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.
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
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.
“The World Has Been Empty Since The Romans”, is the philosophy identified by an installation at the Tate Modern . Weighing in at 1600kg, the fragmentary limestone image replicates the epigraphic habit of the Roman World. I mentioned the image in a recent edition of the Hadrianic Society newsletter, but to see it in all of its high-resolution beauty, check it out here at the Tate Modern website.
Totally unbiased, but I certainly agree…