10 Hidden Historic Sites in London

10 virtually unknown historic sites across London

1 Roman Amphitheatre

The Roman amphitheatre of Londinium is situated in a vaulted chamber beneath the Guildhall gallery complex.

Discovered in 1998 during a planned expansion of the Guildhall, the remains are displayed in situ and are now a protected monument.

London’s first Roman amphitheatre was built in AD70, constructed of wood, but was later renovated during the 2nd century with rag-stone walls and a tiled entrance.

Able to hold thousands of spectators, the size of the amphitheater is displayed on street level, where the circumference of the arena is marked with a black circle on the paving of the courtyard in front of the hall.

The amphitheatre was used for various events, including gladiatorial games, animal fighting, executions and religious festivities.

When the Roman province of Britannia looked to its own defences, the amphitheatre became derelict along with the remainder of the Roman city and turned to ruin.

Further Excavations by MOLAS in 2000 at the entrance to Guildhall Yard exposed remains of a great 13th-century gatehouse built directly over the southern entrance to the amphitheatre.

This raises the possibility that enough of the Roman structure survived at this point to influence the siting not only of the gatehouse and Guildhall itself, but also of the church of St Lawrence Jewry, whose strange alignment may shadow the elliptical form of the amphitheatre beneath.

2 Fleet Street Ossuary and Charnel House

The Fleet Street Ossuary and Charnel House are located within the crypts of St Brides Church in London.

An ossuary is a chest, box, building, well, or site made to serve as the final resting place of human skeletal remains. They are frequently used where burial space is scarce. A body is first buried in a temporary grave, then after some years the skeletal remains are removed and placed in an ossuary. The greatly reduced space taken up by an ossuary means that it is possible to store the remains of many more people in a single tomb than if the original coffins were left as is.

Excavations in the 1950’s of the church revealed the a large number of skeletal remains from a medieval charnel house and individuals interred in the ossuary crypt.

The skeletal remains from the St Brides’s crypts are a unique and valuable assemblage for the detailed biographical data available with respect to 227 of the individuals buried in the crypt from the period when Wren rebuilt the church.

Access to the site is restricted and not generally open to the public unless for academic research or through special permission.

3 Billingsgate Roman Bathhouse

The remains of the Billingsgate Roman bath house date from the 2nd-3rd century AD and were first discovered in 1848 during construction of the London Coal Exchange.

They remained preserved in the buildings basement, until further redevelopment at the site in the late 1960’s gave archaeologists the opportunity to further explore the ruin.

Pottery has shown that the house was erected in the late 2nd century, comprising of a north wing and east wing (with a hypocaust system – underfloor heating) around a central courtyard. At this time, the building was situated on the waterfront of the River Thames.

By the 3rd century, a bath house was added in the courtyard that contained a frigidarium (cold room), tepidarium (warm room) and a caldarium (hot room).

The building remained in use till the 5th century, but like the rest of Londinium, was eventually left to ruin. Interestingly, An Anglo-Saxon brooch was found within collapsed roof tiles.

The site was to become the first designated protected heritage site in London, forming part of the first Ancient Monuments Act of 1882.

4 St Bride’s Church

St Bride’s Church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1672 in Fleet Street in the City of London.

Activity at the site dates from the Roman period, evident by a Roman mosaic located within the church Crypts.

Worship is believed to date from the Middle Saxons in the 7th century and remained constant through to present day.

Like many sites across London, St Brides was destroyed in the Great Fire. The old church was replaced by an entirely new building designed by Sir Christopher Wren, one of his largest and most expensive works, taking seven years to build.

The church was gutted by fire-bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe during the London Blitz of the Second World War, on the night of 29 December 1940, dubbed the Second Great Fire of London due to the enormous amount of damage caused.

One fortunate and unintended consequence of the bombing was the excavation of the church’s original 6th century Saxon foundations. Today the crypt, known as the Museum of Fleet Street, is open to the public and contains a number of ancient relics including Roman coins and medieval stained glass.

5 London Wall

The London Wall is a defensive wall that encircled the City of London.

The wall was built between 190 and 225 AD, it continued to be developed by the Romans until at least the end of the 4th century, making it among the last major building projects undertaken by the Romans before Britannia looked to its own defences in AD 410.

Along with Hadrian’s Wall and the road network, the London Wall was one of the largest construction projects carried out in Roman Britain. Once built, the wall was 2 miles long and about 6 m high, encircling the entire Roman city.

Despite Londinium being abandoned and left to ruin by the Romans, the wall remained in active use as a fortification for more than another 1,000 years. It was repaired when Anglo Saxon rule was returned to London by Afred the Great during a period of Viking sieges and raids, where he carried out building projects to rebuild crumbling defences, recut the defensive ditch (Roman fossa that encircled the walls of Londinium) and found the re-settlement of Lundenburg within the walls.

The wall was further modified in the medieval period, with the addition of crenellations, gates and bastion towers. This formed part of a defensive line that incorporated The Tower of London, Baynard’s Castle and Montfichet’s Tower.

It was not until as late as the 18th and 19th centuries that the wall underwent substantial demolition, although even then large portions of it survived by being incorporated into other structures. Amid the devastation of the Blitz in WW2, some of the tallest ruins in the bomb-damaged city centre were actually remnants of the Roman wall.

6 Whitefriar’s Crypt

Tucked away in a tiny alley near Fleet Street lies the remains of the Whitefriar’s Crypt.

Only a crypt remains today of what was once a late 14th century priory belonging to a Carmelite order known as the White Friars. During its heyday, the priory sprawled the area from Fleet Street to the Thames. At its western end was the Temple and to its east was Water Lane (now called Whitefriars Street). A church, cloisters, garden and cemetery were housed in the ground.

The roots of the Carmelite order go back to its founding on Mount Carmel, which was situated in what is today Israel, in 1150. The order had to flee Mount Carmel to escape the wrath of the Saracens in 1238.

Some members of the order found a sympathizer in Richard, Earl of Cornwall, and brother of King Henry III, who helped them travel to England, where they built a church on Fleet Street in 1253. A larger church supplanted this one a hundred years later. Members of the Carmelite order are referred to as White Friars because of the white mantles they wore on formal occasions.

Like many Catholic sites, the friary was dissolved by Henry VIII during the reformation in 1538, with the site gifted to the King’s Armourer.

They crypt itself was discovered in 1896 in Britton’s Court, where it was used as a cellar. Supposedly a similar crypt was also discovered in proximity but was destroyed during the rapid expansion of London.

During the 1980’s, the crypt was meticulously removed in order to allow the redevelopment of the area. It was lifted across the road to a new resting site by crane, where it now resides behind a glass screen for public viewing.

7 Roman Fort

The Roman fort of Londinium (City of London, England) was built around AD 120, just north-west of the main population settlement.

It covered 12 acres and was almost square in size, 200m along each length. As Londinium grew, the fort was later absorbed into the defensive wall that surrounded the city.

The fort could house up to 1000 men and provided suitable barracks and gated entry.

However, a century later the site was decommissioned and buildings dismantled as the military situation in the southern edge of Britannia had become more secure.

Today, the forts northern and western edges still remain visible, along with Saxon fortifications and medieval bastion towers as part of the Barbican and Museum of London complex.

8 Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey is a ruined abbey in the London Borough of Bexley which is classed as an ancient scheduled monument.

After the Norman Conquest in 1066, the area of Lesnes passed into ownership of Bishop Odo, as mentioned in the Domesday Survey. The year 1178 saw the foundation of the Abbey of St Mary and St Thomas the Martyr at Lesnes by Richard de Luci, Chief Justiciar of England.

In 1381 Abel Ker of Erith led an uprising linked to the famous Peasants’ Revolt and forced the abbot of the abbey to swear an oath to support them. After this they marched to Maidstone to join the main body of men led by Wat Tyler.

It was one of the first monasteries to be closed after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1524, and the monastic buildings were all pulled down, except for the Abbott’s Lodging.

In 1541, Henry Cooke acquired the site and passed to Sir John Hippersley who salvaged building materials, before selling the property to Thomas Hawes of London in 1632.

It was then bequeathed to Christ’s Hospital in 1633 where some of the stone is said to have been used in the construction of Hall Place in nearby Bexley.

Over time, the area turned to farmland with the abbots house forming part of a farmhouse. It has been restored to show some of the walls and the entire outline of the abbey is visible giving a good idea of the size and atmosphere of the original place.

9 Greenwich Saxon Cemetery

Greenwich Park contains a large Saxon barrow cemetery of approximately 50 round barrows.

At their simplest, round barrows are hemispherical mounds of earth and/or stone raised over a burial placed in the middle, whether inhumation burials or cremations.

They were originally investigated in 1784 by Rev. James Douglas who’s discoveries included inhumations (some in coffins), with grave goods that included a spearhead (Swanton Type H3), a shield boss, a knife and four beads. Fragments of hair and cloth were also recorded.

Twenty barrows are still visually identifiable today, and up to 5m in diameter with slight elevation over the surrounding topology.

An RCHME survey, topographically and using geophysical methods as part of the Greenwich Park Survey (Sep-1993 to Feb-1994) identified a total of thirty-one barrows surviving, with the remainder having been destroyed or flattened in 1844.

10 Parkland

Parkland was once the route of part of the London and North Eastern Railway’s (LNER’s) line from Finsbury Park to Edgware constructed in 1867 by the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway, with the branch to Muswell Hill and Alexandra Palace added in 1874.

Plans were published by London Underground in the 1930s for its incorporation as part of the Northern line (The Northern Heights Plan) but the onset of World War II stopped the work at an advanced stage.

After the war the development plan was abandoned but passenger trains continued to run on this line until 1954. The service was reduced to freight haulage and tube traffic, until its final closure in 1970.

Tracks and infrastructure were removed and most of the platforms and station buildings demolished but the route still maintains several parts of the Victorian bridges and station platforms beautifully overgrown.

The Parkland Walk was officially opened in 1984 following extensive re-surfacing and improvements to access and is now a 4.5-mile (7.2 km) linear green walkway and a protected nature reserve.

Article Credit : London History Group

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