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).

 

 

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Open House London marks its 25th anniversary this weekend, with free entry into more than 800 of the city’s buildings. For the first time, every London borough is participating in the event which sees the doors flung wide on buildings including the recently revamped New Scotland Yard (right), the skyscraper One Blackfriars nick-named ‘The Vase’ (above), an urban farm in Waterloo and the Francis Crick Institute at King’s Cross as well as traditional crowd-pleasers like BT Tower, William Morris’s Red House and the office towers known as the Cheesegrater and the Gherkin.  The weekend also features some 66 walks and talks. Open House have this year  launched a free app which, available for both Android and Apple, allows users to plan their weekend, view nearby buildings, and filter results by day, architectural type and period. To download the app and to see the full programme of events, head to www.openhouselondon.org.uk. PICTURES: Top – CGI/Right – Tim Soar (Open House London).

The London Design Festival, now in its 15th year, also kicks off this weekend with a programme of 450 projects and events across the coming week. The V&A will once again form the festival hub with iconic spaces within the museum transformed by a series of special commissions and displays including an immersive coloured light experienced known as Reflection Room and a 21.3-metre-long uid and free-standing three dimensional tapestry called Transmission. Somerset House will host a new group exhibition called Design Frontiers featuring 30 leading international designers while the Oxo Tower Wharf Courtyard will host a specially created micro house, called URBAN CABIN – one of many ‘landmark projects’ to be seen during the week. The festival runs until 24th September. For more – including the full programme of events, see www.londondesignfestival.com.

The rediscovery of Roman London under the modern city is the subject of a new exhibition which opened at the Guildhall Library in the City this week. The Discovery of Roman London, with a display of objects, archives and 19th century illustrations, looks at the early pioneers of Roman London archaeology over the past three centuries and the establishment of the Guildhall Museum – the precursor to the Museum of London – in 1826 to provide a suitable place for the found artefacts. Runs until 30th November. Entry is free. For more, follow this link.

The story of ancient nomadic tribes known as the Scythians is told in a new exhibition at the British Museum. Scythians: warriors of ancient Siberia features more than 200 objects, many of which have been preserved under permafrost, providing fascinating insights into the lives of the Scythian tribes who lived between 900 and 200 BC. The objects include fur-lined clothes, headgear for horses, gold jewellery, weapons, wooden drinking bowls and even tattooed human remains. There are also a series of painted clay death masks decorated to resemble the faces of the dead which are being shown alongside a reconstructed log-cabin tomb in which they were found. Runs until 14th January in the Sainsbury Exhibition Gallery. Supported by BP, the exhibition has been organised in partnership with the State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.

Harper Road Woman (c) Museum of LondonA detailed picture of the inhabitants of Roman London, known as Londinium, has been created for the first time, the Museum of London announced this week. Detailed analysis of the DNA of four skeletons has revealed a culturally diverse population. The examined skeletons include that of a Roman woman (pictured left), likely to have been born in Britain with northern European ancestry, found buried with high status grave goods at Harper Road, Southwark, in 1979, and another of a man, whose DNA revealed connections to Eastern Europe and the Near East, who was found at London Wall in 1989 with injuries to his skull which suggest he may have been killed in the nearby amphitheatre before his head was dumped in a pit. The other two skeletons examined were found to be that of a blue-eyed teenaged girl found at Lant Street, Southwark, in 2003, believed to have been born in north Africa, whose ancestors lived in south-eastern Europe and west Eurasia, and that of an older man found at Mansell Street who was born in London and whose ancestry had links to Europe and north Africa. The examination – the first multi-disciplinary study of the inhabitants of a Roman city anywhere in the empire – also revealed that all four suffered from gum disease. Caroline McDonald, senior curator at the museum, said that while it has always been understood Roman London was a culturally diverse place, science was now “giving us certainty”. “People born in Londinium lived alongside people from across the Roman Empire exchanging ideas and cultures, much like the London we know today.” The four skeletons will form the basis of a new free display, Written in Bone, opening at the Museum of London on Friday. PICTURE: © Museum of London

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

boudicca

This month marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt and to mark the occasion, we’re looking at 10 of London’s “battlefields” (well, maybe not officially recognised battlefield sites but 10 places where fighting took place – or, as in this instance, legend says took place – at various times throughout London’s history).

First up it’s to King’s Cross, once said to have been site of a village known as ‘Battle Bridge’, so named because, according to tradition, it here in about 60AD that the rebellious hoards of Queen Boudicca (also known as Boadicea or Boudica) ran into the well-disciplined army of the Roman Governor of Britain, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus.

Paulinus had been campaigning in northern Wales when the Iceni rebellion broke out in East Anglia, apparently sparked by the Romans’ refusal to honour the will of the deceased King Prasutagus. He had left his land to the Emperor Nero and his two daughters but instead, the story goes that the Romans seized the land, flogged his wife Boudicca and raped his two daughters.

Understandably incensed at this treatment, the Iceni and members of other tribes rose in rebellion under Boudicca and laid waste to the Roman city of Camulodunum (what is now Colchester in Essex).

Boudicca then turned toward Roman Londinium, the provincial capital, and while Paulinus beat her there with a small number of troops, he quickly concluded he couldn’t defend it and ordered it evacuated. Boudicca, who is claimed to have fought from a chariot, and her army of tribesman apparently spared no-one when they arrived and burnt it to the ground. They then moved on to attack another Roman city – Verulamium (St Albans).

Paulinus, meanwhile, marshalled his forces – still apparently vastly outnumbered – and chose his battleground carefully. One legend suggests King’s Cross – then site of an ancient bridge across the River Fleet – as the battle’s location (although we should mention there are also numerous other sites which have been suggested as the location for the battle including locations in the Midlands along the Roman road of Watling Street, now the A5).

Where-ever it was, Paulinus had apparently chosen his position so that Boudicca couldn’t bring her greater numbers to bear on his flanks. Her army collapsed and, according to the Roman historian Tacitus, there was a rumour that 80,000 Britons were killed and just 400 Romans in the ensuing battle (although fair to say such numbers may be a stretch!).

The outcome was obviously devastating for Boudicca – there’s various accounts of what happened to her next with one being that she fell during the battle and another that, having survived, she committed suicide by poisoning herself. There is a legend that Boudicca was subsequently buried at a site now covered by platform nine or 10 at King’s Cross railway station. It’s also been suggested she was buried at Parliament Hill.

There’s a statue commemorating Boudicca and her daughters (pictured above) at the western end of Westminster Bridge. Designed by Thomas Thornycroft, it was made in 1850 but not erected on the site until 1902.

GherkinIn an unusual ‘Famous Londoners’, this week we’re looking at a former inhabitant of London who we still know relatively little about.

The remains of the teenaged girl – believed to have been aged between 13 and 17 years – were found in 1995 when the conically-shaped skyscraper at 30 St Mary Axe, fondly known as the Gherkin (and then formally known as the Swiss Re Tower), was being constructed.

The girl, whose skeleton was unearthed where the foundations now stand, was buried sometime between 350 and 400 AD in what appeared to be an isolated grave which would have lain just outside the edge of early Roman Londinium.

The body lay with the girl’s head to the south and the arms folded across. Pottery was found associated with the body which provided dating information.

After being exhumed, the skeleton was housed at the Museum of London for some 12 years before in 2007 it was reburied near the new building. The burial featured a ceremony at nearby St Botolph-without-Aldgate followed by a procession to the gravesite where a dedication took place which included “music and libations”. Among those who attended was the Lady Mayoress of the City of London.

There’s an inscription in honour of the girl on a stone feature outside the building in both Latin and English while a stone set in the pavement decorated with laurel leaves marks the (re)burial spot.

Other recent Roman remains found in London include the skeleton of a young Roman woman, believed to date from the 4th century, which was found still inside its sarcophagus at a site in Spitalfields and a series of two dozen Roman-era skulls which, likely to date from the first century A, were found during excavations for the Crossrail project in 2013. It has been suggested they may have been Britons executed for their role in the famed Queen Boudicca’s rebellion against the Romans in 61 AD.

This central London thoroughfare runs through the heart of the City of London and has been a main thoroughfare since Roman times.

Gracechurch-StreetStretching from Eastcheap (near the Monument) to Leadenhall Street, the street runs over the site of what was Roman London’s forum and basilica (see our earlier post on the Roman buildings here).

The name, meanwhile, comes from the former medieval church of St Benet Gracechurch which was once located on the corner of Gracechurch and Fenchurch Streets.

The church, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren before finally being demolished in 1876, was named for St Benedict (St Benet is a short form) while Gracechurch – which was used after the Great Fire – was a corruption of Grasschurch, a reference to it being located near a hay market (in fact, the church was also known as St Benet Grass). The street was also known as Gracious Street.

Landmarks along Gracechurch Street including the Leadenhall Market (see our earlier post here) and a 30s-inspired modern building of note which stands at number 20.

PICTURE: Looking down Gracechurch Street toward the Monument.

For more on London’s Wren churches, see John Christopher’s Wren’s City of London Churches.

A covered – and splendidly decorated – Victorian-era market located just off Gracechurch Street in the heart of the City of London, Leadenhall Market might go un-noticed by many but visit at lunchtime on a weekday and you’ll to fight for space among the besuited City workers looking for sustenance there.

The history of a market on this site goes back to Roman times for it was under the current market that the remains of Londinium’s basilica and forum – the Roman marketplace – can be found (there’s apparently a part of the basilica wall in the basement of one of the Leadenhall shops).

This fell into disuse following the Roman period, however, and the origins of the current market are generally agreed upon as emerging in the 14th century when it occupied the site of a lead-roofed manor (hence “leaden hall) which was at one stage leased by the famous Lord Mayor Richard “Dick” Whittington before it burnt down in the late 1400s. The subsequent market was initially associated with poultry and then with cheese and other foodstuffs (it remained known for game and poultry) and separate areas were later developed for trade in wool, leather and cutlery.

In 1666, a small section of the market was destroyed in the Great Fire of London but it was rebuilt shortly after – for the first time under cover – and was divided into three sections: the Beef Market, the Green Yard and the Herb Market.

In 1881, after the existing building was demolished, a new structure boasting wrought iron and glass was designed by Sir Horace Jones (architect for the Corporation of the City of London, he also designed Billingsgate and Smithfield Markets – see our earlier entries here and here). The market is now one of the City’s five principal shopping centres and, as well as fresh food and flowers, hosts a variety of specialty shops, restaurants, cafes and pubs.

The Grade II* listed building was extensively restored in 1991. It has since starred in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as well as other films including The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and the recent Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Before we finish, we would be remiss not to mention Old Tom. A celebrated gander, he managed to avoid the axe for years and became a favorite of traders and customers (even being fed by local innkeepers) – so much so, that when he died at the age of 38 in 1835, his body lay in state before he was buried on site. There’s a bar in the market named for him.

WHERE: Gracechurch Street, City of London (nearest Tube stations are Monument, Bank and Cannon Street); WHEN: Public areas are generally open 24 hours a day with core trading hours between 10am and 5pm weekdays (check with individual shops for opening hours); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.leadenhallmarket.co.uk

PICTURE: DAVID ILIFF. Licence CC-BY-SA 3.0. Via Wikipedia.

In its ultimate grandiose form, Londinium’s basilica, the city’s first civic centre, was the largest building of its day, and in fact was the largest building of its type west of the Alps.

Located where Gracechurch Street now stands, the first basilica, which served as a town hall and law courts, was first erected in 70AD on high ground to the east of the now hidden Walbrook stream. It stood at one end of the forum or marketplace, enclosed on its other sides by shops and offices.

Twenty years after the first complex containing the basilica had been constructed, work began on a second, far larger basilica and forum on the same site. This took 30 years to complete and involved the removal of surrounding houses and other nearby structures.

The new basilica, which consisted of a large hall with a nave, was three stories high and apparently could be seen from all over the city. At the eastern end of the building’s nave was a raised platform, known as a tribune, where judges would have sat. The new forum’s central rectangular courtyard measured 100 metres by 85 metres in size.

The buildings were variously repaired over the years before being largely destroyed at the start of the 4th century. Speculation is that the destruction was carried out as punishment for London’s support of Carausius, who had declared himself emperor of Britain and northern Gaul in the late 200s. It is believed the eastern end of the basilica was perhaps retained and used as a temple or perhaps even an early church.

Sections of the walls of the basilica and forum apparently still survive in basements around Gracechurch Street today (including apparently in the basement of hairdressers Nicholson and Griffin at 90 Gracechurch Street). The eastern end of the complex now lies under the Leadenhall Market.

For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Collections-Research/Research/Your-Research/Londinium/analysis/publiclife/structures/15+Forum.htm

Interesting reads on Roman Londinium include Jenny Hall’s Roman London (The Museum of London), and John Morris’ Londinium: London In The Roman Empire. It also worth getting hold of Londinium: A New Map and Guide to Roman London, an invaluable resource for those wanting to come to grips with the city in Roman times.

One of those somewhat confusing placenames where the ‘w’ is effectively silent, Southwark (pronounced something like Suh-thuck) is a sizeable district south of the River Thames and one of the city’s oldest areas.

The area, which was settled as far back as Saxon times, takes its name from the Old English words suth or sud weorc which translates as “southern defensive work” and relates to the fact that the site is south of the City of London and at the southern end of London Bridge (the first bridge here was built by the Romans). While it was this name which was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, in the 900s the area was recorded as Suthriganaweorc which meant ‘fort of the men of Surrey’.

The name Southwark was also applied to borough which sat south of the river and still exists today – the Borough of Southwark. This in turn became shortened to just Borough, hence the name borough still exists as an alternative for part of Southwark even today (think of Borough Market and Borough High Street).

Part of Roman Londinium, Southwark was effectively abandoned after the end of Roman rule and then reoccupied by Saxons in the late 800s when the ‘burh’ (borough) of Southwark was created. It developed considerably in the medieval period and became known for its inns (think of the pilgrim inn, The Tabard, in The Canterbury Tales).

The area, particularly Bankside – part of the Borough of Southwark, also become known as an entertainment district with theatres and bear-baiting pits as well as a red-light district. It was also known for its prisons, in particular The Clink (controlled by the Bishop of Winchester), Marshalsea and the King’s Bench.

The area was also a centre of industry – everything from brewing to tanning – and came to boast numerous docks and warehouses (when it also became a centre of the food processing industry). With the closure of the docks, it’s retail, tourism, creative industries and the financial services which are dominant in the area today.

Landmarks are many thanks to the area’s long and colorful history (far too many to list in this short piece) but among major sites are Southwark Cathedral, Borough Market, and the George Inn as well as the Old Operating Theatre, Guy’s Hospital, and a replica of Sir Francis Drake’s ship, the Golden Hinde. Personalities associated with the area (again far too many to list here) include Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens.

PICTURE: Southwark Cathedral © Copyright Kevin Danks and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

For more, check out Southwark: A History of Bankside, Bermondsey and the Borough

Earlier this month it was former US President Ronald Reagan’s turn to be honored with statue in Grosvenor Square. Last week it was the turn of former Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin – the first man in space – to be so honored with a new statue located outside the British Council’s offices in the Mall (opposite another explorer, Captain James Cook). The statue, a gift of the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos, was unveiled to mark the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s celebratory visit to London on 14th July, 1961, just three months after he completed his orbit of the earth on 12th April that year. The 3.5 metre high zinc alloy figure stands close to Admiralty Arch which was where Gagarin met then Prime Minister Harold MacMillan after he was invited to the UK by the National Union of Foundrymen. Among those present for the unveiling of the statue – which is a replica of one in the town of Lubertsy where Gagarin worked as a foundryman as a teenager – was Gagarin’s daughter Elena Gagarina, now director of the Kremlin Museums, and Vladimir Popovkin, head of the Russian Federal Space Agency. The British Council is running an exhibition, Gagarin in Britain, which looks at the life of Gagarin and the early Soviet space programme, until 14th September – among the objects on display is the first space suit and an ejector seat similar to that Gargarin used when he ejected out of Vostok 1. Entry is by registration only and space is limited – email gargarin@britishcouncil.org is you’d like to register for a place. For more information, see www.britishcouncil.orgPICTURE: Frank Noon/British Council

A new iPhone app which directs people to key sites in what was Roman London (Londinium) will go live on Monday. Developed by the Museum of London and the History Channel, Streetmuseum Londonium will bring to life some of the city’s most significant Roman sites, such as the amphitheatre at Guildhall, using “augmented reality video” which will overlay scenes of Roman London over the modern city while soundscapes will allow users to listen to a ritual at the Temple of Mithras or traders at the forum. In addition, users will be able to ‘digitally excavate’ Roman artifacts including leather bikini briefs and an ancient manicure set. Navigation to these “immersive experiences” will be via a specially created new map of Roman London which will be superimposed on a modern map of the capital, allowing users to see how the city has changed. The launch follows the earlier creation of the Streetmuseum app which guides people to more than 200 sites across the city. More than 200,000 people from across the world have so far downloaded this. Streetmuseum Londinium will be available free to download from 25th July. See www.museumoflondon.org.uk/apps for more.

London will mark one year to go until the Olympic Games next Wednesday with a ceremony in Trafalgar Square which will be broadcast live on BBC1. Among those present with be the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) chairman Sebastian Coe and Mayor of London Boris Johnson. The event will also feature a live cross to the Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park where Olympic hopeful Tom Daley will make the first dive into the pool.

• The British Library hopes to raise £2.75 million to acquire the world’s earliest surviving intact European book, the 7th century St Cuthbert Gospel. A copy of the Gospel of St John, the book was buried with St Cuthbert on the isle of Lindisfarne in 698 and later found in the saint’s coffin in Durham Cathedral in 1104. The National Heritage Fund Memorial has already awarded £4.5 million to obtain the St Cuthbert Gospel and the Art Fund and The Garfield Weston Foundation have donated £250,000 each. The book has been on long-term loan to the library since 1979 and is regularly on view in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery. The library was approached last year and given first option to acquire the text after the Society of Jesus (British Province) decided to sell it. A price of £9 million has been agreed, of which £2.75 million remains outstanding. For more, see www.bl.uk.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich opened the doors of its new £36.5 million Sammy Ofer Wing today. The new, architecturally slick extension – which is being touted as bringing with it a change of direction in the way the museum operates – features a new permanent gallery known as Voyages as well as a temporary exhibition space, library and archive. There’s also a lounge, cafe and brasserie – the latter boasting views out over Greenwich Park. The Voyages gallery has been designed as an introduction to the museum and features a 30 metre long thematic ‘object wall’ hosting more than 200 objects – everything from a letter written by Horatio Nelson to his mistress Emma Hamilton while he was on board the Victory in 1803 through to a watch belonging to Robert Douglas Norman – among those who perished on the Titanic, and a somewhat battered Punch puppet. The special exhibition space initially hosts High Arctic which uses technology to create an “immersive environment” exploring the Arctic world from the perspective of the future. The museum is also introducing the Compass Card scheme, a new initiative which will eventually be rolled out across the museum. Visitors are presented with a unique card with which, by inserting it into special units placed in galleries, they can flag their interest in receiving further information on a specified subject. The card can then be used to call up related archival information in the museum’s Compass Lounge or using the visitor’s home computer. For more information, see www.nmm.ac.uk.

The British Museum has announced funding has been secured for two new gallery spaces. These will include a new gallery looking at the history of world money from 2000 BC to present day. Known as the Citi Money Gallery, it will be opened in 2012. A donation from Paul and Jill Ruddock, meanwhile, means the museum will also be working on a major redisplay of Room 41 which covers the Mediterranean and Europe from 300 to 1,100 AD. The artefacts in the room include treasures taken from Sutton Hoo and the Vale of York Viking Hoard. The gallery will open in 2013/14. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

Now On: Festival of British Archaeology. Coordinated by the Council for British Archaeology, the 21st festival (formerly known as National Archaeology Week) kicks off this weekend and runs until the end of July. It boasts more than 800 events across Britain including in London where they include guided tours of the Rose Theatre, a range of Roman themed events and activities – including a gladiator show – at the Museum of London, gallery talks at the Bank of England Museum and British Museum, the chance to visit the Billingsgate Roman House and Baths, and a guided walk of Londinium (Roman London) organised by All Hallows by the Tower. For a complete events listing, see http://festival.britarch.ac.uk/.

Now OnThe London Street Photography Festival is running until the end of the month with a series of exhibitions, talks, walks and workshops, the majority of which are taking place in and around King’s Cross. Key events include Street Markets of London in the 1940s – Walter Joseph featuring never before seen images at the British Library, Vivien Maier: A Life Uncovered at the German Gymnasium, and Seen/Unseen – George Georgiou and Mimi Mollica at the Collective Gallery. For more information, see www.londonstreetphotographyfestival.org.