Cover image for A history of London
Title:
A history of London
Author:
Inwood, Stephen, 1947-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Carroll & Graf Pub., Inc., 1998.
Physical Description:
xxii, 1111 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780786706136
Format :
Book

Available:*

Library
Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Status
Central Library DA677 .I59 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Searching...

On Order

Summary

Summary

The Romans built it, the Angles and Saxons invaded it, the Vikings ravaged it, the Normans conquered it. From its beginnings as a foreign outpost on the banks of the Thames in the first century to, in the twenty-first, the teeming metropolitan sprawl of an extraordinarily cosmopolitan world capital, London has been shaped by successive waves of migration into a marvelous polyglot of a city.

The history of London may indeed be a history of printing, the theater, newspapers, museums, pleasure gardens, music halls, international finance, and the novel, but for Stephen Inwood it is a history of the people whose tastes, talents, philosophies, and pocketbooks have created it -- and sometimes threatened to destroy it. Drawing on innumerable sources, with as many unfamiliar anecdotes, Inwood tirelessly explores the history of a city defined as much by the mob as the monarch, the laborer as the lord, and shows why, as Samuel Johnson put it, "When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford."


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

It stands to reason that a history of such a big city would amount to a big book. The British capital has been around for 2,000 years, and from Inwood, readers can witness a pageant of "the successive migration of wave upon wave of outsiders who have made their mark upon London [and] given it their own distinctive flavor." Inviting not for any buoyancy of prose style but because of the thoroughness of its coverage, Inwood's opus delves fully into not only political history but also social, economic, religious, cultural, and even health history. Of course, the story of London will by definition reflect the history of the kingdom at large, but Inwood does a special job of ensuring that his focus is placed on local issues as well as national ones. The copious detail will discourage casual readers, but it will thrill serious students of history wanting a comprehensive account of London's evolution. --Brad Hooper


Publisher's Weekly Review

If one is going to walk through 1000-plus pages about a city, the guide had better be reliable and entertaining. Inwood, a lecturer at England's Thames Valley College, completely covers one of the millennium's major cities, but with somewhat more reliability than flair, albeit with a considered subtlety of thought and evenness of prose rare in a work of such length. As Roy Porter (England: A Social History) notes in his introduction, Inwood's London is a social London, and much of the book is spent recounting who did what when, and how much it cost them, from the Roman Londinium that waned as the empire did to the "Divided City" of 1965 to the present. He incorporates numerous short quotes, from Swift and Smollet to the builders, clerks and minor politicians who worked behind the city's scenes. But in the main, the book reads like the large-scale compendium of secondary sources and cullings from the public record that it is, rather than a thick description of the historically evolving qualities of London life. Although few will accompany Inwood straight through the entire trip (which he says was nine years in the preparation), the discrete chapters will be immensely useful to those to those seeking an evenhanded account of, say, the leisure activities of all classes in the 19th century or the developing London marketplace of the 14th and 15 centuries. History Book Club selection. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Inwood (history, Thames Valley Univ.) brings the vibrant, tumultuous history of London to a general audience, sketching Londons evolution from Roman times to the present in a lively style that makes for fascinating reading. Londons growth depended on immigration, and the result was not a unified urban center but a series of Londons made up of different groups, sometimes based on ethnicity or religion, engaged in a variety of occupations, and located in different parts of the city. Inwood draws on a huge corpus of literature, both primary and secondary, to weave together the story of the metropolis. Although the analysis of the Roman and medieval city is sparse, compared with later chapters, the book is a well-balanced and enjoyable read. Recommended for a wide readership.Frederic Krome, Jacob Rader Marcus Ctr. of the American Jewish Archives, Cincinnati (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

Along with Roy Porter's London: A Social History (CH, Jun'95) and Francis Sheppard's London: A History (CH, Jun'99), Inwood's book is the third major history of London to appear in this decade. All three books are a synthesis of recent scholarship about London, and each historian presents his own views of London's history and current status. Inwood's history is a tour de force; Porter describes it as "spirited and swarming," and that it is. Inwood (Thames Valley Univ.) grew up in a suburb of London, and his love of the city is apparent. He believes that the history of London is the history of Londoners. He captures the sights, sounds, and smells of a great city through the centuries. Inwood's history is chronological, but he incorporates themes to provide unity: migrants, trade, manufacturing, elite and popular cultural politics, imperialism, and tourism. He and Sheppard are optimistic about London's future. Well organized and well written, the book is a good read and virtually an encyclopedia of London's 2,000 years. Highly recommended. All levels. W. J. Hoffman Jr.; Hiram College


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One Londinium Writing the history of Roman and Saxon London presents special difficulties. Written evidence, which is overwhelmingly extensive for London's recent history, is almost entirely absent for its first 1,000 years. For the pre-Roman and Roman period (up to AD 410), there are a few paragraphs in the works of Caesar and Tacitus, some scraps of writing on tombstones and wooden tablets, a third-century account of the first-century invasion by Cassius Dio, contemporary descriptions of isolated events by Eumenius and Ammianus Marcellinus, and seven mentions in geographical or administrative lists. All this amounts to under four pages of modern text. There are no maps of London until the sixteenth century, no pictures of much value until the fifteenth century, and no sustained descriptive accounts until Fitzstephen's in 1173. Our knowledge has come chiefly from archaeologists, who began to take a scholarly interest in London's Roman past in the early nineteenth century. Recently, archaeologists have seized chance opportunities offered by wartime bombing and postwar redevelopment to discover what they could of London's past before the deep foundations of new buildings destroyed the evidence for good. The most important work was done by Professor Grimes in the postwar years (1946-62), and by the Museum of London's Department of Urban Archaeology, which was set up in 1973 to rescue the last remnants of ancient London from the office building boom of the 1960s and 1970s. By 1973 well over half of the City's archaeological deposits had already been destroyed or badly damaged by roads, underground railways and offices, and only 118 of the City's 677 acres were apparently intact. But hasty excavations on patches of land awaiting redevelopment have provided some of the broad outlines of London's history in the Roman and Saxon millennium. A detailed chronology will never be possible, but at least some mysteries are being cleared up, and some speculations being proved or disproved, by new discoveries. Before the Romans Enough evidence has been discovered, for instance, to establish that London was a Roman new town, not a Romanized version of an ancient British settlement. Medieval chroniclers liked to trace London's foundation, like that of Rome, back to Homeric heroes. Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing in the early twelfth century, had Brutus, great-grandson of Aeneas, arriving in Britain (then called Albion) about 1,000 years before Christ, finding it `uninhabited except for a few giants', and building a new Troy, Troia Nova, on the banks of the Thames. The name `Londinium' was said by Geoffrey of Monmouth to derive from King Lud, the ruler of `Lud's Town' just before Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain in 55 BC. John Stow, the late sixteenth-century historian of London, had the wit to discount these tales as a pardonable attempt to ennoble the city by giving it a spurious antiquity and `by interlacing divine matters with human'. It was clear to Stow that when Caesar arrived there was no substantial British settlement where the City of London now stands.     Modern archaeologists have found evidence of pre-Roman settlement and trade in the Greater London area, but without the heavy concentration of finds discovered in such places as Colchester, St Albans and Canterbury. The first known inhabitants of the Greater London area were the late Ice Age (about 8000 BC) hunters whose flint tools and reindeer bones were found in Uxbridge in the 1980s. It is clear that in the Bronze Age (about 2200-700 BC) settlers were attracted by the fertility and convenience of the Thames valley, and remnants of an eighth- or ninth-century BC trading and manufacturing centre were found at Egham in the 1970s. A prehistoric village found at Heathrow seems to have been occupied in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Recently, pottery found in the City, Southwark and Westminster suggest Bronze Age settlements nearer to London's centre. For the Iron Age (about 700 BC-AD 43), coin finds indicate a late Iron Age riverside population between Kingston and Barnes, a possible settlement in West London around 100 BC, and a few buildings, perhaps a farmstead, in Southwark, at the time of the Roman occupation. In 1983 a waterlogged wooden platform, the foundations of a riverside village on Thorney Island, near the ancient Westminster ford, was found deep in the mud near Richmond Terrace, off Whitehall. Plentiful finds of military equipment, including the British Museum's magnificent Battersea shield, in the Thames upstream of the modern City, testify to a continuing tradition of offerings to river gods or, others say, carelessness.     The fact that the Romans took the name of their settlement from the Celtic name Londinion , which was probably derived from the personal name Londinos (from the word lond , `wild'), does not indicate (as some Victorian historians took it to do) that they were taking over an existing Celtic town. In fact, as Mortimer Wheeler pointed out in 1928, the Romans often preferred native names, `even for frontier-posts planted by them on previously uninhabited sites', and they often preferred unsettled sites to settled ones for their administrative centres. It may seem strange that a spot so suited to settlement should have been generally ignored until the Roman invasions. But the land near the City is marshy and liable to flooding, the heavy day soils were hard for early farmers to work, and the wide tidal river was not fordable below Westminster. For people more interested in security from attack than in trade or administration, exposed riverbanks are not attractive places to settle, and the Thames in the immediately pre-Roman period probably acted as a barrier to divide kingdoms, not a trade route to unite them. London, as we shall see, thrives best in times of peace, commercial prosperity and centralized government.     The Belgae, invaders from north-eastern Gaul who controlled southern Britain from about 100 BC until AD 43, were not a primitive people. They fought with chariots, they minted gold and bronze coins, and made and traded pottery and other manufactures. In the century after Caesar's invasion one Belgic tribe, the Catuvellauni, became dominant over the other southern tribes, and occupied urban strongholds at Camulodunum (Colchester) and Verulamium (near St Albans). The Belgae traded with Roman Gaul, exporting corn, cattle, hides, metals, dogs and slaves in return for luxury goods. Although the Catuvellauni were strong, they presented no threat to the Roman Empire, and the decision to revive the plan of conquest abandoned by Caesar was taken on political, not military, grounds. The scholarly and unimpressive Emperor Claudius, and the Roman nobility, needed a quick and easy military victory to enhance their prestige, and Britain, the prize which even Caesar had not won, offered the opportunity they wanted. The Founding of Londinium The Roman invasion force of perhaps 40,000 men landed unopposed at Richborough, in eastern Kent, and somewhere else on the south coast (maybe near Chichester) in AD 43, and won a major battle against the Catuvellauni on the Medway. According to Cassius Dio, who wrote nearly 200 years later, probably from lost contemporary accounts, Aulus Plautius led his forces towards the Thames, crossed it by swimming or perhaps a makeshift bridge, and attacked and chased off the native forces. The invaders then encamped to await the Emperor Claudius with his elephants and the Praetorian Guard. Recent archaeological evidence, and the pattern of the first Roman roads, suggest that this camp was not on the site of the future Londinium, but upstream, nearer the site of modern Westminster. Although most Roman roads through the London area were constructed to reach the Thames at the site of the Roman bridge within the city, two of the earliest ones do not do so. Wafting Street, the vital strategic route from Richborough to the Thames and on to Verulamium, seems to have been constructed in the early 40s to reach the river at Westminster, the lowest fordable point. Its northward turn through Southwark towards London Bridge was probably added a few years later. Another early road, linking Camulodunum to Silchester through Staines, and following modern Holborn and Oxford Street, by-passed the Londinium site altogether, which suggests that it was built before the town had been founded. In these early years the Romans needed a safe crossing at Westminster, but not a town on the Thames. After the rapid defeat of the Catuvellauni, and the establishment of the Roman headquarters at Camulodunum, the immediate task was to impose military control of southern Britain and the Midlands. Once this was achieved, by about AD 47, the Romans could turn their attention to the building of new towns to consolidate their conquest. `The Roman empire was an urban empire. Where Rome found no cities it was obliged to create them, and where cities could not survive then neither could Rome.'     At some time after the invasion, around AD 50, the Governor of Britain (probably Ostorius Scapula, AD 47-52) decided to establish a permanent political and trading town on the north bank of the Thames, where two flat-topped gravel hills (now Ludgate Hill and Cornhill) rose 15 metres above the marshes, and where the wide and meandering river (over half a mile across at high tide) was just narrow enough to bridge, yet still deep enough here, almost at its tidal limit, to handle maritime vessels. So perfectly did the topography of the spot suit the requirements of bridge-builders that all the subsequent bridges, Roman, medieval, and modern, have been built within a few metres of the first, with its southern end on a firm sandy island between the creeks and mudflats of Southwark, and its northern end near Fish Street Hill, where a massive Roman timber pier-base was found in 1981. The bridge on this site was the only bridge over the Thames in London until 1750, and the easternmost one until 1894. Although the chosen site had other advantages, including a good water supply, its ability to command the land, river and sea communications of southern Britain from the lowest bridgeable point on the Thames has been the key to London's commercial and administrative predominance for almost 2,000 years. Once the first bridge was built Londinium became the inevitable focal point for the network of metalled roads constructed to link the Kentish and south coast ports with the main Roman towns north of the Thames, Camulodunum (Colchester), Verulamium (St Albans) and Lindum (Lincoln). This road network, with London at its hub, remained the basis of southern England's land transport system until the eighteenth century. It is not clear that the Romans built Londinium as a commercial centre, but in this favoured position London was almost bound to become, in the words of the eighth-century historian Bede, `a trading centre for many nations who visit it by land and sea'. Boudicca's Revolt London's early success is known to us because of its first great disaster, its destruction by fire in AD 60. A layer of reddish fire debris nearly a half metre thick identifies Londinium as it was when Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, whose Norfolk kingdom was about to be taken under direct Roman rule, burned it (along with Camulodunum and Verulamium) to the ground. The main area of settlement was on the eastern gravel hill (Cornhill), at the northern end of the bridge. Here there was an open gravelled area, perhaps a market-place, bordered by large wooden buildings of uncertain purpose, and a grain store. Two roads running parallel to the river, and now under Lombard Street and Fenchurch Street and Cannon Street and Eastcheap as they pass the bridge, had already been constructed, and scorched drainage pipes, iron rings for wooden water mains and Samian pottery from southern Gaul suggest the existence of a prosperous and well-planned trading community. The size of this earliest Londinium is not known, but there were certainly wooden buildings and wattle and daub huts, perhaps for industrial use, on the east and west fringes of the modern City at Aldgate and Newgate Street. These, Dominic Perring suggests, were much more likely to have been `ribbon development' along the main roads to Colchester and Silchester than a part of the central built-up area, which probably did not extend beyond Cornhill.     For once, reliable written evidence allows us to confirm the archaeological record. The great Roman historian Tacitus had a particular interest in this remote outpost of the Empire, because his father-in-law Agricola was in Britain in AD 60, 69, and (as Governor) 77-83. In his Annals , written in the early second century, Tacitus provides a graphic and authoritative account of Boudicca's disastrous rebellion. He gives us an insight into the reasons for British hostility to their new masters: rapacious taxation, brutality towards native rulers, the theft of British land and houses by ex-soldiers settling at Camulodunum, and the imposition of an alien religion of emperor-worship. In short, the Romans had failed to win the trust and cooperation of the local ruling class. The rebels, drawing support from all over the province, had several early successes. Camulodunum and its settlers were destroyed, and so was most of the Legion sent from Lindum (Lincoln) to relieve it. Suetonius, the Governor, was in Anglesey, but managed to get his troops to London before Boudicca and her much larger force arrived there. Tacitus' account is the first written reference to London: This town did not rank as a Roman settlement [ colonia ], but was an important centre for business-men and merchandise [ copia negotiatorum et commeatuum maxime celebre ]. At first, he hesitated whether to stand and fight there. Eventually, his numerical inferiority -- and the price only too clearly paid by the divisional commander's rashness -- decided him to sacrifice the single city of Londinium to save the province as a whole. Unmoved by lamentations and appeals, Suetonius gave the signal for departure. The inhabitants were allowed to accompany him. But those who stayed because they were women, or old, or attached to the place, were slaughtered by the enemy. Verulamium suffered the same fate.     The natives enjoyed plundering and thought of nothing else. Bypassing forts and garrisons, they made for where loot was richest and protection weakest. Roman and provincial deaths at the places mentioned are estimated at 70,000. For the British did not take or sell prisoners, or practise other war-time exchanges. They could not wait to cut throats, hang, burn, and crucify -- as though avenging, in advance, the retribution that was on its way.     Suetonius had a more professional, though much smaller, force, and greater tactical expertise, and the rebellion ended in catastrophic defeat for Boudicca somewhere in the Midlands. Tacitus' brief description of London as a busy trading centre, not yet called a colonia , raises the question of what its status in the Empire was. The two titles bestowed by the Romans on their most successful and independent cities were colonia (a newly established settlement of military veterans) and municipium (a chartered town, usually of native origin), and Tacitus' words suggest that London was at least near to deserving one of them. There is no doubt that in the fifty years following the fire it was chosen as the new administrative capital of Britain. Although we do not know for certain when this happened, its commercial prosperity, its central location and its unrivalled accessibility made it the obvious choice to replace Camulodunum when a new provincial procurator, Julius Classicianus, arrived to take charge of Britain's financial administration after the rebellion. The discovery in 1852 and 1935 of two sections of Classicianus' tombstone re-used as building blocks in the later Roman fortifications established that his headquarters had indeed been somewhere in London.     Agricola's governorship (AD 77-83), one of the few that we know about in any detail (thanks to Tacitus), saw the pursuit in Britain of Emperor Vespasian's policy of urban renewal, administrative reform, and the assimilation of native peoples. Tacitus' account of his father-in-law's policy serves as a description of the imperial strategy pursued throughout the Flavian and Antonine period (AD 69-180): To induce a people, hitherto scattered, uncivilized and therefore prone to fight, to grow pleasurably inured to peace and ease, Agricola gave private encouragement and official assistance to the building of temples, public squares and private mansions. He praised the keen and scolded the slack, and competition to gain honour from him was as effective as compulsion. Furthermore he trained the sons of chiefs in the liberal arts.... The result was that in place of distaste for the Latin language came a passion to command it. In the same way, our national dress came into favour and the toga was everywhere to be seen. And so the Britons were gradually led on to the amenities that make vice agreeable -- arcades, baths and sumptuous banquets. They spoke of such novelties as `civilization', when really they were only features of enslavement.     The Romans established their control over newly conquered territories by a combination of enticement, assimilation and sound administration. By the development of cities they displayed the superior advantages of Roman civilization, drew native rulers into the Roman way of life, created centres of administration and taxation, and gave Roman settlers opportunities to profit from trade and public office. The London of the late first century was designed to play a leading role in this seductive imperialism. Rebuilding immediately after the fire seems to have been unimpressive and slow, but between about AD 80 and 120 (under the Flavian Emperors Domitian and Trajan) a new London, with public buildings fit for a great provincial capital, was constructed. The Discovery of Flavian London Many of the main features of Flavian London have been discovered, one by one, since the Second World War. Of the major buildings, only the city walls and the basilica, or town hall, were known about before 1945. Some of the basilica's vast walls were observed and drawn by Henry Hodge in 1880, when the Leadenhall Market buildings on Cornhill were being rebuilt. The significance of his drawings was realized in the 1920s, and since then fairly comprehensive information about the basilica and the great forum immediately to its south has been assembled from several excavations. In 1985-6 the eastern end of the basilica was exposed by the demolition of Leadenhall Court. A modest basilica and forum had been built on this site about a decade after Boudicca's rebellion, but the size of the second basilica and forum, probably constructed in the early years of the second century, indicate the high status London had achieved by this time. The basilica, 167 metres long, surpassed any rivals in Britain and Gaul, perhaps any outside of Rome itself, and the whole forum complex, about 167 metres square, was exceptionally large by provincial standards.     Little is known about how London was governed from the basilica, except what can be inferred from knowledge of better-documented provincial cities. The city would have been run by two senior and two junior magistrates and a town council of 100 men of substantial property elected by free-born male citizens in an annual assembly. The magistrates and their officials were responsible for policing, justice and public order, the collection and administration of city and provincial revenues, the upkeep of public buildings, water supply and drainage, roads, baths, temples, theatres and quays. Licensing tradesmen, controlling markets, appointing public contractors, and ensuring a steady supply of reasonably priced basic foodstuffs (especially corn) were all part of a city government's usual duties. These urban oligarchs, drawn increasingly from Romanized British landlords, were expected to fund many civic works and public entertainments from their own pockets -- a high price to pay for the pleasures and prestige of city life.     The first major discovery after the devastation of the City in the Second World War came in 1949, when William Grimes of the London Museum found a huge 12-acre fort in the north-west corner of the City wall, in the area called Cripplegate. The fort, whose ragstone walls can still be seen in Noble Street, near the Museum of London, was built in the late first or early second century, perhaps under Emperor Trajan (98-117) or in time for Emperor Hadrian's visit in 122. Dating is determined, as usual in Roman sites, by the finding of datable coins, tiles and (especially) pottery fragments in or under the walls, and by examining the relationship between the feature in question and others of known date. This was not a defensive fort, built in the aftermath of the Boudiccan revolt, but a military depot accommodating well over 1,000 troops, made up of the Governor's personal guard (usually 1,000 men), soldiers with policing or administrative duties in London, and men in transit to other stations. The presence of perhaps 1,500 soldiers, receiving regular wages in good imperial coin, must have been a healthy stimulus to London's trades, services and manufactures. Since London was not a legionary centre (these were at York, Caerleon and Chester) the construction of this unusually large fort strongly suggests that the town had been chosen as the permanent headquarters of the provincial of Britain.     By 1960 a few archaeologists, led by the Guildhall Museum's Peter Marsden and with hardly any public funding, were on the trail of the Governor's palace. Discoveries of mosaic floors, columns and massive walls in the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries led them to investigate the area east of Cannon Street Station, where office developments in 1960 and 1964 were about to obliterate all remaining Roman structures. Hasty excavations uncovered large formal gardens, an ornamental pool, the walls and foundations of a great hall and an extensive series of smaller rooms, running for about 130 metres along the riverside and covering about 5 acres. Its size and various remnants of official activity suggest that this was the Governor's palace, the administrative centre of the province of Britain. Although much of it has now been destroyed by development, the west wing is probably still safe under Cannon Street Station. It is possible (as Dominic Perring argues) that this was not one building, but several, including perhaps a temple and baths. In either case, this ostentatious development dates from around 100, and is thus a part of the grand reconstruction of London that took place in the years AD 80-120.     The Governorship was a prestigious appointment, and was usually held by distinguished men of senatorial rank, at least until the division of the provide early in the third century. After Agricola (77-83) most Governors are known to us only by name (if at all), but this indicates our lack of written sources, not the insignificance of the office. As the Emperor's representative, the Governor was the military commander of the province, as well as its chief justice and administrator. Financial administration was the separate responsibility of the provincial procurator. The Governorship lost much of its power and prestige in the administrative reforms of the third and fourth centuries. Life and Work Although hardly any contemporary written material on London's economic or social life exists from this period, a certain amount can be learnt from archaeological discoveries and from what is known of urban life elsewhere in the Empire. These sources do not help us to solve the fundamental problem of estimating London's population. Since the 1920s estimates of the total population of Roman Britain have risen from 500,000 to around 5 million, but this is largely because of the discovery of new settlements by aerial photography, motorway building, and so on. Estimates of London's population are not quite so upwardly mobile. Calculations based on the third-century walled area of 330 acres can lead to rather high results. This same walled area could accommodate, in the early seventeenth century, over 120,000 people, and John Morris argues from this, and from comparison with imperial Rome, that Roman London held about 100,000 people. But it is not at all certain that the walls were constructed to include only the built-up area, despite their high cost to the city in men and materials. In the west the walls seem to have enclosed several acres of uninhabited or derelict land, in order to achieve the defensive advantage of commanding the higher ground before the sharp slope into the Fleet valley. Although remnants of Roman occupation have been found scattered all over the walled area (and more are found every year) the evidence does not suggest continuous occupation of all sites for three or four centuries, and there are many indications of agricultural land use within the walls after about 200. In the second century, though, it seems that London filled most of its walled area, and even spilled beyond it to the north and south. The central area, Dominic Perring argues, bears the marks of a crowded city, in which land was at a premium. Other evidence -- the size of its forum and public buildings, its substantial military, official and mercantile communities, the remarks of Tacitus -- suggests that Roman London's population at its peak (around AD 150) was large. But there are many things we cannot know about Roman London, and its population is one of them.     The wealthy (especially wealthy men) always leave a clearer mark on the historical record than the poor, and such information as we have about Roman Londoners mainly illuminates the lives of the rich. There are many remnants in London of the domestic and public comforts which the well-off expected to enjoy in any great imperial city. Stone houses (built from Kentish ragstone), tiled roofs, mosaic floors, painted plaster walls, private bath-houses, jewellery, expensive imported tableware, represent the material luxuries that Tacitus knew would persuade native landlords to accept the advantages of Roman citizenship. Citizens expected (and paid for) good public facilities too, and one of these, the large public bath-house at the junction of Upper Thames Street and Huggin Hill, was discovered and excavated by Peter Marsden in 1964, just as it was about to be destroyed. These baths, perhaps built around AD 100 and extended twenty years later, offered the usual steam room, warm room, cold room and cold plunge, and served the combined purposes of hygiene, exercise, relaxation and (until Hadrian insisted on segregated buildings) sex. Another place of relaxation and enjoyment, the amphitheatre, the scene of beast and gladiator shows, and other officially or privately sponsored entertainments, was at last discovered in 1987-8, under the Guildhall and its yard, just south-east of the fort. It seems to have been built around AD 120, perhaps to replace another on its site. The fact that it is the biggest yet found in Britain (an ellipse of 130 by 110 metres outside, and 70 by 50 metres within) is further evidence that London's population was particularly large.     Although the wealthy enjoyed such imported luxuries as fine glazed pottery from central and southern Gaul, Italian wine and glassware and Spanish olive oil, much of their expenditure would have provided work for the freemen, freedmen and slaves who made up the bulk of London's population. We know of these people less through their houses and possessions (although their mean wattle and daub dwellings have been found at Newgate and elsewhere) than through the products and tools of their trades. Naturally there was always work for labourers and craftsmen in the building trades: mosaicists, plasterers, painters, stonemasons, carpenters and tilers. It was probably a tile-maker who sent this enigmatic message through the centuries, scratched in Latin (London's only written language) on a tile: `Austalis has been going off by himself every day for thirteen days.' The demand for their labour would have been augmented by the frequent rebuilding of London, especially after the Boudiccan fire of AD 60 and the Hadrianic fire which destroyed over 100 acres (probably accidentally) around AD 125. About AD 200, building the massive 2-mile wall must have employed thousands of men, to dig the defensive ditch 2 metres deep, and transport, shape, lift and lay the 85,000 tons of ragstone to a height of over 6 metres.     Direct evidence for the variety of crafts and trades in early Roman London comes mainly from the bed of the Walbrook, the wide stream that divided the two hills of the city. All sorts of tools connected with building crafts have been found in the first- and second-century deposits: chisels for wood and stone, saws, bits, gouges, picks, rules, dividers and trowels. There are tools indicating dockwork and farming, too: crane-hooks, dockers'-hooks, chains, a jemmy, ploughshares and hoes. Middle-class occupations are represented by surgeons' scalpels and spatulas, and hundreds of styli, the writing implements of Roman clerks and calligraphers. It may well be that these tools were produced by the iron and bronze workers whose workshops have been found over the river in Southwark and on the western edge of the city under the demolished General Post Office on Newgate Street. Potters, goldsmiths, forgers, flour-millers and enamellers were all at work in Roman London, and remnants of shoemaking and leatherwork, including tanning tanks and a skin pegged and stretched ready for cutting, have been found in the Walbrook valley. This diversity of crafts and trades reflects the durability of particular materials (stone, wood, bronze, gold, iron, glass, leather) in certain conditions, and the rapid response of archaeologists as sites have become available. The evidence suggests that London craftsmen worked to satisfy local needs, especially for pots, basic foods and leatherware, but cannot be taken to imply that London was a great manufacturing centre serving the province or the empire. We must be careful not to be led by our knowledge of London's later economic greatness into making false assumptions about its early history. A Trading Centre This is one of the lessons brought home by Gustav Milne's book on The Port of Roman London , which summarizes the findings of the rescue excavations on the waterfront near Billingsgate and London Bridge between 1979 and 1982. It is easy to assume that Roman London was a great international port, drawing its wealth and importance from trade just as it did in more recent centuries. Milne, writing with some authority, doubts that this was the case. He and his collaborators argued that the Thames was a tidal river without a deep-water port, and was therefore unable to handle larger seagoing trading vessels or the ships of the Roman fleet, the Classis Britannica . The ports that handled the main flow of imperial trade and military supplies would have changed over time, depending on the location of the army, threats from marauders, and perhaps silting, but there is no evidence from riverside excavations that London was one of them. The vessels that traded in the Thames were, in all probability, small sailing ships and flat-bottomed barges like the ones found during the building of County Hall in 1910 and at Blackfriars in 1962. The modest size and area of the warehousing discovered on the Roman riverfront, and the fact that none of the seventy Roman Londoners known to us from inscriptions is identified as a merchant, leads Milne to conclude that London was a significant port, serving a substantial Thames valley hinterland and a cosmopolitan colonial population greedy for Roman home comforts, but not a great imperial trading centre. It existed primarily as an administrative centre, served, as other towns were, by a harbour. Milne's argument is not absolutely conclusive, since it relies partly on the lack of evidence so far for a major trading role, and since it is possible for a great port to thrive, as eighteenth-century London did, with inadequate docking facilities, especially if its road and river network for onward distribution is good. But it reminds us not to jump (in either direction) to conclusions which the evidence does not justify.     The riverside excavations, which took place near Thames Street, about a 100 metres north of the river today, uncovered a series of well-constructed terraces, supported by strong masonry walls and great oak timbers, almost perfectly preserved in the waterlogged earth. Among them, near Fish Street Hill and about 30 metres east of the present London Bridge, was found a strong wooden pier base that probably supported a wooden bridge over the Thames. The late first-century quayside, dated by pottery, coins and dendrochronology (tree-ring dating) to between AD 70 and 100, advanced from the natural riverbank by about 10 metres, and further constructions around AD 125, 150 and 230 added another 40 metres of reclaimed land, stretching perhaps 600 metres along the river. On these flat terraces, safe from tidal flooding, were the warehouses which stored amphorae (tall two-handled vessels) containing Spanish and North African olive oil, Mediterranean and Rhineland wine, grape syrup or fish sauce, and also the pottery lamps, figurines, kitchenware and tableware imported from Italy and Gaul to satisfy the London market. The quays, terraces and warehouses appear to have been planned and financed by the town council, reflecting the same vigorous and confident spirit that prompted the building of the forum and basilica around the same time.     Although London was involved in trade with every part of the Roman Empire, some of its most important requirements were locally produced. Salt, important for preserving as well as flavouring, came from the Thames estuary, and oysters, which the Romans regarded as a British delicacy, were collected off the north Kent coast. London iron and leather working were based on local supplies of raw material. Above all, London needed reliable supplies of reasonably priced grain. This has been recognized throughout London's history as the essential underpinning of her social stability. In Roman times, and for many centuries afterwards, grain and other farm produce could easily be brought from Kent, Essex, Surrey and the Thames valley by river or road.     London was the meeting place of six major roads to important provincial cities, each passing through roadside villages which offered a change of horses to imperial messengers, and perhaps a market-place for local farmers. North of the Thames, Watling Street headed north-west for Brockley Hill (as the present Edgware Road does) and on to St Albans; Ermine Street (today's Kingsland Road) went directly north via Enfield to York; the Colchester Road went north-east, crossing the river Lea at Old Ford; and the Silchester Road (now Oxford Street and Bayswater Road) passed through Brentford and Staines on its way west. South of the Thames, twisting to avoid the Southwark marshes, and supported on timber rafts where avoidance was impossible, Watling Street headed towards Richborough and Dover, with its first posting-station at Crayford, and Stane Street went south-west through Ewell to Chichester. Both these roads had minor branch roads towards Sussex and the important iron industry of the Weald. Londinium in Decline This picture of a powerful and prosperous city, the administrative and perhaps commercial capital of Britain, a centre of luxury and ostentatious public works at the hub of the provincial communications network, is well established by archaeological evidence from the first and early second centuries. What happened to London between the mid-second century and the end of Roman rule in 410 is much less certain. It is no longer generally accepted that London prospered as a centre of trade and population throughout the Roman period, only to be abandoned and ruined when Roman protection was removed in 410. There was almost certainly substantial economic and demographic decline well before this date, although John Morris's Londinium , written in the early 1970s, argues that London thrived until around 350. The archaeologists' view, expressed by Peter Marsden, Ralph Merrifield and Dominic Perring, is that London's heyday as a great centre of population and commerce did not last much beyond the Hadrianic fire of about AD 125, and that from 150 onwards it survived mainly as a centre of government and officialdom, without strong economic roots. They suggest that a steep decline between 150 and 220 was partially arrested by the officially inspired reconstruction of London's public buildings after about 220, which helped to sustain the city's wealth and imperial reputation (but not its population) until the late fourth century.     The evidence for London's loss of population comes from three sites in Southwark and three in the western half of the city (Milk Street, Watling Court and Newgate Street), which were abandoned by their occupants in the later second century and not reoccupied until late Roman or late Saxon times. In all of them a thick layer of dark earth was deposited, probably with the deliberate intention of establishing farms or gardens. Horticulture within a city was not unusual and does not mean that town life was collapsing, but it does suggest demographic decline. This evidence is reinforced by the demolition of the Huggin Hill baths before 200, and the striking scarcity of Roman material (coins, pottery and tools) in wells, streams and rubbish pits from the late second century onwards. A falling population might also explain the decline in imports of glass and pottery in the late second century, but other factors, such as the rise of native British production and the disruption of trade by piracy and imperial civil war, could have caused this.     Various explanations have been advanced for London's sudden decline in the second century, including the impact of barbarian raids and the effects of a disastrous plague. It is more likely that London, along with other towns that had developed rapidly in the expansionist phase of the Roman Empire, was undermined by changes in the pattern of imperial trade. When the Empire stabilized in the second century the need for military supplies and the flow of captured riches (slaves, for instance) diminished, and imperial settlers began to live on the products of the local countryside, rather than Italian imports. Trade by-passed towns and shopkeepers abandoned their shops, while the rural economy, measured by the size and number of villas, prospered. London retained its administrative functions and a limited number of economic ones, but not enough to sustain its previous population. If we can estimate the number of Londoners from the amount of rubbish they threw away, then London's population between 150 and 400 was less than half that of AD 50-150. `The order of change suggested by the evidence is simply staggering; it is difficult to escape the conclusion that a large part of the city, perhaps as much as two-thirds, had somehow vanished.'     Perhaps Roman London's most prosperous years were over by 200, but it was still a city of great political and strategic importance. Sculpted blocks used as building material in the fourth-century riverside wall (found in 1975) show that a monumental arch, 8 metres high, was erected in about 200, and that two derelict temples were rebuilt a few decades afterwards. Merrifield suggests the possibility that the arch was part of a grand rebuilding of the derelict south-western corner of the city as a religious and recreational quarter, perhaps during the long visit of Emperor Septimus Severus in 208. At about the same time, London's strategic importance was reaffirmed and reinforced by the building of the defensive wall around the town, either by Severus or by Albinus, the rival he defeated and killed in 197. This great wall, which marked the limits of London well into the Middle Ages and survived largely intact until the eighteenth century, is easily the most impressive remnant of Roman London visible today. Although the original purpose of the wall was almost certainly defensive, it is not clear which particular attacker was feared. The northern border, where there were frequent Scots raids and rebellions, was too far away to be a danger, and the great barbarian breakthrough of the mid-third century, in which over fifty unwalled Gaulish towns were overrun, could not be foreseen. So it is most likely that the wall was built in the course of the imperial power struggle between Emperor Severus and Clodius Albinus, the ambitious Governor of Britain, in the 190s, or as a mark of Severus' renewed interest in his remote province after his victory in 197. Rebuilding of the Cannon Street palace and the Thames quayside, and the building or reoccupation of many masonry houses (about forty have been found) indicate that there was a general revival in London's fortunes in the early third century, though its new role might have been more social and political than commercial.     The discovery by Professor Grimes in 1954 of a mid-third-century temple dedicated to the eastern god Mithras casts a little light on the social and cultural lives of the soldiers and bureaucrats who dominated London at this time. Mithraism was a masculine mystery cult whose emphasis on exclusiveness, secrecy, loyalty, and strange rituals in animal costumes had a particular appeal to men of this class. In the fourth century the temple was attacked, and the cult's treasures, including heads of Mithras, Minerva and Serapis, were hidden under the floor, where they were found 1,600 years later. They are now displayed in the Museum of London. A second eastern cult, of wider and more enduring appeal, was probably also winning support in late third-century London, despite occasional persecution. Early in the fourth century, under the pro-Christian Emperor Constantine (306-337), Christianity became the favoured imperial religion, and in 314 we find Restitutus, Bishop of London, at the Council of Aries with bishops from York and Lincoln. No Roman Christian churches have yet been found in London, and this is a reminder that non-discovery and non-existence are by no means the same thing. (Continues...) Copyright © 1998 Stephen Inwood. All rights reserved.

Google Preview