Insights into London history

Attended the London archaeology conference yesterday. The morning began with a series of reports on current or recent excavations in London

These looked at number of sites in the city (along the wall brook) and in what is now the southern suburbs of Lambeth, Depford and Bermondsey. One of the most interesting reports was a saxon building from the Grounds of Lambeth Palace (London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury). The finding of loom weights and needles is suggestive of weaving on this site.

The pictures below show similar articles from other London excavations

Loom Needles - Museum of London
Loom Needles – Museum of London
Loom weights - Museum of London
Loom weights – Museum of London

The site in Deptford was on the site of the Tudor Royal shipyard, a site that remined connected to shipbuilding until it finally closed in 1869. The Tudor storehouse from this stood on the site until 1952 (a notoriously bad era for the preservation of historic buildings) when it was demolished to make way for modern warehouses. The two excavations on wallbrook are adding futher evidence to our understanding of the Roman city away from the impressive public buildings. One of these is in the same area as the famous temple of Mithras discovered in 1954 during previous development of the site. Intrestingly the new development includes provision for the public display of the temple in its original position.

In the afternoon leading archaeologists traced the history of London from pre-historic to post- medievel periods in a series of review lectures. John Cotton emphasised that there was little evidence for London existing as a centre before the Roman period. Harvey Sheldon gave excellent evidence that the development of London as a capital city and a port took place early in the Roman period.

Statue of Roman soldier seconded to provincial administration - Museum of London
Statue of Roman soldier seconded to provincial administration – Museum of London

Martin Biddle told us that for a long period it was thought that there was little Saxon activity in the London area. This despite references from Bede that London was a thriving town and major port in Saxon times. The reason for this lack of evidence was that no one could believe that the Saxons would abandon the use of the Roman walled city. But it turned out that this was exactly what they did do and the Saxon city of London was situated around the Aldwych (or Old Port) and Strand areas to the west. The only Saxon activity in the old city may have been religous (around St Paul’s) or ceremonial / civil (around the old Cripplegate fort). Only in later years did the Saxons start to move back into the walled area.

Map of Saxon London (Lundenwic) and Roman walled city (Red outline)
Map of Saxon London (Lundenwic) and Roman walled city (Red outline)

Map from Museum of London

Intrestingly when I was in Canterbury Museum last year it was a similar story as the Saxons there decided not to live within the walled area and setlled outside.

An interesting and informative day.

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