Tag Archive | Basilica

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.

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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:

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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.

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“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.

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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:

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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.

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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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