Tag Archives: Bronze age

“Boudicca’s Grave”

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Another in the occasional series on Prehistoric London …

“Boudicca’s Grave” is an interpreted Bronze Age round barrow near  the high point of Parliament Hill on windswept Hampstead Heath, consisting of circular mound some 36m (120’) in diameter and 3m (10’) in height, enclosed by a quarry ditch (*).  Elsewhere in the country, as in Wessex, such features typically contain buried bodies or cremated remains, accompanied by grave goods.  However, none have been found in archaeological excavations at this particular site, possibly on account of the acidity of the heathland soil.

E.O. Gordon, in his somewhat fanciful “Prehistoric London – Its Mounds and Circles”,  of  1932, alludes to the existence at that time of further barrows – “of the leaders of pre-Roman times” – on Primrose Hill and on the neighbouring  suggestively-named Barrow Hill (“the site to-day of a reservoir”).  He also refers to the levelling and loss of still others.

(*) Despite its name, it almost certainly has nothing to do with Boudicca, who was the Queen of the  Ancient British tribe  known as the Iceni in the – much later – Iron Age to Roman period.

Pre-Roman London

London would appear to have been founded by the ancient Britons or Celts in the Bronze or Iron Age.  According to the now sadly thoroughly discredited  Geoffrey of Monmouth,  quoted by John Stow, in his magisterial “Survay of London, written in the Year 1598”, it was founded under  the reign of  King Lud, sometime in the first century BCE, and at that time called “Caire Lud”, or Lud’s town (?or fort).  When Lud died,  his two sons Androgeus and Tenvantius, or Theomantius, as Stow put it, “ … being not of an age to govern … , their uncle  Cassibelan [Cassivellaunus] 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 … ”.  The Roman invasion under Caesar, described in his “Gallic Wars”, was in  55-54BCE.

Sixteenth-century statue of King Lud and his sons, St Dunstan in the West

Sixteenth-century statue of King Lud and his sons, St Dunstan in the West

Unfortunately, the only surviving structures from the Bronze or Iron Ages  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 at Vauxhall).  There are no surviving structures or  streets 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.

Important archaeological finds from the Bronze or Iron Ages include (alongside more or less everyday items such as worked flints, pot-sherds, and coin, in potin, or tin-rich bronze, in bronze, in silver and in gold), much equipment associated with horses and chariots, a ceremonial horned helmet recovered from the Thames at Waterloo, and an ornate bronze shield recovered from the Thames at Battersea. It has been speculated that the last-named might have been offered as a plea to the gods of the river at the time of the Roman invasion.