A virtual tour of Roman London …
1 – Blackfriars
The site of the discovery of the remains of a frame-first carvel-built barge known as the “Blackfriars I” ship, dendrochronologically dated to the late second century. The ship contained an intact cargo of Kentish Ragstone, possibly intended for use in the construction of the Roman city wall at the turn of the second and third centuries. The wall ran from Blackfriars in the west by way of Ludgate, Newgate, Aldersgate, Cripplegate, Moorgate, Bishopsgate and Aldgate to Tower Hill in the east.
2 – Ludgate
The site of one of the gates in the Roman city wall. Part of the wall is preserved in the church of St Martin within Ludgate. The wall was originally built at the turn of the second and third centuries, that is, around the time of the rival emperorships of and power-struggle between Clodius Albinus and Septimius Severus. It was subsequently extended and reinforced in the late third, when a river wall was added, and again in the mid fourth, when bastions were added, as defences against Saxon raids. It was twenty feet high, six to eight feet thick, and two miles long. There being no local source of stone, the wall was built out of Kentish Rag – an estimated 85000 tons of it – quarried near Maidstone and transported down the Medway and up the Thames to London on barges (see above).
3 – Old Bailey
Another part of the Roman city wall is preserved in the Central Criminal Court.
4 – Giltspur Street
Yet another part of the Roman city wall is preserved in the Bank of America-Merrill Lynch Building. The bastion is Medieval.
5 – Newgate Street
Newgate Street follows part of the line of the Roman Watling Street, running from the east to the west of Britain. A section of the Roman road is preserved in earthwork form in Greenwich Park.
6 – Newgate
The site of another one of the gates in the Roman city wall (image, Museum of London). Outside the gate was a large cemetery.
7 – Foster Lane
A fragment of Roman tessellated pavement found 18’ beneath the church of St Matthew Friday Street in the nineteenth century is now on display in the churchyard of St Vedast-alias-Foster. Street level has risen by an average of about 1’ every 100 years since Roman times.
8 – Noble Street (near Cripplegate)
Part of a Roman fort dating to the early second century is preserved in Noble Street.
Further parts of the fort, in the underground car park at the northern end, may be viewed by arrangement with the Museum of London.
The fort was incorporated into the Roman city wall at the turn of the second and third centuries.
9 – London Wall
Part of the Roman city wall is preserved in St Alphage Gardens/Salters’ Hall Gardens. The middle part of the wall is thirteenth-century, the upper – brick – part fifteenth-century.
10 – Guildhall Yard
The site of the discovery of the remains of the Roman amphitheatre, surviving parts of which may be viewed in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery. The Amphitheatre was originally built in timber in c. 75, rebuilt in stone in the second century, and renovated in the late second to early fourth, before falling into disuse, and eventually being substantially demolished, in the late fourth, possibly around 365, the remains coming to light again during excavations on the site of the Medieval Guildhall in 1987.
11 – Gresham Street
The site of the discovery of a number of Romano-British “round houses” (image, Museum of London).
12 – Moorgate
The point at which the Walbrook stream entered the Roman city of London.
13 – Poultry and Walbrook (“The Pompeii of the North”)
The location of a section of the Walbrook stream, now underground.
Here also have been uncovered an entire Roman waterfront development, entire streets of houses of various status, and many, many thousands of artefacts – including, importantly, many made of organic materials that would normally have perished but that were preserved in the abnormal anaerobic conditions of the waterlogged deposits of the river Walbrook, such as wooden writing tablets (image, Museum of London).
Note also that large numbers of skulls have been found over the years in the deposits of the river Walbrook. It is likely that some of the skulls originated in the Roman burial ground north of the City wall in Moorfields, and that they were subsequently naturally transported and deposited to the south by the waters of the Walbrook, in the process becoming hydrodynamically sorted from their skeletons. Some others, though, appear to have been deliberately placed in pits, and, moreover, exhibit evidence of blunt- or sharp- force trauma, and these could be those of victims of gladiatorial combat, or of judicial execution, or perhaps of ritual decapitation, that is, head-hunting.
14 – Bloomberg Building, Walbrook
The site of the restored Roman Temple of Mithras, which may be viewed in the basement. The Temple was originally built in the early third century, c. 220-40, and abandoned in the fourth, when Christianity came to replace paganism throughout the Roman Empire, the remains being revealed during the bombing of the Blitz of the Second World War. It was reconstructed on Queen Victoria Street in 1962, and reconstructed again in the Bloomberg Building on Walbrook in 2017. Some of the finds from the recent archaeological dig on and around the temple site may also be viewed in the Bloomberg Space.
Other finds, from the original post-war dig, including a marble bust of Mithras in his distinctive Phrygian cap, may be viewed in the Roman gallery in the Museum of London.
15 – Cannon Street Station
The site of the discovery of the remains of the so-called “Governor’s Palace” (image, Museum of London). The palace was built during the Flavian period of the late first century, c. 69-96, on the then-waterfront, which was much further north in Roman times than it is today, and it remained in use throughout the second and third, before being substantially demolished at the turn of the third and fourth, the remains being discovered during the nineteenth.
The so-called “London Stone”, which presently stands outside No. 111 Cannon Street, opposite the station, is believed by some to have been formerly associated in some way with the “Governor’s Palace”, possibly as a milliarium, or centre-stone, from which Roman roads radiated and distances were measured (it is carved out of Clipsham Stone from Rutland, which is known to have been used for construction in Roman times).
16 – London Bridge and Port of London
The Roman London Bridge was originally built in c. 50, and rebuilt in stone and timber in c. 90 (and in stone many, many times in the succeeding nearly two millennia).
The embryonic Port of London was located around the bridge, and was to become an important trading centre (image, Museum of London).
17 – Thames Street
A section of timber from the Roman waterfront is on display in the churchyard of St Magnus the Martyr. It has been dendrochronologically dated to 62AD, to the period of the reconstruction that followed the destruction of Roman London in the Boudiccan revolt of the previous year.
18 – Gracechurch Street and Bishopsgate
Gracechurch Street and Bishopsgate follow part of the line of the Roman Ermine Street, running from the south to the north of Britain.
19 – No. 90 Gracechurch Street
The site of the discovery of the remains of the first undoubted Roman Basilica and Forum, a surviving pier base from which may be viewed in the basement of No. 90 Gracechurch Street.
The Basilica and Forum were built in c. 70, and rebuilt and considerably extended in c. 100-30, before being substantially demolished in c. 300 (image, Museum of London).
20 – Rear of “The Gherkin”, Bury Street
The site of the discovery of the buried remains of a young Roman girl. Most burials took place outside the Roman city walls.
21 – Plantation Place, Fenchurch Street
The site of the discovery of the remains of a post-Boudiccan fort (image, Museum of London).
22 – 101 Thames Street
The site of the discovery of the remains of the so-called “Billingsgate Roman House”, complete with baths, surviving parts of which may be viewed in the basement by arrangement with the Museum of London.
23 – All Hallows Barking, Byward Street
The site of an in situ section of Roman tessellated pavement (in the crypt).
Also of a fine diorama of Roman London (lacking the amphitheatre, which was still yet to be discovered at the time of manufacture).
24 – Novotel Building, Pepys Street
The site of the discovery of the remains of a Roman building variously interpreted as a late Roman Basilica or – on the basis of similarity to the Basilica di Santa Tecla in Milan – a “palaeo-Christian” church or cathedral.
25 – Cooper’s Row and Tower Hill
Parts of the Roman city wall are preserved in Cooper’s Row and on Tower Hill.
A section of the river wall may be viewed inside the Tower of London (admission charge payable).