Dark Age (Saxon and Viking) London, Pt. I – History and Social History

Another in the series on the history of London up to the time of the Great Fire of 1666, largely taken from my book, “The Flower Of All Cities” (Amberley, 2019) …


Map 2.  Dark Age (Saxon and Viking) London.  1 – St Paul’s  Cathedral; 2 – (St) Paul’s Cross, St Paul’s Churchyard (site of folkmoot); 3 – Cheapside; 4 – St Alban Wood Street; 5 – Aldermanbury; 6 – Guildhall, Guildhall Yard (site of husting); 7 – St Lawrence Jewry, Gresham Street; 8 – St Olave Jewry, Ironmonger Lane; 9 – St Mary Aldermary, Watling Street; 10 – Queenhithe; 11 – Old London Bridge (and Port of London); 12 – St Magnus the Martyr, Thames Street; 13 – Eastcheap; 14 – St Dunstan-in-the-East, St Dunstan’s Hill (off Great Tower Street); 15 – All Hallows Barking, Byward Street; 16 – St Olave Hart Street.

Considerably less is known about this period of history than either the succeeding or indeed even the preceding one, such that it is often referred to as the “Dark Ages” (Map 2). 

One of the reasons we know so little is that the (Anglo-)Saxons appear to have built almost exclusively using perishable materials such as timber, wattle-and-daub, and thatch, which typically leave very little archaeological record.  

What is known is that there was essentially a hiatus in the occupation of London between when the Romans left, in the  fifth century, and when the Saxons arrived in numbers at the turn of the sixth and seventh.   Archaeological evidence points to a Saxon presence in the city, although not a full-scale occupation, from around 430-50.  Note, through, that the Old English “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle” records  that in 457 the Saxons “Hengest and Esc fought with the Britons on the spot that is called Crayford, and there slew four thousand men” and that “the Britons then  forsook the land of Kent, and in great consternation fled to London”.

When the Saxons – from what is now Germany – did arrive, they chose for some reason to make  their principal  settlement about a mile to the west (upstream), and without the walls, of the  old Roman City of Londinium, around what is now Aldwych in the City of Westminster, and they named it Lundenwic. 

Lundenwic became  subject to increasingly frequent and savage raids by the Vikings – from Scandinavia – in the ninth century.  On the wings of dragons  they came in 839, axes agleam, and according to the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”, went  only after “great slaughter.  And back they came in 851 “and stormed … London”, and again in 872 “and there chose their winter-quarters”.  There is some archaeological evidence that the Saxons had essentially abandoned Lundenwic to the Vikings  by 867.  Northumbrian  stycas (coins) of this date have been found in an infilled defensive ditch surrounding the settlement.

Then in 878, Alfred the Great emerged from the marshy fastnesses of Athelney in Somerset to defeat the Vikings at the Battle of Edington in Wiltshire, and subsequently to force them to withdraw into what became known as the Danelaw in the  north and east of the country  (east of the River Lea in London).  

“Alfred Plaque”, Queenhithe

Eight years later, in 886, according to Asser, a monk and later Bishop of Sherborne, in his “Life of King Alfred”, he “restored the [Roman] city of London … splendidly … and  made it habitable again … ”; and moved the  Saxon settlement to within its perimeter and river walls, and renamed it Lundenburg.  In the process, he  set out the street plan that still in essence survives to this day.  He then “entrusted it  [and command of its burgwara or militia] to the care of [his son-in-law] Aethe(l)red, ealdorman of the Mercians”, to hold it under him.  Aethered died in 910/1, whereupon  Alfred’s son, Edward the Elder, King of Wessex, took control of the city until his death in 924/5, in turn to be  succeeded by his son Aethelstan, the first King of All England.    Interestingly, 7 out of just over 100, or 7%,   of the known names of moneyers  living and working in London between c. 973-1016, that is, while it was still – for the most part – at least nominally under Saxon rule, are Scandinavian.   This compares to  25 out of 62, or  40%,  in Lincoln, and 48 out of 74, or 65%,   in York, in the Danelaw. Gutter Lane off Cheapside takes its name from Godrun, Gudrun or Guthrun, an Old Norse name for a woman.   It was first recorded as Godrun Lane in the twelfth century.  On a more-or-less related note, Eastcheap, was first recorded – as Estcep – on a Harold I “Jewel Cross” penny  made  by the moneyer Eadwold most likely sometime between 1035-7.

The Viking raids resumed  in the late tenth century and continued into the early eleventh.  In 994, again according to the “Chronicle”, “Olaf [Trygvasson] and [the Danish King] Swein [Forkbeard] came into London …  with 94 ships, and they proceeded to attack the city stoutly and wished also to set it on fire … .  But the holy Mother of God showed her mercy to the citizens on that day and saved them from their enemies”.   And in 1012, another fleet overwintered in Greenwich, and there murdered the captured Archbishop of Canterbury, Aelfeah “with bones of …  oxen”, having failed to secure the ransom they had demanded for his release.  Aelfeah’s body was initially laid to rest in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, and subsequently  translated to Canterbury Cathedral in 1023 (by the then Christianised Viking King, Cnut).  He was made Saint Alfege or Alphage  in 1078, and the churches of St Alfege in Greenwich and St Alphage London Wall in the City of London are dedicated to him.

“London Bridge is broken down”. (C) Look and Learn.

In   1013, the city fell again to the Danish Vikings under Swein, albeit again only temporarily, being retaken in 1014 by the English King Aethelred “The Unready”.  According to one interpretation of events, at this time, Aethelred was in alliance with the Norwegian Viking Olaf, Olav or Olave  Haraldsson, who deliberately destroyed the Saxon incarnation of London Bridge – and the Danish  Viking army assembled on –  it by pulling it down with ropes tied to his long-boats.   Snorri Sturluson  wrote, in the – embellished – Norse “Olaf’s Saga” of the thirteenth century, “Olaf, and the Northmen’s fleet with him, rowed … under the bridge, laid their cables around the piles which supported it, and then rowed off … as hard as they could down the stream.  … Now …  the piles being …  broken, the bridge gave way; and a great part of the men upon it fell into the river, and all the others … surrendered … , and took Aethelred to be their king.  So says Ottar Svarte [Olaf’s court-poet, writing in the eleventh century]: ‘London Bridge is broken down.|Gold is won, and bright renown.|Shields resounding, war-horns sounding,|Hild is shouting in the din!|Arrows singing, mail-coats ringing-|Odin makes our Olaf win’“ (incidentally, many believe this ode to be the origin of the much-loved nursery-rhyme “London Bridge is falling down”).   Intriguingly,    there is no mention  in the “Anglo-Saxon Chronicles” of  such an event having taken place (although obviously this does not mean that it did not).  According to another  interpretation, Olaf actually destroyed  London Bridge  while fighting against rather than alongside the English, and possibly during Thorkell the Tall’s abortive assault of 1009 rather than in 1014.   We may never know exactly what happened.   We do know, though, that Olaf was especially revered in London, and that six churches were dedicated to him here in the Middle Ages, after his canonisation by the  English Bishop of Selsey, Grimkell or Grimketel in 1031.  

St Olave Hart Street

These were St Nicholas Olave, St Olave Broad Street, St Olave Hart Street, St Olave Jewry and St Olave Silver Street in the City, and St Olave in Southwark.  Olaf had converted to Christianity in Rouen in Normandy in the winter of 1014/15, and had,  as King Olaf II, introduced the religion to Norway in 1015; and  had gone  on to be martyred fighting heathen Danish Vikings at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030.   

Nidaros Cathedral

In the later Middle Ages, his tomb, in the most northerly cathedral in Christendom, in Nidaros [Trondheim] in Norway, became an important pilgrimage site, and the centre of a widespread “cult of Olav”. 

In  1016, the Viking Cnut, son of Swein Forkbeard, son of Harald Bluetooth, decisively defeated in battle the Saxon Edmund “Ironside”, son of Aethelred and Aelgifu of York,  to become King of England as well as Denmark; and London came to be known by some as Lundunir or Lundunaborg.   And in 1017, Cnut  married Aethelred’s widow, Emma of Normandy, one of the more remarkable women of the age, wife of two Kings, mother of two more, and in her own right an influential political as well as an important dynastic figure, as described in the “Encomium Emmae Reginae”.  Cnut was in turn succeeded by Harold “Harefoot”, his son by Aelgifu of Northampton, in 1035, and  Harthacnut,  his son by Emma,  in  1040.   Harold Harefoot’s body was initially buried  in Westminster Abbey, but was subsequently dug up  and flung into a fen by his half-brother Harthacnut, and eventually  retrieved and reburied, possibly  in the church of St Clement Danes.

Finally, the Saxon Edward “The Confessor”, son of Aethelred and Emma,   became King when the Viking Harthacnut died, leaving no heir, in 1042; and the ill-fated Harold Godwin(e)son, Harold II, in 1066.

Social History

Everyday life in London in Saxon  times would have revolved around the requirement and search for sustenance for body and soul.   Recent research has shown that Saxon  women were granted some not inconsiderable freedoms in law, and although their principal responsibilities were household, they also held the rights to own land.


The early Saxons were pagan, but they later began to become Christianised from around the turn of the sixth and seventh centuries onwards. In 597, Pope Gregory I sent a mission from Rome to attempt their wholesale conversion to – Roman – Christianity, one of the members of which was Augustine, and another Mellitus, which latter went on to become the first Bishop of London in 604, and the third Archbishop of Canterbury in 615.  In 616, the previously converted East Saxons temporarily  reverted to paganism, after the death of their King. As the Venerable Bede put it in 731, in his “Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum” (“Ecclesiastical History of the English People”): “In the year of our Lord 616 … the death of Sabert [Sebert], King of the East Saxons … left three sons, still pagans, to inherit his … crown.  They immediately began openly to give themselves up to idolatry, … and … granted free licence to their subjects to serve idols.  And when they saw the bishop [Mellitus] … celebrating Mass … , filled, as they were, with folly and ignorance, they said unto him … ‘We will not enter into that font, because we … do not stand in need of it, and yet we will be refreshed by that bread’.  And being … earnestly admonished by him, that this could by no means be done, nor would any one be admitted to partake of the sacred Oblation without the holy cleansing, …  they said, filled with rage, ‘If you will not comply with us in so small a matter as that which we require, you shall not stay in our province’.  And they drove him out … and his company … from their Kingdom [Essex] … ”.  Among the many features of historical or archaeological note in Greenwich Park – a World Heritage Site – are approximately fifty  rather eroded burial mounds or barrows on Croom’s Hill, a little to the west of the line of the Prime Meridian.  Archaeological excavations on the burial mounds have unearthed swords, shields and other pagan grave goods dating to  the seventh century, i.e., the Saxon period.  It is possible, though,  that the barrows themselves were originally of Bronze Age construction, a number of instances of such re-use having been recorded elsewhere in England.

The early Vikings were pagan, but they later began to become Christianised from the ninth century onwards.

Food and Drink

Evidence from finds from Saxon rural occupation and riverside fish-trap sites in the Greater London region, within a 25 kilometre  (16 mile) radius of the City,  indicates that the  agricultural economy centred on the production of cereal crops, including  wheat, barley, oats and rye, and of cattle, presumably for milk as well as meat. Pulses, nuts, fruit and berries were also produced and consumed.

Note in this context that plant- and animal- based remedies featured prominently in early Medieval medicine.  The Old English text in the mid tenth-century “Bald’s Leechbook” describes, among other things, how  salves  and potions were used to treat not only injuries and infections, but also, rather wonderfully, visitations from elves (aelfcynne), night goblins (nihtgehgan) and devils (deofol).   And the Old English and Latin text and accompanying illustrations in an anonymous early eleventh-century herbal indicate that both parsley (peterslilie) and sweet basil or “snake plant” (naedderwyrt) were used to treat snake bites.


The population of Saxon London is estimated to have been at the most several thousand (that is, significantly less than that of Roman London).

Administration and Governance

Saxon London was for the most part only a  regional rather than a national administrative centre, as the “Seven Kingdoms” only finally  united to become England under Alfred’s grandson Aethelstan, who was crowned in Kingston  in 924/5 (as, later, were Edmund in 939, Edred in 946, Edwig in 956, Edward the Martyr in 975 and Aethelred the Unready in 978/9).  The “Seven Kingdoms”, also known as the  “Heptarchy”,  comprised East Anglia, Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex and Wessex.  Of these, Essex, Mercia and Wessex in turn held  sway over London. 

Nonetheless, London was the site of both the folkmoot, or outdoor assembly, thought to have been on a site near the Medieval (St) Paul’s Cross;  and the husting or indoor assembly, thought to have been on a site near the Medieval Guildhall.  Saxon society was comparatively democratic, and any free man  was entitled to voice his opinion at the folkmoot (and, as noted above, Saxon women were also granted some freedoms in law).  However, only a noble  ealdorman, or earl, appointed by the King could attend the husting,  and only Kings, greater nobles and bishops the peripatetic parliamentary assembly known as the  Witan.   Saxon Society was also comparatively meritocratic,  and permissive of a measure of mobility, albeit within an overall  hierarchy (note that although Kings were elected, they  were elected from  within the ranks  of the nobility).  The highest among the free men were the thanes, or knights, the lowest the various classes of ceorls, or peasants (whence Cerle-ton or Charlton in south-east London).  Below them were the theows, or slaves.

Perhaps the most famous law-giver of Saxon times was Alfred, who in the late 880s or early 890s established a new code of law, based on Christian principles, and enshrined in the so-called  “Domboc”.  The code established  folk-rights and privileges.  Judicial  courts ruled  on cases of alleged breaches, and meted  out such fines or corporal or capital punishments as were deemed appropriate.  Some of the punishments appear barbaric by modern standards, such as the judicial drowning of a Saxon woman at London Bridge, for witchcraft, in the tenth century, as documented in a charter dated to between 963-75; and the postulated judicial drowning of another, at Queenhithe, in or around the eighth, as indicated by radiometric dating of skeletal remains, staked out on the foreshore, to between 680-810.  That is not to mention the supposedly “oath-helping” Ordeals by Fire, Iron or Water!  Aethelstan passed laws relating specifically to the governance of London in the succeeding early tenth century (he reigned from 924/5-39).  His “Judicia Civitatis Londoniae” makes explicit reference to a governance structure comprising a single governor, or in effect a mayor (in place of a bishop and port-reeve), “eorlish” aldermen, and “ceorlish” commons.

Trade and Commerce

Foodstuffs continued to be brought into Saxon  London from the immediate hinterland.  Other goods continued to be  brought in    by boat from all around northern Europe, including the Low Countries and Scandinavia, and also, in the case of precious stones, gold, silk and other luxuries, even further afield.  Saxon London came to be  characterised by the Venerable Bede as “a great emporium for many nations that come to it by land and sea”.

Roman London, Pt. 2 – Building Works and Surviving Structures

Another in the series on the history of London up to the time of the Great Fire of 1666, largely taken from my book, “The Flower Of All Cities” (Amberley, 2019) …

Building Works

Map 1 – Roman London.  1 – Blackfriars; 2 – Ludgate; 3 – Central Criminal Court Building, Old Bailey (section of wall); 4 – Bank of America-Merrill Lynch Building, Giltspur Street (section of wall); 5 – Watling Street; 6 – Newgate; 7 – St Vedast-alias-Foster, Foster Lane (fragment of tessellated pavement); 8 – Remains of Cripplegate Fort, Noble Street; 9 – St Alphage Gardens/Salters’ Hall Gardens, London Wall (section of wall); 10 – Remains of Amphitheatre, Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Yard; 11 – Gresham Street; 12 – Moorgate and Princes Street (line of Walbrook stream); 13 – Poultry and Walbrook (“The Pompeii of the North”); 14 – Remains of Temple of Mithras, Bloomberg Building, Walbrook; 15 – Site of “Governor’s Palace”, Cannon Street Station; 16 – Old London Bridge (and Port of London); 17 – St Magnus the Martyr, Thames Street; 18 – Ermine Street; 19 – Remains of Basilica and Forum, Gracechurch Street; 20 – Bury Street; 21 – Fort, Plantation Place, Fenchurch Street; 22 – Remains of Billingsgate Roman House, 101 Thames Street; 23 – All Hallows Barking, Byward Street; 24 – Site of Basilica or “Palaeo-Christian” church, Novotel Building, Pepys Street; 25 – Cooper’s Row and Tower Hill (sections of wall).

Restoring the mosaic of Roman London from the  isolated “tesserae” that remain is a challenging task.  The Roman London Bridge and embryonic Port of London 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). 

A recently-discovered post-Boudiccan fort on   Mincing Lane  was built in c. 63, although it appears to have been out of use by c. 80.   The  “Governor’s 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 first undoubted Basilica and Forum were built in c. 70 (there may have been earlier ones, destroyed during the Boudiccan Revolt of 60 or 61), and rebuilt and considerably extended in c. 100-30, before being substantially demolished in c. 300,  the remains being discovered during   excavations at 168 Fenchurch Street  in 1995-2000.   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.  A fort was built at Cripplegate in the early second century for a garrison of 1,500 infantry and cavalry troops. The City wall, incorporating the aforementioned fort, 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 (the wall cuts through, and thus  post-dates, a deposit containing a coin of Commodus dating to 183-4, and  is in part contemporary with a deposit containing a coin of Caracalla dating to 213-7).    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.  The remains of a frame-first carvel-built barge known as the “Blackfriars I” ship, dendrochronologically dated to 130-175, were found  at Blackfriars in 1962, with its 25-ton cargo intact.   All  Roman ships discovered to date in and around the Port of London have been carvel-built, that is to say, with non-overlapping timbers. 

The  Temple of Mithras on the Walbrook 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.  The Temple of Mithras was reconstructed on Queen Victoria Street in 1962, and reconstructed again – inside a specially designed  space – in the Bloomberg Building on Walbrook in 2017.  Some of the finds from the recent archaeological dig on and around the temple site may 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).

There was probably also a  Temple of Isis on the Thames in the third century, as indicated by the finding of a re-used altar stone dedicated to the goddess in Blackfriars.  And plausibly a Temple of Diana on Ludgate Hill, as indicated by the finding of a bronze statuette of the goddess somewhat to the south-west of St Paul’s Cathedral, between the Deanery and Blackfriars.  (No Temple of Cybele has as yet been found, although the worship of that goddess was evidently practised in Roman London, as indicated by the finding in the Thames of a curious  piece of liturgical equipment, interpreted by some as a “castration clamp”, featuring figures of her and of consort Atys, and also by the findings at various locations in the city of figurines of Atys.)  Just outside Newgate, on the east bank of the Fleet adjacent to Watling Street, there was a possible octagonal Romano-Celtic temple of the late second century,  which was replaced by a suburban villa by the early fourth.    And in Greenwich Park, also adjacent to Watling Street, another possible Romano-Celtic temple, this time consisting of  a central cella and outer ambulatory, surrounded by a walled enclosure.

An  enigmatic, only partially excavated, 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, was built  in the south-east, between  Pepys Street and Trinity Square, sometime in the fourth century.  Note also that a Roman origin has been postulated, although not proven, both for the church of St Peter-upon-Cornhill in the City,  and for St Pancras Old Church in Camden. Perhaps significantly in this context, the present church of St Peter-upon-Cornhill lies,  and presumably the previous one(s) lay, within the footprint of the disused second – to third- century Basilica, possibly at least in part adopting its form, as was common practice in the early Christian church (note also that, according to one – possibly mythical – account, a church was established here by a  King Lucius in 179).   In the case of St Pancras Old Church, there is clearly recognisable Roman brick or tile incorporated into the surviving Norman north wall, which could indeed  have been robbed  from a Christian church that once stood on the site – or perhaps from a pagan compitum or shrine (such as was often located on such prominent  ground adjacent to a water-course).  The  local historian Charles Lee went so far – in other words possibly too far – as to suggest a date, “possibly as early as 313 or 314” (remember that 313 was the year of the issuing of the Edict of Milan, which ensured tolerance of Christianity, and 314 was the year of the Christian Council of Arles, attended by at least one representative from  London).  Coincidentally or otherwise,  the patronal Pancras was martyred on the orders of the Emperor Diocletian in 304.

The pattern of the Roman roads within and outwith the City may best be described as radiating out from the Basilica and Forum toward and beyond the various City Gates, which were, anti-clockwise from the east, Aldgate, Bishopsgate, Cripplegate, Aldersgate, Newgate and Ludgate (Moorgate, between Bishopsgate and Cripplegate,  was a  later addition). Interestingly, the Romans do not appear to have had names for their roads. Ermine Street, which was the main south to north route of Roman Britain, linking London to Lincoln and York, takes its name from the Saxon Earninga straet, after one Earn(e).  Its route is followed in part by Fish Street Hill, Gracechurch Street and Bishopsgate. Watling Street, the main east to west route, linking  Richborough on the Kent coast to London, and London to Wroxeter, takes its name from the Saxon Waeclinga straet, after one Waecel.  Its route is followed in partby Newgate Street.

Surviving Structures

Essentially the only structures that survive from Roman London  are parts of the “Governor’s Palace”, the Basilica and Forum, the Amphitheatre, the City wall, and the Temple of Mithras.  The “Governor’s Palace” forms a  Scheduled Ancient Monument substantially buried beneath  Cannon Street Station. 

The London Stone

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). 

Pier base, Basilica

A pier base from the Basilica can be seen in the basement of No. 90 Gracechurch Street.  

The Amphitheatre, re-imagined

The  Amphitheatre and associated artefacts can be viewed in the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery. 

City wall, St Alphage Gardens. Here, only the lowermost part – at ground level – is actually Roman.
The lower – stone – part is Medieval; the upper – brick – part post-Medieval.
City wall, Tower Hill. The statue of Trajan is a replica.

The best-preserved sections of the City wall are near the Museum of London  on London Wall to the west, and around Tower Hill to  the east. The section in St Alphage Gardens includes not only Roman but also Medieval fabrics, the latter including stonework dating to the reign of Henry III in the thirteenth century, and brickwork dating to that of Edward IV in the fifteenth.

Part of fort, Cripplegate

Parts of the incorporated fort at Cripplegate may be viewed by prior arrangement with the Museum of London. 

Location of Billingsgate Roman House

The surviving parts of the Billingsgate Roman House, including a  bath-house with tepidarium (warm bath), caldarium (hot bath) and frigidarium  (cold bath), may also be viewed by prior arrangement with the Museum of London.  

The Temple of Mithras, re-imagined

The recently-reconstructed  Temple of Mithras may be viewed inside the Bloomberg Building on Walbrook.  

It will be noted that, with the sole exception of the wall,  all of these structures, are below – and indeed 20’ or more below – modern street level.  Over the two millennia of London’s existence, street level has risen at an average rate of  1’ per 100 years – simply through the accumulation of demolition rubble.

Archaeological Finds

A series of Museum of London monographs and other publications describe in detail the findings of archaeological excavations on the Roman London Bridge and waterfront, “Governor’s Palace”,  Basilica and Forum, Amphitheatre, and Temple of Mithras (see above); from Poultry and Walbrook (see below); from Gresham Street, where a number of Romano-British round-houses have recently been found; and  from around the various gates to the Roman city, from the waterfront, and from Southwark, south of the river.  A “Kent Monograph” describes the only Roman villa in a London Borough, in Orpington in Bromley (formerly part of the county of Kent). 

Note here that recent excavations around Poultry and Walbrook have led to one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made in London, that of the “Pompeii of the North”.   Here have been uncovered entire streets of Roman houses of various status, an entire  waterfront development, 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).   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.  Alternatively, they could be those of victims of the “Boudiccan Revolt” of 60-1, or the “Carausian Revolt” of 296.  Or possibly of  a  native British uprising  during the Hadrianic emperorship of 117-38,  referred to by Marcus Cornelius Fronto in a letter to Marcus Aurelius, dated 162, as follows: “under the rule of your grandfather Hadrian what a number of soldiers were killed by the … Britons”.

The more important, including high-status, archaeological finds  from Roman London are on exhibition in the City’s principal museums, that is to say, the  Museum of London on London Wall, the British Museum in Bloomsbury in the West End, and the Victoria and Albert in South Kensington.   The Museum of London houses a particularly extensive collection of finds in its Roman gallery, including an excellent  display of those from the Temple of Mithras.  It also features fine scale models of the Roman London Bridge and waterfront, the Basilica and Forum,  and the Huggin Hill bath-house; and reconstructions of a kitchen from a high-status Roman house, and of two formal dining rooms, or triclinia (sing., triclinium), complete with mosaics. 

Tessellated pavement, All Hallows Barking

There are also  interesting displays of in situ Roman tessellated pavements and of associated finds in the crypts of the churches of All Hallows Barking, on Byward Street, and St Bride, off Fleet Street (and a fragment of ex situ tessellated pavement in  St Vedast-alias-Foster, Foster Lane, that was originally discovered 18’ below the floor of St Matthew Friday Street when it was demolished in 1886).  All Hallows Barking also features a fine dioramic reconstruction of Roman London (made before the Amphitheatre was discoved). 

Timber from Roman wharf, St Magnus the Martyr

Part of a  timber from one the Roman wharves stands outside St Magnus the Martyr on Lower Thames Street.  Another part of the same timber has recently been dendrochronologically dated to 62 or 63 (that is,  immediately  after the Boudiccan Revolt).  The commonest Roman  finds on the foreshore of the Thames are everyday items such as sherds of pottery, fragments of roofing or hypocaust tile, and coins, alongside beads, bone pins and gaming pieces.   More rarely, lamps  are also found, as are individual “tesserae”.

Roman London, Pt. I – History and Social History

Another in the series on the history of London up to the time of the Great Fire of 1666, largely taken from my book, “The Flower Of All Cities” (Amberley, 2019) …


Map 1 – Roman London. 1 – Blackfriars; 2 – Ludgate; 3 – Central Criminal Court Building, Old Bailey (section of wall); 4 – Bank of America-Merrill Lynch Building, Giltspur Street (section of wall); 5 – Watling Street; 6 – Newgate; 7 – St Vedast-alias-Foster, Foster Lane (fragment of tessellated pavement); 8 – Remains of Cripplegate Fort, Noble Street; 9 – St Alphage Gardens/Salters’ Hall Gardens, London Wall (section of wall); 10 – Remains of Amphitheatre, Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Yard; 11 – Gresham Street; 12 – Moorgate and Princes Street (line of Walbrook stream); 13 – Poultry and Walbrook (“The Pompeii of the North”); 14 – Remains of Temple of Mithras, Bloomberg Building, Walbrook; 15 – Site of “Governor’s Palace”, Cannon Street Station; 16 – Old London Bridge (and Port of London); 17 – St Magnus the Martyr, Thames Street; 18 – Ermine Street; 19 – Remains of Basilica and Forum, Gracechurch Street; 20 – Bury Street; 21 – Fort, Plantation Place, Fenchurch Street; 22 – Remains of Billingsgate Roman House, 101 Thames Street; 23 – All Hallows Barking, Byward Street; 24 – Site of Basilica or “Palaeo-Christian” church, Novotel Building, Pepys Street; 25 – Cooper’s Row and Tower Hill (sections of wall).

Rome under Claudius invaded  Britain in 43AD/CE, and Roman London, or Londinium, was founded in c. 47-8, as evidenced by dendrochronological or  tree-ring dating of timbers from a Roman drain uncovered during archaeological excavations at  No. 1 Poultry  (Map 1).  The city was sited in a strategic position on high ground overlooking  the Thames, at the lowest crossing-point on the river, and at a point at which it  was also still tidal, enabling easy access to the open sea, and the empire beyond the sea  (note that there is some evidence that the tidal head moved downstream in the later Roman period, and that some port facilities followed it, from the City eastward toward  Shadwell and Ratcliff).  If Rome was built on seven principal hills, Roman London was built on two, Ludgate Hill to the west, and Cornhill to the east, with the valley of one of the “lost” Thames tributaries –  the Walbrook – in between. 

Victorian statue of Boadicea in Westminster

The early  Roman city was razed to the ground  by revolting ancient Britons under Boudica or Boudicca (Boadicea of the Victorian re-imagining), the   Queen of the Iceni,  in 60 or 61.  Boudicca’s late husband, Prasutagus, had been a nominally independent ally of the Romans.  When  he died, he willed his tribal kingdom jointly to his daughters and to the Roman Emperor.  However, the  Romans chose to ignore his wishes, and to annex his land and property for their exclusive use.  Moreover, they had Boudicca flogged, and her daughters raped.  This drove the Iceni to  revolt, alongside  their tribal neighbours, the Trinovantes.   At the  time of the revolt, several Roman legions under the Governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus were away attacking  the druid stronghold on  Anglesey.  They had to be rapidly recalled to London to face the advancing Britons, who  had already destroyed Colchester, or  Camulodunum.  Realising that he was confronted by  a much larger army, Suetonius  essentially  abandoned the city to its fate, in order to regroup (St Albans, or Verulamium, would also be destroyed).     Tacitus wrote:  “The inhabitants … who stayed because they were women, or old, or attached to the place, were slaughtered … .  … For the British … could not wait to cut throats, hang, burn and crucify – as though avenging, in advance, the retribution that was on its way”.  The revolt ended with the Romans crushing the Britons  at the so-called Battle of Watling Street, one of the many purported locations for which  is the aforementioned Ambresbury Banks in Epping Forest.  At the end of the battle, facing capture,  Boudicca chose to end her own life by taking poison (according to one account).

Replica of tablet commemorating Julius Alpinus Classicianus, Tower Hill

After the Boudiccan revolt, the city was rebuilt, initially by the Procurator Julius Alpinus Classicianus under the Emperor Nero, and subsequently under the Flavian, Trajanic and Hadrianic emperorships, in the late first to early second centuries, only to be partially destroyed again by the so-called “Hadrianic fire” in c. 125.  The enclosing wall was originally built at the turn of the second and third centuries. 

The city then declined through the “crisis” of the third century, and into the fourth, during which time the Roman Empire as a whole came under increasing attack from within as well as without – Britain was ruled by its own rival Emperors Clodius Albinus in the late second century, and Carausius and Allectus in the “Carausian Revolt” of the third, after which latter, it was retaken by the Emperor Constantius Chlorus in 296.   It appears that many of Roman London’s  public buildings, including the “Governor’s Palace”, and the Basilica and Forum,  were  substantially  demolished at the turn of the third and fourth centuries  – perhaps as punishment for its perceived support of the “Carausian Revolt”.  “Barbarian” raids – by Picts and Gaels, and by Saxons and other Germanic tribes – began in the fourth  century.   The city  finally fell, and was essentially abandoned,  in the early fifth, around 410, after  the occupying army and the civilian administration, the instruments of Empire, were recalled   to Rome to assist in its defence against the encroaching Barbarians (on the orders of the Emperor Honorius).

Social History

Everyday life in London in Roman times would have revolved around the requirement and search for sustenance for body and soul. 


The predominant religion during the early part of the Roman occupation was pantheistic paganism, which perceived deities in all things, abstract as well as tangible; and during the later part, Christianity.  The principal funerary rite was cremation, although this later gave way to inhumation.  Remains were typically buried outside the city limits, for example, just outside Aldgate, Bishopsgate, or Newgate, or beside the Walbrook in Moorfields, or on the south side of the Thames in Southwark. 

Reconstruction of Spitalfields Roman Woman, Museum of London

One particular fourth-century pagan Roman woman was buried in Spitalfields, just outside Bishopsgate, in a decorated lead coffin inside a plain stone sarcophagus, resting on a bed of laurel leaves, shrouded in damask silk interwoven with gold thread, covered in an Imperial Purple robe.  She was accompanied by further high-status grave goods, including delicately wrought  glass vials that once contained oil, perfume, and possibly wine,  and a carved jet box and hair-pins.  Isotopic evidence  from her teeth indicates that she may actually have come from the imperial capital of Rome itself.  A facial reconstruction of her can be seen in the Roman gallery in the Museum of London.  Interestingly, at least one woman buried in the southern cemetery in Southwark has been determined on morphometric and isotopic evidence to have been  of Black African origin.  And a further two individuals  buried in  Southwark have been determined to have  come from  Asia, possibly from India, or from the Han Empire in what is now China.  The site of the burial of a young girl discovered during the building of 30 St Mary Axe is marked by a plaque bearing the inscription “Dis Manibus Puella Incognita Londiniensis Hic Sepulta Est” (to the spirit of an unknown  girl of Roman London, who is buried here).  

Finds from the Temple of Mithras, Museum of London
Close-up of Tauroctony

Mithraism, the practice and mystery cult of worship of the god Mithras, was one of the many forms of paganism evidently  in existence  in Roman London, where there was  a  dedicated Temple of Mithras, or Mithraeum.   It originated in Persia, where Mithras was one of many gods in the Zoroastrian pantheon, arrived in Rome in the first century BC/BCE, and spread throughout much of the Roman Empire by the first century AD/CE, becoming most widespread in the third.  According to the Roman version of the MIthraean creation-myth, Mithras was ordered by the god of the Sun, Apollo, to slay the bull of the Moon, to release its vital-force, in order to bring life to the Earth (carved reliefs of the bull-slaying – or “tauroctony” – are  characteristic  features of Mithraean iconography).  He   eventually came to be identified with the Sol Invictus, or Unconquered Sun, and to epitomise the moral virtues of fidelity, loyalty and obedience (whence, presumably, his supposed popularity with Roman soldiers).  As intimated above, Mithraism was practised in so-called  Mithraea,  each representing the heavens, with stars and zodiacal symbols painted on the ceilings.  Many Mithraea, including that in London, were at least partly underground, because Mithras slew the  bull underground (in a cave).

Christianity spread throughout  the Roman Empire in the fourth century, after the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312, and the passage of the Edict of Milan, which ensured tolerance of Christianity,  in 313, and at least one representative from Londinium, named Restitutus, attended the Christian Council of Arles in 314.  Note,  though,  that – Nicene – Christianity  did not become the official religion of the Roman Empire until after the passage of the Edict of Thessalonica under Theodosius I in 380.   There is little surviving evidence of Christian worship in Roman London, and less of the existence of Christian places of worship (see under “Building Works” below).  However, a metal bowl inscribed with the Christian “Chi-Rho” symbol has been found in Copthall Close in the City, and another in the River Walbrook; and a number of ingots also inscribed with the “Chi-Rho” symbol,  together with the words “Spes in Deo” (Hope in God), in the River Thames near Battersea Bridge.  Note in this context that at least some Christian worship in Roman London may have taken place around shrines in private homes, as in the documented case of Lullingstone Villa in the Darent Valley in Kent.

Food and Drink

The diet of the average citizen of Roman London would appear to have been a surprisingly healthy one.  There were evidently numerous shops both within the Forum and lining the roads leading to and from it, where all manner of imported as well as locally produced foodstuffs could be bought, including olives, olive oil, wine, grape juice, dates, figs, salted fish and fish sauce, from all around the Empire.  The remains of a   bakery and hot food shop  have been unearthed on Poultry; those of further bakeries on Pudding Lane and Fenchurch Street; and those of a    mill on Princes Street.   The remains of two  “water-lifting machines”, one of 63 and the other of 110, have been unearthed on Gresham Street; and those of a system of water pipes on Poultry.

Sanitary conditions were also conducive to good public health.  There were numerous bath-houses intended for daily use, for example, public  ones on Cheapside and Huggin Hill, dating to the late first or early second century; and a private one in Billingsgate, dating to the late second to third.  There was even a rudimentary drainage and sewerage system.


The population of Roman London is estimated to have been at most a few tens of thousands, essentially the same as that of Pompeii, a provincial town in Italy.  In contrast, that of the coeval imperial capital, Rome itself, was of the order of one million.

Administration and Governance

The province of Britannia was governed centrally  from Rome, and neither it nor its provincial capitals, including London, had much in the way of locally devolved power.  Nonetheless, Londinium  had become a comparatively important administrative centre by the turn of the first and second centuries.  Its principal public building, possibly the largest north of the Alps, was the Basilica.  Also here was the “Governor’s Palace”.

Trade and Commerce

Roman London  was more important as a  commercial and trading centre, with the port at its heart.  Tiles stamped CLBR have been found in London, suggesting at least some link between the port and the  Classis Britannica or “British fleet”, which was the part of the  Roman imperial navy  responsible for  supplying the Province of Britannia with personnel and materiel.  Foodstuffs  were brought into the port-city  by boat from all around the Empire, in pottery “amphorae”.  Pottery, notably “Samian Ware” was also brought in from what is now France (and was then Gaul); brooches from Belgium; amber from the Baltic; millstones from the Rhineland; decorative marble, bronze table-ware and lamps from Italy; marble also from Greece  and Turkey; glassware from Syria; and emeralds from Egypt.  Slaves were also brought into London, to be sold at markets like those known to have existed on the water-front, and then put  to work (in the worst cases, either effectively as draught-animals, for example, turning water-wheels; or else as concubines or prostitutes).  A recently-discovered writing tablet of c. 80 records the sale of a Gaulish slave-girl called Fortunata – “warranted healthy and not liable too run away” – to a senior imperial slave called Vegetus  for 600 denarii.  This was a substantial sum, approximately equivalent to two year’s wages for a skilled labourer.

There is abundant archaeological and other evidence of a wide range of industrial and commercial activity,  including metal-working, wood-working, pottery manufacture, glass manufacture, coin-minting, gem-cutting, butchery (and presumably also tannery and chandlery), garum production, milling and baking, in Roman London, both within and without the walls.  Some of the more anti-social industrial activities appear to have been deliberately re-located from within to without the walls over the course of the Roman occupation.  An early form of “zoning” may have been present.

Prehistoric London

The first in a series on the history of London up to the time of the Great Fire of 1666, largely taken from my book, “The Flower Of All Cities” (Amberley, 2019) …

Stone Age London

There is – albeit sparse  – archaeological evidence from Stratford to the east of London, Southwark to the south, Hounslow and Uxbridge to the west, and Hampstead to the north, for hunting and gathering activity in the Late Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age); and for woodland clearance and farming in the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) and Neolithic (New Stone Age), between the eighth and fourth centuries BC/BCE.  There are also the remains of a Mesolithic flint-tool manufactory at North Woolwich, and a Mesolithic timber structure of as yet undetermined function  at Vauxhall.  And of a Neolithic henge at Hackney Wells, and a reportedly Neolithic barrow-burial at  what is now known as “King Henry’s Mound” in Richmond Park.

Bronze and Iron Age London

There is  archaeological evidence from a number of localities around London for at least transient settlement and associated activity, by Ancient Britons or Celts, in  the Bronze Age, in the  third and second millennia BC/BCE, and in  the Iron Age, in  the first millennium BC/BCE. 

Boudicca’s Grave
Shrewsbury Tumulus

Bronze Age timbers still survive at Plumstead, together with a number of Bronze Age burial mounds, including  the so-called “Boudicca’s Grave” on Parliament Hill, and the “Shrewsbury Tumulus” on Shooters Hill. 

Caesar’s Camp
Ambresbury Banks

And a number of   hill-forts or  enclosures survive from the Iron Age, including “Caesar’s Camp” on Wimbledon Common, and Ambresbury Banks and Loughton Camp, both in the timeless wilds of   Epping Forest. 

Grim’s Dyke

“Grim’s Dyke”, an intermittently-preserved bank-and-ditch earthwork running  for a distance  of some miles through North-West London, from Pinner Green, or possibly Ruislip, to Harrow Weald Common, or possibly Stanmore, also survives from the Iron Age (Colour Figure 5). It is thought to have been built  by a tribe of Ancient Britons or Celts known as the  Catuvellauni, which had its heartland on the north side of the Thames, in and around London and the northern Home Counties, and its capital at Verlamion (modern St Albans in Hertfordshire).   The  tribal territory of the Catuvellauni was bordered to the east by that of the Trinovantes, to the north by those of the Corieltauvi and  Iceni, to the west by that of the Dobunii, and to the south by those of the Cantiaci and Atrebates.  Incidentally, it is not known for certain what the Ancient Britons called London.  Coates (1998) has suggested “Lowonidonjon”, meaning something like “settlement on the Thames”, and deriving in part from a pre-Celtic name for the  London section of the Thames, “Plowonida” (“river too wide to ford”).

According to the antiquarian John Stow, in his magisterial “Survay of London, written in the Year 1598”: “ …   Geoffrey of Monmouth … reporteth that Brute [Brutus of Troy], lineally descended from the demi-god Aeneas, the son of Venus, daughter of Jupiter, about the year of the world 2855, and 1108 before the nativity of Christ, built this city near unto the river now called Thames, and named it Troynovant [New Troy] … ”.   And: “King Lud … afterwards … increased the same with fair buildings, towers and walls, and after his own name  called it Caire-Lud … .  This Lud has issue two sons, Androgeus and Theomantius, who being not of an age to govern at the death of their father, their uncle  Cassibelan took upon him the crown:  about the eighth year of whose reign, Julius Caesar arrived in this land with a great power of Romans to conquer it … ”. 

Sadly, Geoffrey of Monmouth has since been thoroughly discredited, not least for “interlacing divine matters with human, to make the first foundation …  more  … sacred … ”.  Cassibelan, or Cassivelaunus, though, was an actual historical figure, and most likely belonged to the Catuvellauni (see above).  He  is  recorded as having resisted the Roman invasion under Caesar in 55-4BC/BCE – at the head of 4000 horse-drawn war-chariots, if one colourful account is to be believed!  He  is  speculated to have engaged the Romans  in battle at  Brentford as they attempted to cross the Thames from south to north. 

Equally sadly, the only actual archaeological features  from the Bronze or Iron Ages still surviving  in Central London are  some  enigmatic pits and post-holes interpreted as representing the sites of former homesteads or farmsteads,  in Leicester Square in the West End, near the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, and south of the Thames in Southwark, and the remains of a bridge or jetty at Vauxhall.   Note in this context, though,  that an Iron Age settlement with an enclosure ditch has  recently been discovered in Whitechapel, and is still in the process of being excavated.  There are no features  at all  in the City of London, perhaps at least in part because, again as Stow put it, “ … the Britons call that a town … when they have fortified a cumbersome wood with a ditch and rampart … ”.  This period of the city’s history remains shrouded in mist and mystery.

Part of the “Havering Hoard” exhibition in the Museum of London Docklands

Important archaeological finds  from the Bronze or Iron Ages include much equipment associated with horses and chariots, a horned helmet recovered from the Thames at Waterloo, an ornate shield recovered from the Thames at Battersea (possibly  offered as a plea to the gods of the river at the time of the Roman invasion),  a “hoard” of approximately 500 axe-heads and other artefacts recovered from a site overooking  the Thames near  Rainham in the Borough of Havering, and  the so-called “Dowgate Plaque” from the City of London.  That is not to mention  more or less everyday items such as worked flints, pot-sherds, and coins, some of them from Cannon Street in the City.

The Olde Cheshire Cheese

The last in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

Fleet Street, first recorded in 1188, is named after the River Fleet, which used to debouch into the  Thames south of Ludgate Circus (but which was culverted and built over in the eighteenth century),  and thus ultimately from the  Old English “fleot”, meaning, in this context, a tidal? inlet navigable by boat.  The first printing press was set up in Fleet Street  in 1500, by the wonderfully named Wynkyn de Worde, and a plaque on the wall of the Stationers’ Hall commemorates the event.  The street was also the home of a number of legendary drinking establishments, haunted by Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, and, a little later, Samuel Johnson and Charles Dickens.   These included the “Olde Cheshire Cheese”, dating back to 1584, the “Mitre”, dating back to at least 1603, and the “Devil”, or “Devil and St Dunstan”, dating back to at  least 1608, all of which burned down in the Great Fire and were later rebuilt. 

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The “Olde Cheshire Cheese”, rebuilt in 1667, survives to this day, and retains much of its late seventeenth-century character. What are purported to be parts of the Medieval Whitefriars Priory can be seen in the cellar.

The “Chop Room” in the “Cheese” is famed the world over for its “marvellous rump-steak pudding”, and “the alactrity with which … edibles are supplied … is unmatched in the metropolis”.

Apothecaries’ Hall

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

London’s Trades Guilds, or Livery Companies,  so-called for their distinguishing attire, began to be founded from the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries onwards,  possibly essentially as part of an attempt to control the freedom to trade at a time of comparative over-population and shortage of work.  The Livery Companies established working practices and maintained quality standards (through so-called “searches”).  They  also provided apprenticeships for members at the beginning of their working lives, and alms for those at the end of theirs.  And they may, or may not,  have exerted control over commodity prices. 

Of the total of 77 Livery Companies   in existence in London at the time of the Great Fire of 1666, 13 (17%) were involved in the cloth and clothing sectors of the economy; 12 (16%) in food and drink; 10 (13%) in construction and interior design; 10 (13%) in metal-working; 5 (7%) in wood-working (including shipwrighting); 4 (5%) in leather-working; 3 (4%) in arms manufacture; 3 (4%) in equestrian accoutrement manufacture;  3 (4%) in the medical profession; 2  (3%) in chandlery; 2 (3%) in the clerical profession; 2 (3%) in entertainment;  2 (3%) in transport; and the remaining 6 (8%) in sundry trades.  London’s economy was evidently still dominated by the manufacture of goods, rather than by services, at this time.

Almost all of the Livery Companies’ Halls were burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, with only parts of the Apothecaries’ and Merchant Taylors’ surviving.

The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1617, and the Apothecaries’ Hall on Blackfriars Lane was originally built in 1633, on part of the site of the former Blackfriars Priory, which had been dissolved in 1538.  The hall was substantially burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, and subsequently rebuilt by Thomas Lock in 1668.  Only parts of the walls of the original building survive.

Apothecaries in Medieval and post-Medieval London were essentially purveyors of herbs and herbal medicines (the word derives from the Latin apotheca, meaning a storehouse where wines, spices and herbs were kept). Sad to say, the medicines were entirely ineffectual against the principal killer diseases of the time, Plague and Sweating Sickness.

One notable apothecary of the time was John Parkinson (1567-1650), who grew his own medicinal plants in a garden in Long Acre in Covent Garden, and sold his own medicines in a shop on Ludgate Hill, a short walk from the Apothecaries’ Hall.   He  was one of the founder-members of the Apothecaries’ Company, and also the apothecary to James I, and Royal Botanist to Charles I.   He also wrote  “A Garden of All Sorts of Pleasant Flowers” in 1629, and  “The Theatre of Plants” in 1640. 

Another notable was Gideon de Laune (1565-1659), the son of a Huguenot who had fled to London to escape religious persecution in his native France. He was another of the co-founders of the Apothecaries’ Company, and the apothecary to James I’s queen, Anne of Denmark. There is a fine marble bust of him in the Company’s Hall

Newington Green Terrace

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

Newington Green was first recorded in 1480  as Newyngtongrene, referring to a village green near (Stoke) Newington.  It is said that Henry VIII hunted hereabouts, and installed mistresses in a house here.

Newington Green Terrace
Plaque bearing date 1658

The green is the home of the oldest surviving brick-built terrace in London, dating to 1658. 

Newington Green Church

In 1758, the non-conformist minister and radical moral philosopher Richard Price moved into one of the houses in the terrace, and began preaching  at the nearby Newington Green Church (founded in 1708). The pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft also had as association with the church.

Mary Wollstonecraft plaque

Newington had become an important centre for Non-Conformism and Dissent after the passage of Clarendon’s “Five Mile Act” (“An Act for restraining Non-Conformists from inhabiting in Corporations”) in 1665.

Dissenting Academy public house

Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Bloomsbury

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

Bloomsbury takes its name from a corruption of Blemondesberi, meaning the manor of (William) Blemond, who owned land here in the thirteenth century. 

Lincoln’s Inn Fields was first recorded in 1598 as Lincolnes Inne Feildes, and indicated on the map of 1520 as Cup Field and Purse Field.  Part of the area was developed into a square surrounded by town-houses in the 1630s.  A “Time Team” dig in the square in 2009 uncovered evidence there of a temporary encampment that had most likely been set up in the immediate aftermath of the Great Fire of 1666 (which took place a little to the east).

No. 59/60 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, on the west side, was built between 1638-40, and survives to this day.

Nos. 12-14, on the north side, were rebuilt between 1792-1824 by Sir John Soane, and since 1837 have housed an extraordinary museum that bears his name. Among the eclectic mix of thousands of antiquities and artworks on exhibit there are the sarcophagus of the Egyptian Pharaoh Seti I (1323-1279BCE), and the original paintings of Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress“, executed between 1733-5.

The Queen’s House (Greenwich)

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

Greenwich was first recorded as Grenewic in 964, taking its    name from the Old English “grene”, and “wic”, meaning settlement. 

Greenwich Palace, also known at one time or another as  Bella Court and as Placentia, was built here by Henry V’s brother, Humphrey de Bohun, Duke of Gloucester, in 1426, and rebuilt by Henry VII between circa 1500-06.  The palace is notable as the birthplace of Henry VIII and of his daughters Mary and Elizabeth I.  Only some fragments survive.

Distant view of Queen’s House, with part of east wing of Royal Naval College at end of colonnade
Tulip Stairs

The so-called Queen’s House was  originally built by the Palladian architect Inigo Jones, between 1616-40.  It is one of the earliest Renaissance buildings in London, actually begun before, although not completed until after, the Banqueting House in Whitehall (see previous post).

Beard-off at Somerset House

It currently  houses the National Gallery of Naval Art, owned by the National Maritime Museum. One of the paintings on exhibit is of the Somerset House Conference, which brought about the end of the Anglo-Spanish War of 1585-1604.

The Royal Naval College was built on the site of the substantially demolished Greenwich Palace by Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor, between 1692-1728. It had to be built in two widely separated halves to allow the Queen’s House to the rear to remain in the view  from the river and waterfront (leading Samuel Johnson to describe it  as “too much detached to make one great whole”).  

Whitehall Palace

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

Whitehall Palace was originally built for the  Archbishops of York in the thirteenth century, circa 1240, when it was known as York Place.

Whitehall Palace
James I, with the Banqueting House in the background

It was subsequently   acquired by Henry VIII from the then Archbishop of York, Cardinal Wolsey, in 1529, whence, from Shakespeare’s “King Henry the Eighth”, “You must no more call it York Place: that is past; For since the Cardinal fell that title’s lost.  ‘Tis now the King’s, and called Whitehall”; and extended both by Henry and by James I.  The palace was undamaged in the Great Fire of 1666, but substantially burnt down in another fire in 1698. 

The exterior of the Banqueting House today
The interior of the Banqueting House

Essentially only the Banqueting House, designed by the  Palladian architect Inigo Jones in 1622, and notable as the first Renaissance building in central London, with a ceiling by Rubens, still stands (together with “Henry VIII’s wine cellar” in the nearby Ministry of Defence building in Horse Guards’ Avenue, the site of his tilt-yard in Horse Guards’ Parade, part of his real tennis court in the Cabinet Office building at No. 70 Whitehall, and “Queen Mary’s Stairs”, built in 1691, on the Embankment).   

The execution of Charles I outside the Banqueting House

Charles I was executed outside the Banqueting House on January 30th, 1649.  It was a freezing cold day, so he put on an extra shirt, that no-one might see him shiver (“the season is so sharp as probably may make me shake, which some observers may imagine proceeds from fear[and] I would have no such imputation”).

The Holbein Gate

The Holbein Gate, built in 1532 and notable as the probable place of the clandestine marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in 1533, survived the fires of  1666 and 1698, but was demolished in 1759.