I hope you’ve all enjoyed my recent guide to some of the remaining sights of Roman London. Since writing those posts, last week I carried out my very first Roman Walking Tour of London from someone who must have seen my posting.
The tour went very well with the friendly chap from Istanbul, a city with more than a bit of Roman history though surprisingly not as lengthy as in London.
One of of segments of the tour takes us through Leadenhall Market which despite its Dickensian Splendour, is best known to foreign tourists for it’s connections with Harry Potter.
More than worthy of a blog post in itself, Leadenhall Market dates back to the 14th century and is situated in what was the centre of Roman London. In Roman times this was the site of a forum, which contained a basilica. The original forum was built about 30 years after Londinium was founded (around 71 and 85 AD). It was later replaced (around 100 – 130 AD) by a much larger forum – covering over 2 hectares.
The basilica in this forum was the largest Roman building north of the Alps. It housed offices and administrators for the governance of London. Its size (52 by 167 meters or 172 by 547 ft) made it larger than St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Sadly much of the complex was originally destroyed by the Romans themselves as punishment for London citizens supporting the wrong figure in a power struggle with the stones mostly being repurposed or lost under repeated layers of civilisation until remnants of were discovered during the construction of the current Leadenhall Market in 1881.
Always being one to to discover new things, I’d heard rumours of a fragmentary ruin underneath the hairdressers at one of the entrances of Leadenhall Market. The shop doesn’t advertise the ruins at all, no doubt as they don’t want too many tourists to get in the way of doing their day-job. I imagined though that it might be in their leasehold agreement that they wouldn’t be able to refuse access to anyone who wanted to see the ruins.
When I told my my tourist friend about this, he seemed a little non-commital if not slightly apprehensive. I felt the same, it’s not every day you go into a very plush shop in London with no intention of buying their products or services but asking to go into their basement to have a nose around.
I was going to say it was a first for me but then I remember doing similar to see some alledged old prison cells under The Viaduct Tavern Pub for one of my pub tours. So I went inside and asked the friendly lady at the front door whether we might be allowed downstairs to look at the Roman Ruins.
I expected an answer somewhere between “There’s no ruins in here” and “Get Lost” or a ruder London equivalent. To my surprise with a big smile she pointed to the stairs and said we were welcome. My surprise wasn’t quite as big as my tourist who couldn’t quite believe it.
The salon is set on two floors, the street level and a basement level and the basement was busy with people, mostly ladies, sat having their hair worked on. You’d think finding a Roman ruin in brightly lit basement would be an easy thing to do but it took a little while to find it as not knowing where I was going felt like I was rather imposing on things.
Still we found it soon enough, behind a glass door and window and slightly obscured behind hair dryers and other paraphanalia. There is a light switch with a timer switch and a large information board and as if by magic, the only known remains of the largest Roman bulding north of The Alps appears.
In a way it is quite fitting that these ruins can be found in a modern day hair dressers. The Forum was for all intents and purposes a leisure and commerce venue. 2,000 years ago you would find Roman hairdressers plying their trade here along with every other service a relatively wealthy Roman Londoner might need.
Suitably impressed, my tourist and I walked back up to street level and contineud with the rest of the tour.
This is the final entry in my series of Roman London Blog themed posts. If you missed any of them then you click on them below:
Of course if you’d like to try out my Roman Walking Tour then let me know!