Roaming around roman remains

The other Saturday at 10.30am myself and ten others found ourselves queueing at an unmarked door outside a drab office block at 101 Lower Thames Street. It was a lovely sunny morning not that it was going to make a lot of difference to us as for the next two and a half hours we would be spending it mostly underground.

We’d all signed up for From the private to the public: life in Londinium a tour of two important sites of Roman interest; The Billingsgate Roman House and Baths and The Roman Amphitheatre under the Guildhall (pic above and also featured a few years ago here). I won’t give too much of the game away but if you like Roman remains then these two sites (and the soon to be reopened Temple Of Mithras) are for you.

The Billingsgate Roman House and Baths were originally a small amount of stand-alone buildings that were developed over a couple of years into a villa complex with a private bathhouse and the remains on show include parts of the original flooring and the hypocaust (underfloor heating) system underneath. There’s even a part of the heating system where the pilae stacks (the pillars which the flooring stood on as part of the hypocaust) have been “bodged” by unscrupulous builders of the time; there were rogue builders around even then. The visit lasted about an hour the two guides who showed us around certainly knew their stuff and we all left the underground car park-like basement as pleased as punch.


The second part of the tour was picked up by another guide who funnily enough told us while walking the ten minutes or so up to the Guildhall that his mum queued up (with hundreds of others) to see the original Temple of Mithras excavation in 1954 (as mentioned in our post here). On the way there we popped into the excellent St Dunstan in the East church, bombed in the 1941 blitz and now a public garden which I reckon I’ll visit at a later date as it looked interesting. At the time we passed at 11.30ish there were a German scout troop sitting having elevenses, a jazz dancer being photographed by a random tourist and a couple of cycle couriers sitting on a bench enjoying one of those cannabis-infused cigarettes. 

At the Guildhall we were taken to one of the stairwells in the gallery to see Londinium Romanum a painting of what Roman London would have looked like as imagined by the archaeological painter Alan Sorrell.

On the way to see it we passed a very large painting of the Queen sitting at a long table at a banquet and were told by our guide that this piece was to commemorate her jubilee back in 1977. I overheard a couple there who mentioned that the art critic Brian Sewell got into a bit of trouble at the time when he reviewed it and supposedly said “Ghastly! They’ve made the Queen look like a Pink Blancmange!” I cannot find anything about said painting and nothing about the Brian Sewell comments either but it did make me laugh!

Downstairs in the basement the Amphitheatre is displayed rather futuristically, in the words of when he reviewed it a few years ago here “you get to a large room done out like a Tron backdrop” (Above: his pic from then). He was the only one there when he visited it and I imagine it was creepy to say the least but last weekend I wasn’t alone and having a guide talking you through everything helped too. I wouldn’t have known anything much apart from guessing what the remains were and I certainly would have missed the wooden drain (under the glass on the floor) going into the arena with the original planks still there preserved through the damp London clay.

At 1pm I walked back out into 2017 feeling a bit “roman-ruined out” at the time while my eyes got used to the daylight. Looking back it was a great morning, £12 well spent if you like that kind of thing. Here’s to Londinium! #RomanLondon #Guildhall #Londinium

NEWS EXTRA: We were told last week that the Museum of London was planning to move in a few years time and the site of the Smithfield Meat Market might be the location.

Billingsgate Roman Villa & Bathhouse
101 Lower Thames St,
London EC3R 6DL
£8 for adult/£6 concessions
Book in advance only here

London’s Roman Amphitheatre
Underneath The Guildhall Art Gallery
off Gresham Street
London EC2V 5AE
FREE
Monday – Sat 10am – 5pm
Sunday 12pm – 4pm

Advertisements

But Geoffrey Fletcher did

A bargain was bagged last week for the princely sum of £2.94 (including p+p off Amazon), it was a book by Geoffrey Fletcher which inspired the film “The London Nobody Knows” as featured in the last post. It’s a nice old book with illustrations by Fletcher (who was a graphic artist as well as a writer) and a preface written in 1989 where he mentions the changes in London since the original publication of 1962.

The book features lots of places that have long disappeared, language from a time gone by (some that now wouldn’t be politically correct) and some just plain daft: “Weird youths…stare listlessly into radio and jazz shops, youths with white-eyeleted shoes accompanied by their fun-molls. Each couple has horribly pointed shoes that make me think of elves; they twitch epileptically to the sound of jazz”. God knows what he’d say if he was still about today about London’s youth (and also the 50-odd year old punks wandering around New Cross with “Discharge” painted on the back of their “levver” jackets) but we love this book and it comes highly recommended!

If they were ever going to do a contemporary rewrite of the book and were looking for someone to do the illustrations we here at Liylh reckon they should be done by the artist Marc Gooderham (his “Elder Street, Spitalfields” above and Hawksmoor’s “Christchurch” below) as he uses decaying London as a major inspiration (examples of his London paintings here). As it says on his website about his work “Capturing the singular beauty to be found in those neglected buildings that have fallen into disrepair as the living city continues to evolve around them”. Fletcher would have liked that! By coincidence “The London Nobody Knows” was and is used by Marc as his bible and in his own words: “for drawing and sketching, looking for lost architectural delights… the book was a great discovery”. Have a look at more of Marc’s work here.

And finally while researching this post I found two episodes of a Radio 4 programme from 2011 where Dan Cruickshank revisits Geoffrey Fletcher’s old haunts in the first episode here and in the second he visits his own quirky favourites here. One of them is the abandoned St Mary’s Underground Station in Whitechapel which is featured on this short BBC film here. The London nobody knows indeed! P

How big is the cat then?

hound of the baskervilles

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve passed this strange sight a few times while walking through Clifford’s Inn from Fleet Street.  It looks like one of those plastic boxes you bring your cat to the vet in but there’s no handle on the top and it’s very very large (you’ll never get this on the bus!) Any ideas? Is it the second home of the Black Dog of Newgate perhaps? Whatever it is, we at LIYLH would love to know! P

Into the trees

Lincoln's inn netting

On a late lunchtime stroll the other day I saw these two massive trees being busily wrapped up by construction crews in Lincoln’s Inn and wondered what was going on. Was it some crazy art project? Protection against a forthcoming nuclear war perhaps?

I had to ask the uniformed gateman on my way out, “Why the plastic netting?” as I pointed to the trees. He replied “Well, they’re in the process of redeveloping the area and the trees are sadly coming down next month” “and we don’t want any rare whatisname’s nesting in the trees and delaying the chainsaws, do we?” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. P

An aptly priced book bargain

London Free and Dirt Cheap

I found a great bargain in the Holborn Library 20p book sale this week, “London Free and Dirt Cheap” by Joe Fullman (Frommer’s.)

The copy I obtained was an edition from 2007 but I am sure you’ll be able to find an up-to-date version quite cheap (prices from £3 inc p+p on amazon!)

There’s some classic cheap London moments here and loads of stuff we didn’t know about, e.g. Best Free Hidden Gem: The Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, lots of cheap eats ideas including somewhere with the great name of Porky’s Pantry (now sadly closed,) free oddities to visit like The London Stone, free music and concert ideas and free tickets to TV shows too.

Go out and get a copy and get ideas for having fun for (next to) nothing! P

Make some noise! (For peace and tranquility)

Dalai Lama comes to town

Yesterday lunchtime in the horrible drizzle, I popped to the library to bring some books back. On the way there I heard a right old din reverberating around Covent Garden Piazza. Thinking it was some sort of demonstration (and praying it was nothing to do with the rugby) I trotted off towards the Strand to find out it’s origin.

The closer I got, I realised it was loud rhythmic drumming interspersed with chanting (in a call and response style) from a couple using megaphones. The crowd consisted of about 40 people including a couple of shaven-headed nuns in ceremonial robes holding brollies while others waved Tibetan flags.

Speaking to a hobby-bobby at the scene, I was told the crowd were there for Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama, who was inside a building just off the Strand giving a talk for World Peace Day.

It was a nice hypnotic audio treat for a Monday lunchtime, shame it was tipping it down or I would have stayed around. P

Singing their hearts out for Mr Wren

christopher-wren

On the way home from work tonight I bumped into a friend Mark, who told me that the choir he sings in, will be performing next Saturday (27th June 2015) in the Wren Choral Marathon.

“The Wren Choral Marathon, what’s that?” I hear you cry. Well, it’s an event comprising of a series of concerts by 17 different choirs in 17 Wren churches in a single day, starting at 8am at St Michael, Cornhill and finishing with a late one at St Stephens, Walbrook. How good is that if you like a bit of singing?

There’s even a bonus for the choir listening hardcore who make it to all 17 concerts, a chance to be added in a draw for a super special prize.

Sounds like a different way of spending a Saturday, seeing some great architecture while listening to some quality choirs. And furthermore it’s Free! More details here. P