Tag Archive | Roman Britain

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.

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.

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The amphitheatre beneath the Guildhall

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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.
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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.

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. 

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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

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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

Bristol extol the Roman virtues

Latest museum redevelopment is coming to us in Bristol, with the Bristol Museums and Art Gallery co-opting with the BM to provide a new exhibition on all things Roman and Bristolian (Bristolesque? Bristillian? … no idea)

A guardian news report break it down but it seems to promise good things. Further details to follow.

Repost: CALL FOR PAPERS!

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.

HadrianicSocietyCallForPapers2014

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 Stefanie.Hoss@uni-koeln.de 

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

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.

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