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200_Portrait of Samuel Pepys, Attributed to John Riley, c.1680, The Clothworkers Company

Pepys, Attr to John Riley, c.1680, © The Clothworkers Company

Can any Londoner have led a more interesting life than Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703)? Violence, tragedy, pain and enlightenment. He experienced all in good measure and at very close quarters.

Pepys wrote what became a famous diary, he buried his cheese during the Great Fire and he canoodled with the maid. That is what most people know about this man. He was by no means great in the way Wellington, Nelson were great. Or hugely talented like Shakespeare, Hogarth and Wren. Or a great brain box like Newton. But he was an important and influential figure in his day, he mixed with the best, had the ear of kings, was a more than competent administrator. And from our point of view, he was a Londoner of great note. Literally.

A new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum – Plague, Fire and Revolution – celebrates the life of Samuel Pepys. But it is as much about his times as it is about the man himself. But what times they were!

The English Civil War; The regicide of Charles I; The Great Plague; The Great Fire of London; The re-building of London; The wars with the Dutch; The Glorious Revolution. Pepys directly influenced some: he was touched by them all.

Painting of the Fire of London, 1666. Artist unknown. © National Maritime Museum

Painting of the Fire of London, 1666. Artist unknown. © National Maritime Museum

These momentous events are here represented and celebrated. Portraits, panoramas, print, costume, pottery, armour and personal objects all combine to give you a strong sense of Pepys’s world, that is to say the world of the 17th century ruling class in London. The people Pepys rubbed shoulders with were kings and princes, scientists and admirals. Never has there been such a concentration of eminence, ambition and talent. But it wasn’t all blood, guts and distaster. The emergence of London as a world city. The era was characterised by the emergence of international trade and modern scientific discovery. Exotic consumer goods – tea, tobacco, coffee. All of these things are represented in this show which to sum up in a word: lavish.

Wedding outfit of James II. © Victoria and Albert Museum

Wedding outfit of James II. © Victoria and Albert Museum

Memoirs relating to the state of the Royal Navy of England for ten years determined December 1688 by Samuel Pepys © The National Maritime Museum.

Memoirs relating to the state of the Royal Navy of England for ten years determined December 1688 by Samuel Pepys © National Maritime Museum.

Pepys's tobacco box. © The Clothworkers Company.

Pepys’s tobacco box. © The Clothworkers Company.

Chinese teapot, mid 17C. © The Burghley House Collection.

Chinese teapot, mid 17C. © The Burghley House Collection.

The curators have gathered together a group of objects from their own archives and combined them with material from the Royal Collection, Museum of London, livery companies and elsewhere to serve up a true feast. A very accessible, informative and enjoyable show.

 

Samuel Pepys – Plague, Fire and Revolution at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich runs until 28 March 2016. Adult entry is £12. Free for Friends, half price for Art Fund members.

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Today we honour the memory of a most courageous and remarkable academic – the archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad – who was murdered in cold blood at the cowardly hands of ISIS in his homeland of Syria. His crime? Refusing to give up the secret locations of Palmyra’s antiquities which he had hidden from their vandalistic intent. One can only wonder at such bravery and dedication. Dedication to his craft. Dedication to the honour of his home town, Palmyra, and to Syria. Dedication to History.

Khaled al-Asaad, the Director of Antiquities and Museum in Palmyra, in 2002.

As London Historians we have little in common with him in the narrowest sense but everything in common as historians. It’s a je suis Khaled thing. We would urge those in a better position than us to condemn and reject the agenda of ISIS by honouring this man in a meaningful and concrete way. The most appropriate institutions in England to do this should be led, of course, by the British Museum. Other guardians of antiquities such as the Ashmolian and Fitzwilliam museums should join in. They could each name a room after him or at least mount a plaque in his memory. How about the Khaled al-Asaad Annual Lecture? Please add your ideas in Comments, below, and use #HonourKhaled on Twitter.

I’d go further and suggest that this crime of ISIS, which contrasts so starkly al-Asaad’s sacrifice, deserves an even wider and bolder response. Every museum and gallery, every history, classics, antiquities and archaeological faculty and institution – here and elsewhere – should make a gesture in defiance of the ISIS agenda.

From us at London Historians: Khaled al-Asaad, we salute you.

The Murder of Khaled al Asaad.
The Guardian
The Telegraph
The Spectator
BBC News

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Our visit in perfect weather to the Crossrail archaeology site at Liverpool Street yesterday. It’s just north of the old London wall at Moorfields, near where Bedlam #2 was sited, making it London suburbia in ancient and medieval times. In a previous phase, the team have discovered human remains of thousands here and nearby in recent months, far more than would have come from the Bethlehem Hospital and probably more than can be explained away as plague pits. More research and analysis is required, which will take some years in all.

The sometimes notorious Bethlehem Hospital in Moorfields by Robert Hooke.

The sometimes notorious Bethlehem Hospital in Moorfields by Robert Hooke.

But right now they are down to the 1C/2C Roman layer next to an old road and a tributary of the Walbrook river. A very marshy area historically which the Romans, naturally, succeeded in draining. We were shown close-up a variety of objects – some unidentifiable at the moment – which have been discovered in the previous several days. I find it quite moving to hold things which have been hidden from us for nearly two millenia, things which because they are freshly excavated seem to connect us more directly with long-dead Londoners, our predecessors. You get far more of a buzz, I think, examining these items before they have been properly cleaned, identified, “museumified”. That’s why I enjoy mudlarking.

Our thanks to Marit Leenstra from Crossrail who generously gave her time to open up the site and tell us all about the project, which will draw to a close in the coming months. There are scheduled public viewings if you’d like to have a go. Details here.

There is further information and events relating to the Crossrail project here.

Here are some pictures from our visit.

DSC08186c

crossrail archaeology

crossrail archaeology

The dig. Crossrail archaeologists.

crossrail archaeology

Marit does show and tell.

crossrail archaeology

Excavated last Monday. Possibly 1C, more analysis required.

crossrail archaeology

Copper coin showing head of Emperor Antoninus Pius (r 138 – 161 AD), one of the so-called “Good Emperors”.

crossrail archaeology

Finds on display 1.

crossrail archaeology

Finds on display 2

crossrail archaeology

Finds on display 3

 

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A guest post by Rudyard Kipling.

Last week’s Poetry Please on Radio 4 featured a reading of The River’s Tale by Kipling, written in 1911. I’m so glad I caught it because I hadn’t heard it before. It celebrates London and the prehistoric Thames. But before reproducing the words, I must recommend two video clips of readings on the same work. Both are lovely and will make you tingle if you love London, even just a little.

This one has archive footage from the BFI.
This is a more polished number with super aerial footage.

Both these clips have had a paltry few hundred reads and deserve far more: let’s spread the love.
And finally, if you’re interested in London’s bridges, there are quite a few books, but I’d thoroughly recommend Crossing the River by Brian Cookson, London Historians Member.

Here’s the poem.

The River’s Tale by Rudyard Kipling

TWENTY bridges from Tower to Kew –
Wanted to know what the River knew,
Twenty Bridges or twenty-two,
For they were young, and the Thames was old
And this is the tale that River told:-

I walk my beat before London Town,
Five hours up and seven down.
Up I go till I end my run
At Tide-end-town, which is Teddington.
Down I come with the mud in my hands
And plaster it over the Maplin Sands.
But I’d have you know that these waters of mine
Were once a branch of the River Rhine,
When hundreds of miles to the East I went
And England was joined to the Continent.

I remember the bat-winged lizard-birds,
The Age of Ice and the mammoth herds,
And the giant tigers that stalked them down
Through Regent’s Park into Camden Town.
And I remember like yesterday
The earliest Cockney who came my way,
When he pushed through the forest that lined the Strand,
With paint on his face and a club in his hand.
He was death to feather and fin and fur.
He trapped my beavers at Westminster.
He netted my salmon, he hunted my deer,
He killed my heron off Lambeth Pier.
He fought his neighbour with axes and swords,
Flint or bronze, at my upper fords,
While down at Greenwich, for slaves and tin,
The tall Phoenician ships stole in,
And North Sea war-boats, painted and gay,
Flashed like dragon-flies, Erith way;
And Norseman and Negro and Gaul and Greek
Drank with the Britons in Barking Creek,
And life was gay, and the world was new,
And I was a mile across at Kew!
But the Roman came with a heavy hand,
And bridged and roaded and ruled the land,
And the Roman left and the Danes blew in –
And that’s where your history-books begin!

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A guest post by David Adams of Exploring London.

One of the things I love about London is the city’s many layers of history and how it’s possible, through looking at the remnants of buildings now long gone, to get a sense the city during some of these different historical eras.

Let’s start with the Romans. Putting aside the Temple of Mithras which is currently being moved, among the most evocative Roman remains are that of the massive Roman amphitheatre now under Guildhall Yard (enter through the Guildhall Art Gallery) and those of the Billingsgate bathhouse in Lower Thames Street (keep on eye out for Open House days to get a glimpse inside).

billingsgate bathouse

Billingsgate Bathhouse.

The city also contains a significant number of medieval remains – among the more spectacular are what’s left of the 14th century crypt of a priory which once belonged to the Carmelite order of White Friars. Encased by glass in the basement of an office building now occupied by law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, this can be reached by heading down Bouverie Street (off Fleet Street) and then to the end of Magpie Alley, after which there are a few steps.

whitefriars london

The last remains of the once massive Whitefriars priory.

And while many of the royal palaces in London are well known (and quite a few still standing), the remains of a lesser known building, believed to be a manor house of King Edward III, can be found on the south bank of the Thames near the junction of Bermondsey Wall East and Cathay Street.

edward III hunting lodge

Edward III's manor house.

Other medieval remains include the Clerk’s Well that gave its name to Clerkenwell – located in Farringdon Lane, it can be seen through the window or you can gain entry by arrangement with Islington Council’s local history centre – as well as the rather more substantial ruins of churches like St Dunstan’s-in-the-East in Idol Lane.

Among the more impressive 17th century building remnants is that of York House Watergate, tucked away in Embankment Gardens. It was once the Thames-side entrance to York House which bought by George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and favorite of King James I, about the time the baroque gateway was built in the 1620s and provides a terrific insight into the opulence of the Stuart court.

york watergate london

The York Watergate - a one minute walk from Embankment station.

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One of the most important Roman sites in London is the so-called Billingsgate Bath House. It comprises a smallish Roman bath house, bordered on the east and north sides by other ruins, whether domestic or commercial is not entirely clear, but probably the latter. It is underneath a 1960s office block at 101 Lower Thames Street. It was first discovered in the 19th Century and extensively further excavated and explored by archaeologists in the 1960s. Conservators have just finished a short programme to give it a bit of maintenance to ensure that it remains in good condition for the next twenty years or so.

Today it was open to the public through the good offices of Thames Discovery Programme and it will be open again this weekend. Members of the maintenance team from UCL will be on hand to demonstrate how they go about their work to clean and repair the masonry, tiles, bricks etc. Find out more here. It’s free.


billiingsgate bath housebillingsgate bath housebillingsgate bath house

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