winston Churchill to the Queen as it explores the complexities of government operations during a time of paranoia, secrets and infiltration. Other highlights include George Orwell’s infamous list of suspected communist sympathisers, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin’s ‘percentages agreement’, a plan of Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabb’s fateful spy mission, ‘Atom spy’ Klaus Fuchs’ confession and Civil Defence posters. There’s also a recreated government bunker and a 1980s living room showing the impact of the Cold War on both government and ordinary lives as well as digital screens on which Dame Stella Rimington, the first female Director General of MI5, shares her experiences along with insights from historian Dominic Sandbrook and curator Mark Dunton. The display is being accompanied by a series of events including night openings, film screening and talks. Runs until 9th November (30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall). Admission charge applies. For more, see nationalarchives.gov.uk/coldwar.

Prince Albert’s personal contributions to the V&A’s Library collection are the subject of a new exhibition which opened this week as part of the South Kensington Institute’s celebration of the 200th anniversaries of the births of both the Prince and Queen Victoria. Prince Albert: Science & the Arts on the Page features books and photographs include one volume containing a letter written by the Prince’s librarian Ernst Becker highlighting Albert’s wish to promote knowledge and learning in science and the arts. There’s also a volume of songs written and set to music by Albert and his brother, featuring amendments in Albert’s own hand, as well as his signed season ticket to the Great Exhibition of 1851. Runs until 1st September on the Library Landing. Admission is free. Head here for more.

Forty years of computer game history is once again on show at the Science Museum from Saturday. Returning for its fourth year, Power UP features 160 consoles and hundreds of games, from retro classics like Space Invaders to the latest in VR technology. Special events include two adults-only evening sessions on 10th and 17th April. Runs until 22nd April. For more, see sciencemuseum.org.uk/power-up.

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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).

 

 

This Week in London – Death and burials in Roman London; Edward Bawden retrospective; and, ‘Horrible Histories’ at Hampton Court…

Death and burials in Roman London are the focus of a new exhibition opening at the Museum of London Docklands on Friday with a rare sarcophagus discovered in Southwark last year one of the highlights. Roman Dead will look at the cemeteries of ancient London, the discoveries made there and their context in the modern cityscape. Alongside the sarcophagus discovered in Harper Road (which had possibly been disturbed by grave robbers), the exhibition features more than 200 objects including a multi-coloured glass dish found with cremated remains, a jet pendant in the form of a Medusa’s head and four men’s skulls which showed signs of violence and were buried in pits by the city’s wall as well as a tombstone of a 10-year-old girl named Marciana, found during excavations in 1979, and a pot decorated with a human face which was used as a cremation urn. The free exhibition can be seen until 28th October. For more, see www.museumofondon.org.uk/docklands.

The work of celebrated Twentieth century British artist and designer Edward Bawden (1903-89) has gone on display in a new exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Edward Bawden is described as the “most wide-ranging” exhibition of his work since his death and the first to look at every aspect of his 60 year career. It features a number of previous unseen works as well as 18 rarely seen war portraits which are being displayed together for the first time. Some 170 works – half from private collections – are arranged thematically to follow the evolution of his style with rooms dedicated to leisure, architecture, animals, fantasy and gardens. Among the highlights are early designs for the London Underground, Rain (1926) – on display for the first time, portraits of places he visited in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe while working as an official war artist during World War II, and several linocuts from Aesop’s Fables. Runs until 9th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Edward Bawden, St Paul’s, 1958 (Colour autolithograph/Trustees of the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery (The Higgins Bedford), © Estate of Edward Bawden).

Delve into the world of the ‘Gorgeous Georgians’ and ‘Vile Victorians’ at Hampton Court Palace this May half term. The Birmingham Stage Company will be uncovering centuries of grisly history in an hour long outdoor ‘Horrible Histories’ performance featuring characters including Georgian kings, Lord Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Florence Nightingale, and Dr John Snow. Guests are encouraged to bring a blanket and some food for the “ultimate historical picnic”. Admission charge applies – check website for dates. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/explore/the-gorgeous-georgians-and-vile-victorians/.

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What’s in a name?…Horseferry Road…

There’s no prizes for guessing that this Westminster road, which runs from Greycoat Place to Millbank and Lambeth Bridge, in pre-bridge days led down to a horse ferry across the Thames.

The ferry was, in fact, the only licensed horse ferry along the river and did quite a trade in conveying horses and their riders as well as carriages across the river. Mentions of the ferry date back to medieval times but it’s suggested there may have been a ford here back as far as the Roman era.

The income from the ferry went to the Archbishop of Canterbury (his official London residence lay across the river at Lambeth). So lucrative were the ferry rights that when Westminster Bridge was built in the mid 18th-century, the archbishop was paid £3,000 in compensation.

There are a number of famous figures associated with the ferry – Princess Augusta, later the mother of King George III, reportedly used it on the way to her wedding in 1736, and almost 50 years before that, the ferry pier is said to have been the starting point for King James II’s flight from England in 1689.

There are also a couple of high profile disasters associated with the horse ferry – Archbishop Laud’s belongings apparently sank to the bottom when the ferry overturned in 1633 and  Oliver Cromwell’s coach was apparently lost during a similar incident in 1656 – both events were apparently seen as bad omens (not to mention expensive).

Horseferry Road, meanwhile, is these days home to government buildings including Horseferry House and the City of Westminster Magistrate’s Court, as well as the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and, since the mid 1990s, Channel 4’s HQ.

Horseferry Road was also the location of the Australian Imperial Force’s administrative HQ during World War I and it was in this thoroughfare that Phyllis Pearsall was living when she conceived the London A to Z.

PICTURE: Top – Lambeth Bridge, site of the horse ferry which gives Horseferry Road its name/Right – Horseferry Road (Tagishsimon, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

What’s in a name?…Aldwych…

Now the name of a short, crescent-shaped thoroughfare which links the Strand with Kingsway in the West End (and the area surrounding it), the name actually refers back to the Saxon era.

The name Aldwych, which translates roughly as “old trading place” or “old settlement”, referred to a seventh century Anglo-Saxon settlement which was built outside the walls of the Roman city of Londinium. It was after Alfred the Great had the walls of the Roman city refortified in the late 9th century – moving the settlement back inside, that the former Anglo-Saxon settlement eventually became known by the moniker ‘old’.

The modern use of the word for the area dates from just after the dawn of the 20th century when the new street was created, doing away with a number of former streets including the notorious Wych Street. The name was subsequently used for a station on the tramway which ran under Kingsway (closed in the 1950s) and for an Underground station located nearby on the Strand (originally named Strand Station, it was soon changed to Aldwych and closed in 1994).

Notable buildings along Aldwych today include both Australia House and India House, both home to the High Commissions of their nations and both of which date from the early 20th century. It’s also home to Bush House, formerly the headquarters of the BBC World Service and now part of King’s College, London, as well as a number of theatres – including the Aldwych Theatre – and hotels.

 

What’s in a name?…St Pancras…

This name – now only usually used in reference to several buildings and landmarks around the Kings Cross area including churches, a road, hotel and railway stations – was originally that of a separate village.

The village was named for the church in its midst which had been dedicated to St Pancras. The church – which has been dated back to at least the Norman era – is said to have been built on one of the earliest sites of Christian worship in the UK and was dedicated to a Roman-era boy martyr, St Pancras (in Latin, St Pancratius).

Tradition holds that St Pancras was a citizen of Rome who converted to Christianity and was beheaded for his faith during the Diocletian persecution in the early 4th century when aged just 14. When Pope Gregory the Great sent St Augustine on his mission to England in the late 6th century, he sent relics of the saint with him, hence why many English churches are dedicated to St Pancras.

The village which had been based around the church was apparently largely abandoned in the Middle Ages – possibly due to flooding – and the area was only resettled in the late 18th century with the development of Camden Town and Somers Town.

While the church – now known as St Pancras Old Church – was restored in the mid-19th century, a new parish church – known as St Pancras New Church – which built about a kilometre away on Euston Road.

PICTURE: Stephen McKay/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

This Week in London – Exploring The Forum; VC recipients commemorated; and, Samuel Fosso’s self-portraits…

Nineteenth century Scottish painter David Robert’s painting, The Forum, is at the heart of a new display at the Guildhall Art Gallery exploring the concept of the Roman forum. The display looks at why the forum played such an important role in the Roman world, how it would have looked and what happened there. It also examines the painting in the context of the Robert’s Roman series, his wider body of work and depictions of the ‘grand tour’ by other artists. Admission is free. The exhibition, which is part of Londonium, a series of events, talks and displays focusing on London’s Roman past, runs until 1st January. For more, follow this link. PICTURE: A model of Londinium’s Roman forum in the Museum of London.

Two young Londoners who were posthumously awarded Victoria Crosses after they were killed on the first day of the Battle of Passchendaele have been honoured with commemoration stones in Victoria Embankment Gardens. Captain Thomas Riversdale Colyer-Fergusson, accompanied by a sergeant and just five men, managed to capture an enemy trench and a machine gun which he turned on his assailants. The 21-year-old attacked again, this time with just his sergeant, and captured another enemy machine gun but soon afterwards was killed by a sniper. Second Lieutenant Dennis George Wyldbore Hewitt, meanwhile, led his company under heavy machine-gun fire while seriously wounded and in pain. The 19-year-old successfully captured and consolidated his objective but he too was killed by a sniper soon after. The two men died on 31st July, 1917. The memorials were erected as part of World War I centenary commemorations which is seeing all 628 Victoria Cross recipients from the war being honoured in their birthplaces.

On Now: Samuel Fosso: Self-portraits. This exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery features a selection of images from 666 self-portraits taken by Cameroonian-born artist Samuel Fosso in 2015. Each of the shots were taken against the same red backdrop with Fosso adopting an identical head and shoulders pose in each. Photographed every day during October and November, 2015, each work is intended to reflect Fosso’s particular mood at that moment. The photographs, the artist’s first solo display in the UK, are displayed alongside some of the earliest self-portraits that he made while a teenager working in Bangui in the Central African Republic in the 1970s.  In these works, Fosso adopted personas which reflected popular West African culture, from musicians and the latest youth fashions to political advertising.  He employed special cloth backgrounds, in front of which he dressed up in a range of outfits from authentic European costumes and African folk costumes to navy uniforms, karate keikogis and boxer shorts. Runs until 24th September. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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This Week in London – Londinium’s gladiators unearthed; black artists in the US; and, the future of the world’s cities…

The life of gladiators in Roman Londinium and that of those who watched them are explored in a new exhibition opening in the remains of the city’s 7000 seat amphitheatre under the Guildhall Art Gallery. Featured as part of the display will be a Roman skull uncovered during excavations in the Walbrook Stream which, dated to around 150 AD, shows evidence of substantial head trauma at the time of death and is the closest archaeologists have come to identifying a potential gladiator in Londinium. Trauma, which is free to enter, opens tomorrow and runs until 29th October. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/guildhallartgallery.

A landmark exhibition examining what it was like to be a black artist in the US during the civil rights movement and the purpose and audience of art during the emergence of ‘black power’ has opened at the Tate Modern. Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power spans the era from 1963 to 1983, a time when race and identity become major issues across many spheres of society including music, sports and literature thanks to the likes of Aretha Franklin, Muhammad Ali and Toni Morrison. The display features more than 150 works by more than 60 artists, many of which are on display in the UK for the first time. Running until 22nd October, it is accompanied by a programme of talks and events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.ukPICTURE: Muhammad Ali by Andy Warhol/Tate Modern

The future of the world’s major cities – including London – is the subject of a new major exhibition which has opened at the Museum of London. The City is Ours is split into three sections: ‘Urban Earth’, centred on a 12 minute infographic film with comparative data about megacities such as London, Sydney, Tokyo, New York and Sao Paolo; ‘Cities Under Pressure’, which provides an overview of the risks, challenges and demands facing global cities through digital and physical interactive displays; and, ‘Urban Futures’, which presents solutions to the challenges increasing urbanisation poses. In addition, the exhibition takes a look at 25 innovative projects which are now taking place across London to improve life for its inhabitants. The free exhibition, part of the year-long City Now City Future season, can be viewed until 2nd January. For more, check out www.museumoflondon.org.uk/thecityisours.

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This Week in London – Roman finds from Walbrook revealed; Pablo Picasso prints; and, Highgate Cemetery’s virtual directory…

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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This Week in London – Museums at Night; Roman London rediscovered; and, Pablo Picasso on show…

museums-at-night From tonight (and across this weekend), museums all over Greater London will be opening their doors after usual closing time as part of the annual Museums at Night event. Among those institutions taking part in the event, produced by Culture24, are such well-known icons as the British Museum, Tower Bridge and The National Gallery as well as lesser known establishments like Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in Chingford, Southside House on Wimbledon Common and the Grant Museum of Zoology in central London. The October event follows an earlier Museums at Night in May. For the full programme of events, see www.museumsatnight.org.uk.

Roman London is the subject of a new exhibition at the City of London Corporation’s Guildhall Library. Londinium AD43 features the work of photographer Eugenio Grosso who takes the visitors on a photographic journey through time from London’s foundations to its present. The display shows how much of London’s Roman settlement has been preserved and features photographs of locations once home to significant London sites. Runs until 31st March. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/guildhall-library/Pages/default.aspx

More than 75 portraits in all media by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso can be seen at the recently opened Picasso Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Including well-known masterpieces and some works never seen in Britain before, the works include a group of self-portraits as well as caricatures of Picasso’s friends, lovers, wives and children and images he created inspired by artists of the past. Runs until 5th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.

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