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 W 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! P #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
Monday – Sat 10am – 5pm
Sunday 12pm – 4pm
It was only later tonight while writing this post that I found out it’s an installation called Floating Dreams from South Korea’s Ik-Joong Kang and a memorial to the millions displaced during the Korean War of 1950-53. I imagine it has more impact at night but it’s still very impressive by day. Around until Friday 30th September and well worth seeing. More details here. P
Seen walking over Waterloo Bridge this morning, an oversized chair outside Somerset House looking onto the river. I take it it’s something to do with Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick – An exhibition of art inspired by the film maker at Somerset House, rather than a fishing chair for an angling giant. More on the exhibition here. P
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
Here’s our first ever guest post, and it’s from our good friend Matt E.
It’s a blazing Sunday afternoon, and I’ve just bought an armful of books (Penguin Little Black Classics, 80p a pop) at the nearest open bookshop (Waterstones, along from Charing Cross Station.) Now all I need is somewhere to read them.
But where? The parks are packed and, anyway, I fancy a drink. I doubt the pubs are full, but who wants to sit in a boiling boozer on a day like this? Then, as I wander through St James’s Park, I suddenly think of another green space, and of a restaurant that nestles within.
Arriving at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, a minute’s walk from the hell of Holborn Tube, I wince at the crowds spread thickly over the grass. Surely, some of the overspill have stumbled across Fields Bar & Kitchen (Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3LJ) – an unassuming pizzeria that overlooks the park’s tennis courts. (It’s so unassuming, in fact, that until very recently I’d always thought it was an oddly opulent parkies’ hut.)
Stepping inside, I instead find glorious near-emptiness. Giddy with relief, I lavishly order a bottle of ice-cold house white (£20) and head outside to the part-covered terrace. There, at one of the distressed metal tables, I happily sit for the next few hours, reading Michel de Montaigne’s collection of short essays, How We Weep and Laugh at The Same Thing, while watching people play tennis to a standard that also makes me want to Weep and Laugh.
I eventually get up to leave, thinking I really should try the food the next time. Because there will most definitely be a next time, having already assigned Fields privileged ‘bolthole’ status – the kind of place you can count on when London’s burning and you’re in urgent need of shaded sanctuary. M
Thanks to our friend Ache DellandTrace for letting us know about a great family day out from Bring The Noise this Saturday August 22nd at the South Bank.
There’s DJ’s from 12 noon-11pm including Flowerz, Monkey, Huw72, Dell (Vinyl Bunnies), Simon Kurrage and Alex Turnbull from Ronin records/23 Skidoo. And for the kids (big and small) there’s design your own T-shirt and badges, photography, art and all sorts. There’s even a break dancer (Tim Hamilton) teaching dance moves. How good is that? And do you know what, it’s FREE!
It’s at The Southbank Centre Festival Village,
Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX
Just below The Queen Elizabeth Hall