A Free Roman Heritage Walking Tour in London (Part 2)

A Free Heritage Walking Adventure in Roman London (Part 2)

Despite my recent adventures into writing a kindle eBook in a week I am reminded that I hadn’t quite finished posting up about an adventure from last Summer. In July last year I spent a Summery research day in that London geeking out over free Roman things to see and do. The intial stops in my walk were covered in Part one of this idle heritage wandering.

To pick up where I had left off…

I had seen the Amphitheatre, the walls and some bridge foundations but these were the easy things to find. Intrepid and, map now firmly crumpled in hand, I meandered towards the Tower of London in search of Romanitas. And I found it, but not where I was looking for it.

The rather delightful church ‘All Hallows by the Tower’ is on the main thoroughfare towards the castle and amid the miasma of tourists and tradesfolk. Never one to bypass a poke around in a random church I’d never seen before I wandered inside and was glad of the effort. The church contains an undercroft and miniature museum of Roman things – it is, infact built over some substantial Roman remains as an insitu tessellated pavement in an underground chapel niche shall attest.


Mosaic a la basement

The humidity was clearly off the charts and the desalination of the walls surrounding and of the mortar would have most professional conservators frothing at the mouth, but it was not a thing I had expected and fit beautifully into my little adventure. The remainder of the undercroft housed some generic ‘Roman things’ (samian, pins etc.) wiht the addition of lovely casts of various inscriptions from the local area. One particular heritage claim to fame caught my attention:


A claim to fame.

This was indeed THE church that rang “the true and complete peal of Oxford Treble Bob Major consisting of 8448 changes, being the extent in that method with the tenors together. This performance, the greatest Achievement on those bells was completed in 5 Hours 24 Minutes in the most Masterly fashion”.

FIVE HOUSE OF BELLRINGING?! Those willing gentlemen must have had forearms of steel coupled with temporary deafness to accomplish such a mad venture. It sounds very ‘Guiness Book of Records’.

A short step away from the Church and, skirting around the Tower towards Tower Hill finds a whole new section of Wall I hadn’t seen yet. But a section of the wall with a modern bronze statue of Trajan doing his most marvelously louche Imperial wave. Cos Empire.


“Hello my imperial plebs”

It wouldn’t be the most linear route to walk it, but heading from Tower Hill to the entertainingly posh Leadenmarket will find you in the most beautifully bizarre piece of heritage presentation that one can conceivably come across. The hairdressers on the corner, ‘Nicholson and Griffin’ is a two story affair.


The holy grail of Free Roman entertainment

Go inside and inquire, bold as brass, about the Roman remains. The gentleman shaving trendy heads upstairs will direct you downstairs to “see the girls” like in a 1920s speakeasy. The girls will be excited to see you, all smiles and hairspray before you again inquire about the Roman remains. Smiles drop, annoyance ensues and a perfunctory “Over there, in the corner” before backs are turned and they continue whatever hairdressing they left beforehand.

In the corner, ladies and gentlefolks, is a preserved fragment of London’s Roman Basilica. It has been protected by Museum of London and is hidden behind security glass with a huge interpretation panel next to it. A light switch next to it didn’t work when I was there so all my flash photos merely bounced off, but the image of 1700 years of Roman remains – a fragment of the epicentre of one of Roman Britains biggest and most vibrant settlements, the cosmopolitan precedent to cosmopolitan modern London is kept behind a pile of hairdressing junk. This image should speak entirely for itself:


A Basilica in a Hairdressers. Why not.

Nothing could top this experience for me. I left London beaming and bemused by a Basilica in a hairdressers. Why not indeed? In these modern times of financial pressures, we heritage fanatics are called upon to find new and interesting ways of displaying material to the general public. It was free. The five minutes I spent entertaining myself taking photos of the set-up will stay with me for a long, long time.

Thus concluded the six short stops on my free Roman heritage walking tour of London. Go ye forth and find them.


My ‘Kindle self publication in one week’ archaeology challenge.

Frustrated with long-term projects which will see public outputs next year at the earliest, I opted to set myself a challenge – in September 2015 I wrote, collated, edited and published an eBook in seven days. Now the wonderful world of Kindle Direct Publishing is an amazingly egalitarian development in the difficult world of publishing allowing anyone, as it does to use their platform to self publish their own book providing that it is longer than 2000 words and the author has the legal right to publish that work.

Now I have no experience as a historical non-fiction author. I’ve written countless reports as a museum professional, written a couple of dissertations and had a few peer-reviewed journal articles published, but none of these things makes me a writer – I was aware of that before the challenge and I’m blisteringly aware of it afterwards. I am currently 23,000 words into a new archaeological introduction to Roman York but what form that particular labour will fruit in is some way off yet; this one is currently vanity project to see if I can write a suitable amount of text about York. The topic I chose for my eBook challenge was a relevant topic on which I knew I could bash out several thousand words – the Tombstone of Lucius Duccius Rufinus, now in the Yorkshire Museum. Rufinus was a standard bearer in the 9th Legion and died at the end o the 1st Century AD at Eburacum. His tombstone is unique in the city and quite rare in the imagery that it portrays – enough, I thought, to produce a specialist 6-7000 word document. I had two main sources of inspiration for writing a short archaeological book, one is the stack of the damnable things that frequently falls off my bookshelf – included amongst these bite size beauties are a number of the ‘Shire Archaeology’ series (sadly discontinued), some English Heritage guidebooks to Hadrian’s Wall sites and a couple of the self-published Vindolanda mini books by Robin Birley which every visitor to the fort there purchases. The second source of inspiration was the indomitable Mike Bishop – Roman military archaeologist, digital maestro, open access advocate, and publisher of a series of Roman eBooks – his Per Lineam Valli series.

I did this in my spare time, outside of work (and yes I work full-time) and with a free weekend to play with. To cut a long and coffee-fuelled story short I did manage it and ‘ Rufinus: Standard-bearer of the 9th Legion‘ is available to purchase for Kindle.
The whole experience was a learning curve, a fascinating insight into a world I knew little about. The crux of this blog post is to highlight five things I learned about self-publishing a Kindle eBook in a week:

1) That Amazon and the Kindle platform is a technological revelation: The speed by which I could convert a simple word documented into a .mobi file format and have it for sale was phenomenal. Publishers take months, Kindle took minutes. Mind blowing stuff and a pleasure to be part of. I’d hate for this kind of technology to be even bigger in future decades and not to have tried it already.

2) Peer-Review and publishers are still King: Friends and colleagues laughed, didn’t believe it could be so easy, questioned my general sanity and how I spend my spare time, or considered the whole thing quaint. An eBook lacks the gravitas of a hard-bound paper edition. A paper book is a THING, it is a thing that not many people (certainly outside of academia) have written, published and been paid for. Books are sacred, curated things in many of our lives and we are party to the perpetuation of their physical importance. We need publishers to make this a reality. Friends congratulated me on publishing a book and my Kindle-owning mother was ecstatic, but the formal ceremony of purchasing a book and having it delivered and worshipped will always be lost for eBooks (my late discovery of CreateSpace, Amazon’s paperback self-publishing arm which works in exactly the same way as Kindle except it prints on-demand version of paperback books has, however, certainly peaked my interest.)

3) The reality of Kindle sales is disappointing. I knew fine well that such a niche book would always be a hard sell and has quite a finite audience base, but it is currently lost within the miasma of 4 million books available for sale on Amazon. It is currently only available for Kindle, I hadn’t yet reformatted it to be published with Smashwords (the other big eBook publisher). After 2 weeks of it being available at £1.99 I had sold 6 copies and I knew exactly who each of those sales went to. As a first published author on Amazon I am untried, untested and without the hundreds of positive book reviews enjoyed by the hard-working and successful independent authors and this reflects in sales. It’ll be an uphill battle to build on this base, but thankfully eBooks can live online for years.

4) A book is NEVER finished: Yes I had a finite time to complete my self-indulgent challenge and a maximum word count to play with, but since its publication online I have updated the text 4 times already. The first two aimed to deal with (very) minor formatting errors which has slipped by my addled square-eyes, the latter two expanded the text. It’s now 1700 words longer than the first edition. Updates take minutes to upload and hours to become live – it must be agonisingly frustrating for paperback authors who spot a missed comma or apostrophe before a new printing can be produced. I’ve had to force myself not to mess with it for now, to let it be out in the commercial world to live or die on its own.

5) I’m going to do it again: It was addictive. Like peer-reviewed journal articles it’s a massive ego-boost to know that people have read something you have written and have learned and can take something away – even if one of them is your mum. It is also a lot of fun. The nitty gritty of page formatting for file conversion wasn’t nearly as painful as I’d envisaged. Ultimately the whole experience has made me empowered and let me do something I had no other real intentions of doing at this time. My plan moving forward is to make myself a lot more work and create a series – the ‘Abridged Roman York’ (the latest updated to Rufinus added this into the title screen). More books which link to each other, in my mind, could potentially generate more sales and a lot more fun.

There isn’t a moral, message or real conclusion to this post – just a suggestion to go and give this a go, write something down and send it out into the world to read. Like blog posting, but the formatting is easier…

Art and sculptures from Hadrian’s Villa: Statue of the young god Hermes, known as ‘Capitoline Antinous’


This week’s sculpture from Hadrian’s Villa is a marble statue of a young nude, the so-called ‘Capitoline Antinous‘. It was found in 1723/24 during the time when Giuseppe Fede was undertaking the earliest concerted excavations at the Villa Adriana. However its exact provenance within the Villa is unknown.

The so-called Capitoline Antinous, now considered to be a late Hadrianic / early Antonine copy of an early 4th century BC Greek statue of Hermes, found at Hadrian's Villa, Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums © Carole Raddato The so-called Capitoline Antinous, now considered to be a late Hadrianic / early Antonine copy of an early 4th century BC Greek statue of Hermes, found at Hadrian’s Villa
Palazzo Nuovo, Capitoline Museums
© Carole Raddato

Considering that this work was found at Villa Adriana and owing to its melancholy gaze, the statue was thought to represent Hadrian’s lover Antinous. Until the end of the 19th century it was even regarded as the most famous statue of Antinous. After a long debate among scholars, the statue was finally identified as Hermes, the messenger god, because the head differed so radically…

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Exploring Verulamium, the Roman city of St Albans (UK)


Anyone with an interest in Roman Britain should have St Albans on top of their list of places to visit. I myself visited St Albans twice and enjoyed it on both occasions. A short train ride north of London, St Albans is a must-see site. There are a few remains of the Roman town still visible (Verulamium), such as parts of the city walls, a hypocaust in situ under a mosaic floor, but the most spectacular are the remains of the Roman theatre.

In its heyday Verulamium was the third largest city in Roman Britain. The city was founded on the ancient Celtic site of Verlamion (meaning ‘settlement above the marsh’), a late Iron Age settlement and major center of the Catuvellauni tribe. After the Roman invasion of 43 AD, the city was renamed Verulamium and became one of the largest and most prosperous towns in the province of Britannia…

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Secrets of Roman London Part 1

A Free Heritage Walking Adventure

My Roman blogging has been pitiful of late. Let me rectify this a little. Here be part one of a (possibly very) short series on the Mystery parts of Roman London that can be seen by the willing tourists.

This post stems from an adventurous day I spent in London in July 2014, on a research trip to the Museum of London’s archaeological archive. Having several hours to fill before I could crash on my friends bedroom floor, I set off on an unplanned mission to see as much of Roman London as it was possible to see for Free! First stop was to the very useful tourist information post next to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The wonderful guide was clearly used to off-beat historians asking him questions as was quite happy to help. Map in hand, I set off.

First stop was technically before I had left the tourist info, but I think artistic license will allow me to gloss over that. The Walls, The WALLS! Roman London has lovely walls. Fact. Many sections are quite visible and actually helped me orientate myself around a city I was only used to see via tube. Don’t use the tube, its hot and expensive and, most importantly, you don’t get to see all the heritage. Immediately adjacent to the Museum of London, next to a stonkingly dangerous dual carriageway, is a huge section of wall complete with interval towers and interpretion panels. It’s planted up and publicly accessible.

The wall next to Museum of London

The wall next to Museum of London

Second secret stop was the Amphitheatre. I had only discovered a week previously that the amphitheatre of Roman London is actually visible, as that it is free to do so. Fragments of a gateway and the arena are open to walk around beneath the Guildhall in the banking district. Everyone outside WILL be wearing a suit. Perhaps more impressive than the remains themselves is the huge black line drawn on the ground in the courtyard of the Guildhall, representing the arc of the wall of the amphitheatre. Get this on Google maps to appreciate it fully, its very, very cool.


The amphitheatre beneath the Guildhall


Glorious, glorious interpretation

After a Pret lunch (when in Rome, right?) I opted for the long walk to my next stop, east along the north Bank of the Thames to find a scrap of wooden post from the first century Bridge. This thing was, let me tell you, a nightmare to find! The post remains on open display, exposed to elements, but strapped onto a recess of the exterior of the Church of St. Magnus the Martyr Church. By all accounts it is not a beautiful thing, but a very rare thing displayed in a quirky manner. Any conservator who saw this stake would probably faint. This was a big tick off my Roman-orienteering experience.

Bridging the gap between science and religion

The cliffhanger I leave here, for Part 2 contains a curious church, a hairdressers and a surprise visitor.

Hadrianic Society Conference 2015

March 2015 promises to be a good time for a conference this year for all interested in the Roman world in Britain. The Roman Finds Group is holding a 2-day annular conference in Newcastle, looking at the North of the Country. The Theoretrical Roman Archaeology Conference will be based in Leicester for 3 days at the end of the month (the content is theoretical, not the conference!), and we – the advocates of Roman Army and Frontier studies – will be holding an annual conference in Durha on the 28th-31st March 2015.

The Topic this year is ‘The Role of Towers and Fortlets in the Operation of the Frontiers of the North-Western Provinces of the Roman Empire’.

Arbeia Roman Fort

Speakers will include Erik Graafstal from Utrecht, Andreas Thiel from Germany, Lindsay Allason-Jones, Matthew Symonds, Adrian Goldsworthy and David Breeze.

For more details click here.

Hadrianic Society Conference 2014

Details of the forthcoming Hadrianic Society conference 2014 can be found here.

——————–>Click Here for the Printable pdf Flyer<——————–

We run a dual meeting over 6 days; the first half is a ‘Reunion Weekend’ for members old and new, the Second half a conference proper titled THE ROMAN ARMY SCHOOL. The RAS has been running annually for over 30 years and the list of speakers includes top end academics like David Breeze and Val Maxfield, professional archaeologists such as Andrew Birley, non-professional (but by no means with anything less important to say) society members and invited recent post-graduates. We have it all!

The conference is a mix of Roman Army and Roman Frontier studies with additional content from the various Roman subjects of Art, Architecture, Economics and Epigraphy to name but a few. We are a heady blend of current archaeological discoveries and research, reinterpretation of past conceptions, new academic approaches to objects, applied archaeological sciences and holiday photos. Its a sociable place with copies amounts of coffee and wine-fueled chat about all things Roman. And sometimes just All Things.

Come join us.


You can now follow us on Twitter @HadrianicSoc for a bitesize discussion of archaeology and cake!

31st October AD475

Happy Halloween folks, but lest we not forget that it was on this day in AD475 that ROMULUS AUGUSTUS, the last Roman Emperor of the West took his seat of power. Whilst dear Romulus led a turbulent life and may have been a somewhat reluctant Emperor, his life has been commemorated in a 1950 play ‘Romulus the Great’. by Friedrich Durrenmatt. Got to love Wikipedia. 


Hadrian’s Wall Archaeology Forum 2013

Hadrian’s Wall Archaeology Forum

Saturday October 19th 2013 9.45am – 4.30pm

At The Queen’s Hall, Beaumont Street, Hexham


The Hadrian’s Wall Archaeology Forum is an annual day-conference featuring talks for the general public about new discoveries and research in the Hadrian’s Wall frontier zone including the Cumbrian coast. This year’s programme features talks on excavation projects at Binchester, Maryport, and Vindolanda, research on the Clayton Archaeology Collection at Chesters and geophysical surveys at forts on part of the German frontier.
There will also be a range of publications on sale at reduced prices.
Price = £18.00 (includes tea/coffee mid-morning and mid-afternoon)

Enquiries and bookings:
The Queen’s Hall, Beaumont Street, Hexham, NE46 3LS, Tel: 01434 652477
Email: boxoffice@queenshall.co.ukFor further information contact:
Dr David Mason, The Archaeology Section, Durham County Council, County Hall, Durham City DH1 5UQ.
Tel: 03000 267012 Email. david.mason@durham.gov.uk

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