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Rediscovering Roman London

Rediscovering Roman London

Bloomberg is due to have a new headquarters build in the city of London, but before any building work can start, archaeologists from the Museum of London have to complete their work excavating a site which has been dubbed the Pompeii of the north and which is delighting those with an interest in London’s history due to the wealth of perfectly-preserved Roman artefacts which have been discovered.

The site is in the bed of the Walbrook River, the name of which is believed to be a reference to its course through London Wall, which was built by the Romans to protect the city of London.  It did not, however, provide sufficient defence against the Anglo-Saxons who invaded towards the end of the 6th Century.  After their invasion, the Walbrook River was essentially used as a barrier between the two communities of the Anglo-Saxons (who lived on the west bank of the river) and the native Britons (who lived on the East).  During this time Walbrook River ran from what is now Finsbury Circus down to the Thames, joining the greater river somewhere between where Southwark and Cannon Street bridges are now located.  It began to be covered over in the 15th century and now runs completely underground, but its name can still be seen in numerous place names such as Walbrook Street in EC4.

While the river itself is no longer the fast-flowing water channel it used to be, the water is still there and the waterlogged river bed kept the Roman remains in pristine condition.  This has allowed the archaeologists literally to map out streets as they were in Roman times and to reconstruct Roman life through a multitude of small items, which would have been used every day by those of that age.

One of the most exciting finds is a wide selection of Roman writing tablets, containing everything from names and addresses to letters between friends, financial documents and possibly even Roman homework assignments.  At this point, over 400 tablets have been found at the site and almost 100 have been deciphered.  One of these is the oldest hand-written document yet found in the UK (dated 8th January 57AD), while another includes the first reference to London in writing.  Another shows nothing but the alphabet and is believed to have been an exercise in learning to write, possibly a sign of early Roman schooling in Britain.

These tablets (and many other artefacts recovered from the site) are due to form part of a public exhibit when Bloomberg’s new office opens in autumn 2017 and we’ll certainly be heading along for a visit.  We really hope that the exhibit will show a map of the streets as they were in the times of the Romans so that we can compare it with the streets of London today.  We love keeping track of the changing city and take pride in how our own, proprietary TPP mapping system is always kept absolutely up to date to reflect the reality of life in this vibrant and diverse metropolis.