A cold lunchtime tinkle on the ivories

Just as I was wondering what I was going to stick in the blog today, I bumped into Piano Around London’s James Tofalli happily tinkling the ivories outside Sainsbury’s in Holborn. He has a lovely sound, a nice little set-up and a great sign too! It would have been nice if someone had donated a portable heater to him as it was bitterly cold this lunchtime. Keep up the good work James!

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A lunchtime song and dance (and what a dance!)

This lunchtime while walking down Tottenham Court Road a couple of buskers were going through their paces outside the tube station. I’ve seen these two before; a dreadlocked singer/percussionist with a tambourine strapped to his left foot and a guitarist giving it loads in a non-John Williams style.

During a version of Black Uhuru’s “Shine Eye Gal” (with some vocals stylings borrowed from Junior Reid’s One Blood) a lone passer-by got up and done his stuff. He was still there when I returned about ten minutes later. The duo were half way through Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” the dancer now  jacketless and doing a bad nervous twitch/Jagger strut type dance mixed with a impression of a chicken. Well worth 80 pence of anyone’s money. And the music? It certainly beats the “Theme from The Deer hunter” any day! P

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

Watch the cloth moth

Today on my lunchtime jaunt to Waitrose in Bloomsbury to pick up some halloween novelties I spotted a mythical character not usually seen around these parts. The guy was in his mid 60’s, grey hair styled into a compact quiff and had on a pair of chunky brothel creepers. The leather biker’s jacket he wore had a selection of patches (a few shaped like Iron Crosses) on the back and he looked me straight in the eye as if I was his enemy and gave me such a scowl. This was a genuine teddy boy/greaser hybrid that once frequented English seaside towns or drove buses in the Midlands in the 1970’s.

I automatically assumed that he’d just come out of the Rebel Threads – Clothing of the bad, beautiful & misunderstood exhibition at The Horse Hospital. The exhibition is free and until Saturday 4th November it features a small selection of what is on offer upstairs in The Contemporary Wardrobe Collection. So if you like “yer vintage threads” well this one is for you! P

Rebel Threads – Clothing of the bad, beautiful & misunderstood
The Horse Hospital

Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1JD
Until Saturday 4th November Wed-Sat 12pm-6pm
Admission Free

Better late than never

Yesterday I visited a couple of roman sites (more to come later) as part of a guided tour and it turned out the tour was part of the “Londinium: The City’s Roman Story” festival that’s been going since late July. Summer was a bit of a blur here so I can excuse myself for missing a couple of months of it but there’s still a fortnight left to take advantage of the events. More on the festival here.

If you want to take a walk around Roman London for free do download the Roads to Rome leaflet from CoLAT (The City of London Archaeological Trust) here. Do the tour on a lunchtime, bring the kids too or even take the dog for a walk back in time. Talking of said pet below is a paw print from a Roman one on a clay tile on show at the excellent Billingsgate Roman House and Baths (which is well worth a visit).

And while we’re there, here’s a feline one and next to that (to quote the guide) “Something larger…”

 Roman London, you have to love it! #RomanLondon P

The Mithras touch

The Lost City of London
Paternoster Square
London EC4M 7DX

Until 29th October 2017
Admission Free – 24 Hrs a day.

On Tuesday I took an pre-work trip to the The Lost City Of London exhibition at Paternoster Square. It’s an excellent collection of rarely seen photographs taken from archaeology digs unearthed when London was being redeveloped after the blitz.

There’s a good few roman sites on show here including some that are now buried under office blocks, filled in or not accessible to the general public. There were remains I’d never heard of before like a part of a roman wall preserved in the London Wall car park, roman bathhouses at Cheapside, Huggin Hill and Billingsgate and a roman forum and basilica at Gracechurch Street. There was also a good section about the famous discovery of that time The Temple of Mithras that had people queueing in the streets for hours just to see it!

It wasn’t just the usual Time Team photographic fare that interested me but a couple of images of an era gone by. The first was of archaeologist Audrey Williams holding the head of Mithras while a Brendan Behan look-a-like with a cigarette cheekily hanging out of his mouth assists and the second a view of five ladies trying to get a sneaky look at the dig at The Temple of Mithras through a hole in the corrugated iron fence “ere Ethel, have a butchers at this”.

So if you fancy all things roman and want to spend an interesting fifteen minutes pop down to Paternoster Square one lunchtime with a sarnie and treat yourself! More on events happening in a roman style in London here. #RomanLondon P