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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…

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.


We are running out of time to accept papers for the following. Get on it people!

An opportunity for 2 post-graduate students to present research at the Hadrianic Society’s Roman Army School, held in Durham city in Spring 2014 (dates tbc). For all students of Roman studies; see the following pdf for further details.


Application deadline for the Small finds session Call for Papers – TRAC 2014 (Which can be read in full here) is now set to 25th September. Share the love.

For TRAC – If you are interested in participating or have any questions please contact Stefanie Hoss at 

York Minster Undercroft – The New Gallery

On the 25th May 2013 York’s eponymous visitor attraction, the Minster, has reopened its undercroft – the archaeological museum displaying many of the in situ remains to be found beneath the building proper. Dangerous levels of weathering and structural stress nearly led to disaster 50 years ago, but a continued series of repairs and investment has ensured the preservation of this historic landmark. As part of a £20million redevelopment. titled the ‘York Minster Revealed’ project, most of the gallery space is redeveloped and the visitor experience generally is expanded.


The Minster itself sits directly atop the Principia of the legionary fortress. Whilst the physical remains of the Basilica SW wall are minimal in their survival, they constitute one of the very few remains visible at all from Roman York. The Legionary Bathhouse (now under a pub) and the Multangular Tower (the SW wall tower used continually from AD70 onwards and part of the City Wall).


The Basilica Wall

The Undercroft revealed is a beautiful little visitor attraction now (its predecessor was looking a little dated). The small finds are well displayed, nicely interpreted and have some intriguing touches. Using a moulded hand to hold the stylus on top of a tile graffito was a particular highlight. The displays are all representative of the time and money spent on this gallery – its worth it. To my mind, the rest of the Roman experience of York is really well developed; there is a slight obsession with the Basilica.The display obviously follows on into the Anglian, Norman and Medieval periods. A cinema at the end runs three short films – one of which is a very well produced piece lasting 3 minutes identifying the Rise of Constantine in York in terms of its Christian significance.


The Undercroft is free as part of an Adult entry ticket (£10, valid for a year) or entirely free if you are a York resident. Enjoy

TRAC Call for Papers

The following Call for Contributions for a session on Roman Small Finds and Ancient Social Practices at TRAC 2014 has been brought to our attention. HadSoc thinks this is right up our street… or should I say vallum?

 Session organizers: Alissa Whitmore & Stefanie Hoss

 While artifacts have always been a part of archaeology, over the past 20 years studies focusing on contextualized artifacts from a variety of classical spaces have allowed scholars to rewrite our understanding of the past. From the soldiers manning the turrets on Hadrian’s Wall caught unexpectedly sewing (Allason-Jones 1988) to women spinning and weaving in Roman forts (Allison 2006), Roman military archaeology has been taught a very interesting lesson on the integration of what we would deem civilian life into the Roman military. But this is just one example of many; other studies in material spatiality were able to throw light on different elements of the use of human space, be it domestic, productive, commercial, political, social, or religious space. Such studies reinforce the social importance of small finds, which can provide detailed evidence of ancient social practices, activities, and use of space, in addition to dates for a site.


This session will focus upon analyses and interpretations of small finds that shed new light on ancient behaviors and spaces. We are especially interested in papers and artifacts which offer novel evidence for previously unknown activities and social groups in a given space, or those which contradict existing ancient sources and scholarly beliefs, forcing us to confront opposing sets of evidence and rethink our understanding of a given space or practice. Papers dealing with all types of small finds, activities, and spaces (public, private, and those in-between) are welcome and encouraged.

 If you are interested in participating or have any questions please contact Stefanie Hoss at 

We return….

The past month has seen the tumbleweed roll gracefully across the Saloon front that is this Roman archaeology blog. Like the good-guy protagonist sheriff I am now riding back into town from journeys unknowable to bring the fight to the poisonous soul of the Historical Ignorance Kid. Draw sucker!

And like all good spaghetti westerns I am including a wonderful link to a BBC news article about the recent excavations of a signficant Iron Age site in Devon.

Mosey on through this here hyperlink and have a gander pardners.

*Insert sound-byte from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly* =]

The Moving Story of the London Mithraem

This is a re-publication of an article written for the Hadrianic Society Newsletter in Autumn 2012 by contributor Rose Baillie.

Details of the Museum of London entry can be found here.

The London Blitz of World War 2 left numerous empty plots in the City of London, which far-sighted individuals realised were ripe for archaeology. Into the breach stepped the Roman and Mediaeval London Excavation Council, which appointed Prof W F ‘Peter’ Grimes, Director of the London Museum, to superintend excavations.

In 1954 came Grimes’ greatest discovery, a Temple of Mithras, together with the highest quality assemblage of Roman sculpture yet found in Britain. The excavation aroused enormous public and press interest and was carried on in circumstances of resource, financial and developer pressure that foreshadowed the rescue archaeology of the 1970’s. After Cabinet debate, a two week extension and 100’s of yards of queuing visitors, the Temple was dismantled and rebuilt in 1962 on Queen Victoria Street some 90m from its original location, while the sculptures went to the Museum of London. So far, so familiar.

All things come to an end, including the life of Bucklersbury House, the post-war development on the site of the Mithraeum. A convoluted and complex series of negotiations since 2008 have led to Bucklersbury House and a neighbouring property being acquired by Bloomberg LP, to be redeveloped as their new European HQ. An added complication was that the reconstructed Temple of Mithras had in the interim become a ‘Listed Building’. This meant that Museum of London staff got to superintend its dismantlement and to explore for any possible remains of the original temple.

At this point it was realised that something of a trick had been played on the public for last 50 years, as John Shepherd, former MoL Archive Manager and Grimes expert, told a meeting earlier this year. The fact is that the reconstructed Temple was little more than a ground plan in stone, with which Grimes was very disappointed.

The work was undertaken without proper planning, the stones from the Temple were unnumbered and moved haphazardly to two successive locations and many were lost. The reconstructed Temple had hard modern cement and crazy paving in the aisle. It was built on the street-side roof of an underground car park, on the wrong orientation, without character and context. The one part of the building that was undoubtedly in its correct location was the worn doorstep, with well preserved iron sockets on which the original doors hinged. However,for want of many other visible Roman remains, it became a familiar fixture on London heritage tours. This unsatisfactory structure has now been recorded, dismantled by expert masons and moved once more into storage, ahead of re-instatement as part of the new development.

Thanks to Grimes’ excellent work we know that the London Mithraeum was built around 240AD on an east/west alignment on the rather soggy bank of the Walbrook stream. It was built to simulate a dark cave for Mithraism’s esoteric rituals. It was rectangular, about 18m x 8m with a semi-circular apse at the western end that would have held the main cult statue. There was a sunken floor in the central nave and side aisles separated from the nave by seven columns. Undergoing various modifications, it remained in use as a Mithraeum until around 350 AD. By this time the structure was suffering from severe subsidence and the walls were creaking. It seems likely that the building was taken over by the followers of another pagan cult, probably Bacchus, who repaired it and used it until the end of the Roman period.

Possibly out of respect for the old religion, a group of sculptures were buried in a pit under the floor of the nave. These included heads of Mithras, Serapis and Minerva, the hand of Mithras, and a figure of Mercury. In fact the mostimportant sculpture from the Mithraeum had already been found nearby in 1889. This is the archetypal sculptural scene of Mithras slaying the cosmic bull, with the torch bearing Cautes and Cautopates, surrounded by the 12 signs of the zodiac, the sun, the moon and two wind gods, dedicated by Ulpius Silvanus, emeritus of Legio ll Augusta, from Orange.

One legacy of the discovery of the London Mithraeum was that it began the process by which archaeology eventually became incorporated into City planning and redevelopment. A surprising amount is still being found in the City of London, despite much of the built environment being replaced every 20-30 years. Over time many adjacent sites have been excavated, to build up a bigger picture, while the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) provides a home for finds and researchers.

It was always hoped that the new Walbrook Square would contain the reconstructed Mithraeum in a more historically accurate form, for which planning permission has been given. At the time of writing discussions are underway as to what form this will take. Early reports said the Mithraeum would be rebuilt at its original location.But there is a complication. In the archaeological re-evaluation of the site after demolition Ian Blair, of Museum of London Archaeology, had squeezed himself into a narrow trench and located the remains of Grimes’ excavation. He found a great deal more of the Temple’s original foundations still in situ than anyone dared hope. There were substantial parts of the narthex and aisle walls. And, yes, Grimes’ orientation and levels were spot on, but some reinterpretation may be needed, as some of the extant roman remains are from another building, not the Mithraeum.

You cannot put the reconstruction of a reconstruction on top of what is now a ‘Scheduled Ancient Monument’.So the plan is that there will be public access at street level very near the original location, into a lobby with a display about Mithraism, leading into a darkened, enclosed, lower level reconstruction of the Mithraeum made from the saved stones, which will evoke the cave-like atmosphere favoured by the cult. Nearby but not visible, will be the remains of the original Mithraeum, still resting in the silt of the now invisible Walbrook. It is hoped that the new assemmbage with open in 2016.

Development on Maryport

Maryport building

The heated debate over the prospective Maryport Deer Park site, covering some of the Roman remains on the site continues. The prospective area of development is identified in the google maps image above. The full article on the Times & Star website includes a letter signed by big names in Romano-British archaeology identifying why the work shouldn’t go ahead given the damage to archaeology and tourism in the area.

The T&S article identifies that the letter has been signed by Alan Biggins and David Taylor, directors of TimeScape, who discovered the Roman farm, David J Breeze, chairman of the Senhouse Roman Museum (and Hadrianic Society member), David Clarke, former senior curator of Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, Lindsay Allason-Jones, president of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, David Thackray, chairman of the World Heritage Committee, and professors of archaeology William Hanson, of the University of Glasgow, Richard Hingley, of the University of Durham, and Ian Haynes, of Newcastle University, who is the director of the current excavations at the Maryport site.

A discussion for residents had to be briefly adjourned (see here) because the debate raged…

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