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PostSubject: Roman London   Wed 10 Apr 2013, 09:55

Building work where the River Walbrook once was, has uncovered major finds from the entire Roman period, so much so that it is being described as "The Pompeii of the North"

http://www.museumoflondonarchaeology.org.uk/NewsProjects/Current-News/Pompeii+of+the+north.htm
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Wed 10 Apr 2013, 11:33

The MOLA bloggers covering this dig on the museum's website are inclined to get a bit carried away with their prose, alright. I think it's pitched to a school-going audience. At least I hope that's the explanation!

The dig has however turned up some very well preserved wooden and leather artefacts due to the wetness of the soil, which in London is exceptional. It has also brought about the "rescuing" of Grimes' reconstructed temple which was rather pathetically situated on top of a multi-story car park up until recently (and 500 yards away from where it had orginally stood). It's good to hear that this is being rectified.
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Wed 10 Apr 2013, 13:22

Yes, the damp soil has preserved artifacts which would otherwise have been lost.

A map to put Londinium in context with modern London;



I did wonder if they had sliced through other archaeology to reach the Roman era, but the Anglo-Saxon Londonwic appears to have been situated further west around Trafalgar Square and the Strand.
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Wed 10 Apr 2013, 13:48

Yes, for reasons still debated Saxon settlement was concentrated to the west of the Roman city limits. There is some increasing evidence of a higher Saxon settlement within the City than had hitherto been estimated but the consensus is still pretty much that the Roman city was virtually abandoned at the time as its commercial function decreased and the availability of cultivatable land further west lent itself more readily to becoming a centre of population.

The Walbrook dig hasn't actually encountered much archaeology more recent than Roman but this is mainly due to the fact that much of what had been there was bulldozed away in the early 50s. In fact they were pleasantly surprised to find anything at all remaining at the Roman level, let alone the wealth of material that has actually turned up!
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Wed 10 Apr 2013, 13:59

Interesting Trike and a great find. But the MOLA description of Pompeii of the North is overstating it just a tad surely?
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Thu 11 Apr 2013, 07:36

The description was intended to illustrate how well the artefacts have been preserved, as in Pompeii. Not so much hyperbole as it was a clumsy attempt to get across to "the layman" how important a site it has proven to be.
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Thu 11 Apr 2013, 09:27

Unless I misunderstood the article it seemed to say this was open for public viewing but I don't recall ever seeing any information about this in any tourist info. I might not like to go to something underground but I'd like to have the opportunity.

Even in very young cities it's surprising how much there is under the ground. Archeologists are ferreting around under Christchurch and getting excited about what they are finding. Some Maori pieces which isn't surprising but also European bits too. Household rubbish from before 1900. Bottles, charcoal, bones, a crucible. http://www.3news.co.nz/Artefacts-discovered-under-Christchurchs-Isaac-Theatre-Royale/tabid/423/articleID/284849/Default.aspx
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Thu 11 Apr 2013, 10:02

The excavation site is of course not open to the public. And nor is it underground, almost 4,000 tonnes of earth have been moved to a depth of twelve metres to ensure that it is overground.

When the intended office block is built on the site it will include in its foundation a museum space exhibiting some of the finds and some of the remaining Roman level topology. In the meantime some of the finds I believe are already on display at the Museum of London.
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Thu 11 Apr 2013, 10:19

Trike, you and others may be interested in this interactive ordnance survey map of Roman Britain. It is formatted into sectors as with a modern OS map and shows a remarkably detailed breakdown of which tribes lived where at the time of the Roman occupation. It also shows the known Roman settlements that came later. Just click on a sector to get the detailed view.

Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Thu 11 Apr 2013, 11:52

nordmann wrote:
Trike, you and others may be interested in this interactive ordnance survey map of Roman Britain. It is formatted into sectors as with a modern OS map and shows a remarkably detailed breakdown of which tribes lived where at the time of the Roman occupation. It also shows the known Roman settlements that came later. Just click on a sector to get the detailed view.

Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain

Thanks, Nordmann.

For some reason this link is addressed world/us/canada news, but it contains a short film about the dig;

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-22103659
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Thu 11 Apr 2013, 14:18

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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 08:07

I am not asking about Roman Britain as such, though I think the river was there in Roman times.  Dickens in The Pickwick Papers mentions the Fleet Market and the editor's note says, "When the Fleet River, running from Hampstead to the Thames, was closed over, the surface was occupied by a market, which closed in 1829 to make way for Farringdon Street.  I don't seem to know anything about this river, or why it was closed off. Or how it was closed off, for that matter. Wikipedia suggests it had become narrowed because of industry and then sewers.  I would have thought ordinary industrial use of the 16th and 17th centuries wouldn't have changed the course and width of a river to a great degree. 

I don't remember reading about this river before, though it might well have been mentioned in Peter Ackroyd's John Dee book.  It's amazing to me how many little historical details are contained in The Pickwick Papers - games and sports, dress and hair styles (though styles is overstating the case really), work in law firms, prison life, streets of London, methods of travel, political rallies and voting, popular foods and drink, etc.
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 09:09

Peter Ackroyd has written many times about the Fleet, an unavoidable subject for any London historian. It was indeed narrowed over time and eventually covered over but both of these processes were piecemeal and gradual with the exception of the attempt by engineer and architect Robert Hooke to reinvent it as "The New Canal" in the aftermath of The Great Fire, a huge project which entailed extensive walling of the watercourse and the erection of wharves intended for industrial use. These measures, as well as countless ordinances and by-laws enacted over the centuries, had been prompted by acknowledgement that the river's sheer handiness as an unofficial dump and sewer for the thousands of Londoners living in its vicinity had long transformed it into a fetid, unhealthy offence to eye and nose. However this was also the cause of these measures' ultimate failure too.

The Fleet Market that Dickens refers to was built over the first stretch to be covered - between Holborn and Ludgate Circus - a final acknowledgement that its use as a sewer was not only unstoppable but probably even desirable if conducted in the right way. Of course this undertaking denied use as canal to what remained so it simply made it more inevitable that the other portions be covered also. And once this got underway then the existence of the market itself became doomed as the river's full course in its covered state lent itself much more to use as a badly needed traffic artery in the still burgeoning city.

An archaeological assessment of a portion of the river near Ludgate in the 1970s concluded that centuries of dredging, walling and other major engineering works designed to accommodate it within the city rendered it of limited value with regard to contextually dating and identifying finds. However the range of finds was still rather impressive and showed continuous use (primarily as a dump) from Roman times, when it lay as a natural boundary a few hundred yards beyond the city's designated limit, right up to the late Victorian era when its last stretches were eventually denied to Londoners chucking things away.
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 09:31

There's a blog which has a little about it but I'm having to type the URL as my ancient laptop won't copy:- www.andrewwhitehead.net/1/category/hampstead%20heath/1.html. If the link doesn't take you to the right page it's on  the page dated 06.10.2013 and is the next entry after "Vale of Health". You probably know Fleet  Street - which was formerly the hub of the London newspaper trade - is called after the now culveted river.  The "Holebourn" was another name for the river as in Holeborn Viaduct.  I read  somewhere [sorry going from memory so don't recall reference] that wood used to be floated on the Fleet River in earlier times. When I lived in London I remember walking down Anglers  Lane in Kentish Town - on the outside of a pub there they had some words - penned many years ago - by a (then) elderly person lamenting the urbanisation of  the area, recalling what a pretty place Anglers Lane was when people did fish there before London expanded and swallowed up the area known as Kentish Town. Addendum: Nordmann posted and
in more detail while I was typing this, but I'll post it anyhow methinks.
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 10:59

A great summary of all London's rivers is "The Lost Rivers of London" by Nicholas Barton, ISBN 0-948667-15-X, first published in 1962 but still in print today. He describes the history, uses, abuses, and demise of all the rivers: the Walbrook, the Fleet, the Tyburn, the Westbourne, the Effra, the Neckinger plus numerous other brooks, creeks and ditches.

Regarding the Fleet, here's the "Entrance to the Fleet River" by Samuel Scott (1702-72) showing the grand improvements made by Wren and Hooke after the Great Fire, and before it had again been relegated to a sewer. Note the elegant high arched bridges, similar to those of Venice, which allowed barges to get 650m upstream as far as the Fleet Bridge at the foot of Ludgate Hill.



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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 11:05

A huge improvement on its modern aspect as its peeks almost apologetically out from under elements of the superstructure supporting Black Friars Bridge (though curiously gratifying to see that its traditional use as a dump has not been totally eradicated)

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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 11:42

Here's another, rather more Dickensian view of the Fleet where it was crossed by the Holborn Bridge. Taken from Barton's book the sketch is by Anthony Crosby and was done about 1840 but it is a copy of an older picture of unknown date though probably towards the end of the 18th century. Note the windowless privy projecting out from the building on the left and discharging directly into the river below.

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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 12:46

Roman attitudes towards the Fleet must have been quite mixed. It had been one of the principal reasons behind the siting of their original Londinium settlement, its original topography at its estuary being one of extensive marshland, a natural hindrance to any armed assault from the city's west side. After Boudicca's assault from the north-east (a side considered safe due to political agreements with the very tribes who banded together during that revolt) there was some activity directed to securing the city behind walled defences, though this was principally to the north and east, the marshy Fleet estuary therefore still regarded as worth keeping in its natural state as continued defence on that side. By the third century however the requirement to revamp and the subsequent decision to enclose the entire city behind a wall must have led the more entrepreneurial to consider harnessing the river to industrial purposes. However if they did so there is little evidence remaining.

By Saxon times - a period in London history that is still shrouded in mystery regarding the actual status of the old Roman enclosure - the centre of commercial activity seems to have spread, if not actually moved, upriver and past the Fleet. This made the estuary worth developing and it is believed that watermills on the tributary first date from this time. To run a mill there must have been considerable draining and reclaiming first of the land to each side, forcing the river into a narrower course with stronger current, one strong enough to counter to some extent the incoming tide. This had definitely been done by the late Saxon period as religious institutions along the Fleet's reclaimed banks most definitely employed mills within their business practice.

The next centuries were ones of tackling the problems of this reclamation. Narrowing the estuary had a knock-on effect of simply pushing the propensity to flood with its consequent marshifying of land upstream. Dredging became a constant necessity with many laws passed levying those living near it in an effort to finance this perpetual upkeep. Even when this activity fell more and more under the municipal authorities the Fleet was still unique in terms of the severity of fines and other punishments inflicted on those convicted of contributing to its sluggishness and pollution.

What emerges from this river's history is a long line of headaches for the city's administrators, from Roman right up to Victorian times. The initial decision to cover it over must have been seen by many as a blessed delivery and improvement over what had gone before. From descriptions in the 18th century it is doubtful that any "anglers" bemoaned its loss (it is very doubtful if any fish had been seen in it for many centuries and even if they were to be found would have been quite lethal to ingest). However many might have missed such a fantastic local amenity for the disposal of household effluent, general rubbish, dead animals and human cadavers.

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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 13:42

Nordmann has already commented very comprehensively on the Fleet but this blog (from 2005) has some photographs http://lndn.blogspot.co.uk/2005_08_01_lndn_archive.html.I did read the inscription on the side of the pub, Nordmann, honest injun, I did, but I can't find anything pertinent to it.  The Camden History Society's web page is down (if it has anything about the former bucolic attractiveness of the Fleet in its annals) but I did find something on another site that said the largest false teeth factory in Europe was once situated in Anglers Lane http://www.kentishtowner.co.uk/2012/02/29/wednesday-picture-claudius-ash-false-teeth-factory-anglers-lane/ . I will concede that is not to do with any formerly idyllic once rural spot   - though it is close to the route of the covered over Fleet - but you never know, it might come in useful if ever anyone plays "Trivial Pursuit".


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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 14:23

To be fair to your recollection, LiR, Camden Town was most probably indeed an angler's paradise as it was effectively a country town for much of its existence well away from the main polluters and - critically - upstream of them too. However the Fleet must have been a river which "died" in terms of fish stock quite a while ago, and if it did have any reaches just prior to its enclosure up around Camden that could be fished this must have been a rather precarious and downright dangerous activity for those prepared to chance their arm and eat whatever they caught in the last century or so of the river being above ground.

Having said that, Camden is where the Fleet proper is formed and even now one of the two tributaries that unite at this point flows through the relatively unbuilt area of Hampstead Heath (transformed by damming into the present day Hampstead/Highgate Ponds). It is not outside the bounds of possibility that these streams supported their own fish population before this damming took place, in which case Camden anglers were doing the fish a huge humanitarian favour if they intercepted them on their way downriver!

PS: According to that wonderful blog you linked to the inscription you mention is now to be found on the side of a Nando's Restaurant on Kentish Town Road. I had a look on the net but can see no image for it. Hope it's not been sacrificed to the cause of purveying greasy chicken!
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Sun 12 Jan 2014, 23:26

What a wonderful lot of information here, thanks!  That blog was great, though it would take me quite some time to read it all.  The Highgate Cemetery is still on our list to do, though we did try to get there once but ran out of time to find it.  My husband wanders to Hampstead Heath but that's usually the time I have a rest in our hotel, I'm afraid.

I must have read about the Fleet River in the past, if only in Edward Rutherfurd's London, which I read years ago.  The Nicholas Barton book sounds very good though I note the blog says 'expensive' which might mean it remains out of my reach.  I must read Ackroyd's London: the biography though.  Surely it is in our library or our bookshops. 

You don't think people living in the conditions described would be immune to some of the poisons produced and therefore able to eat the fish?

Some great historic pictures here too.
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Mon 13 Jan 2014, 08:17

People were most definitely not immune to the worst that the Fleet could throw at them. Eating fish which had absorbed water-based pollutants was probably the least of their worries - if cooked most of the more virulent bacteria might well have been eliminated. However eating the fish may not necessarily have been the biggest threat they faced.

One bacteria "salmonella typhi" was probably an ever-present in the lower reaches of the Fleet for several centuries up until its covering over. The river's use as a sewer for human excrement throughout this period meant that it was not only a natural pathogenic incubator of typhoid (much more so than the Thames due to the amount of stagnant water in its lower reaches) but also a guaranteed accelerator once an outbreak occurred since infected persons' faeces also found their way back into it. The high urine content must also have led to a huge number of incidents of leptospirosis which at the time would have been simply described as "ague". Long term infection would have led to kidney failure and rapid death, again not a cause of death that would have been associated directly with the river. In the context of the water quality regarding these bacterial infestations (and several more that could be named to which no effective immunity has ever existed) the true danger to the angler would have been in handling the fish as much as eating it. With regard to dengue, malaria and other illnesses the river periodically facilitated due to the state of its rather lethal ecosystem just proximity to it while they angled would at times have constituted a possibly deadly threat in itself.
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Mon 13 Jan 2014, 11:16

Even when covered over the Fleet continued to have an influence on the health of people living within its proximity.

Again from Barton's book, this shows the correlation of chronic bronchitis cases (in 1954-56) to the course of river Fleet, which although long since covered over still runs in the same valley bottom as it always did, and the streets here, along it's course still tend to be more prone to mist and damp.

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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Mon 13 Jan 2014, 13:56

And it probably wasn't only sewage, dead animals or rubbish that polluted the river either, what about industry? There must have been tanners, cloth dyers, abattoirs, blacksmiths et al near a source of running water.
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Mon 13 Jan 2014, 15:51

I worked in East London for a number of years ID - and lived in Bow for a couple of years  though I was lodging in Ilford when I left the London area in autumn 2010.  I know that a lot of cattle bones were found over the years on the banks of the River Lea (or Lee) - I'm never quite sure where it becomes Bow Creek [where it's tidal???]  Before the London marched east to swallow up Tower Hamlets apparently people slaughtered animals on the river banks.  Some of the smellier trades set up east of the city,I've heard, because they were downwind of the city centre.  It's hard to believe it now but I read a book which said in the days when what are now the London Borough of Newham and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets were still largely open land, highwaymen held up the coach between Startford [as in atte-Bowe - not as in the playwright Nordmann calls Willie Wobbleweapon's birthplace] and Aldgate.  I worked not far from a road called Roman Road [which has quite a famous street market] which ends rather suddenly but apparently it was the original Roman Road out to the further flung parts of Essex, but another route ever so slightly to the south was built to replace it, because it crossed marshy ground when it hit the environs of what is now Stratford, East London.  The marshy area later became railway marshalling yards and - though I'm not 100% certain on this - may have become part of the Olympic Park.
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PostSubject: Re: Roman London   Mon 13 Jan 2014, 16:56

It wasn't just rubbish and sewage that was dumped in the Fleet.

'The Gentleman's Magazine' in 1844 tells of a house near Smithfield which in the eighteenth century had been the haunt and hiding place of all sorts of burglars, footpads, fences and other villains. "It stood along-side the brook [the Fleet], whose rapid torrent was well adapted to convey away everything that might be evidence of crime, and there were trap-doors to facilitate this, which could be used as an escape-route by hard-pressed criminals. Once a sailor was decoyed there, robbed and thrown naked out of a window into the stream, and was taken up at Blackfriars bridge a corpse".

But all the rubbish, ordure, sewage, dead animals and bodies dumped in the Fleet did occasionally bring benefits:

Also from 'The Gentleman's Magazine' - "A fatter boar was hardly ever seen than one taken up this day, coming out of the Fleet Ditch into the Thames. It proved to be a butcher's near Springfield Bar, who had missed him five month, all which time he had been in the common sewer, and was improved in price from ten shillings to two guineas".

..... Though I'm not sure I'd have been keen to eat that butcher's sausages if I'd know where his pork meat had come from!


Sorry I've drifted away from the OP about Roman London.
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