Lloyd's Log, May 1986 ~ Leadenhall: nineteen centuries of City life

Lloyd's Log, May 1986 ~ Leadenhall: nineteen centuries of City life
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  o o In the shadow ofthe new Lloyd'sbuilding - a monument to cor-porate pride - archaeologists reuncovering substantial emainsof grand Roman and medievalbuildings hat were pre-eminent n their day. Byan apposite'historical ccident', n kadenhallStreet t is possible t he moment o see workin progress on foremost representatives fI-ondon's ast and uture buildings.In Londinium around AD 100 Romanmasons egan onstructing vast ivic com-plex, as befitted he capital of Roman Britain,on a six acre site that is today bounded byCornhill and -eadenhall Street o the north,Whittington Avenue and Lime Street o theeast, St Michael's Alley to the west and o thesouth rmbard Street and Fenchurch Street.To the south over much of the site lay theforum, a courtyard or prazza orming the cen-tral market and meeting place and surroundedon three sides y shops nd offices et back roma continuous portico - resembling he CoventGarden Piazza during its heyday n the 18thcentury. The fourth side was enclosed y thebasilica, which can be compared o St Paul's nrespect fits great hall divided by colonnades rarcades nto a nave lanked by aisles with araised emi-circular loor to the east end. Thebasilica appears o have equalled he cathedralin size, eing more han 152 m (500 t) long and,it too undoubtedly dominated he skyline n theway hat St Paul's did during the 18th century.The basilica ombined he functions of townhall and courts of iustice (rather like theGuildhall) and probably also served as ameeting place or business ransactions. sformerly did the Royal Exchange. he basilica,therefore, would have been he administrative,lega1 nd commercial ocus of the provincialcapital and as the most important publicbuilding ts architecture nd decoration ouldbe expected to be accordingly elaborate.Although its broad extent had been determinedby observations uring building works, mainly Site of a civic centresince Roman imes,Leadenhall and tssurrounding areacontinues o surprisethe archaeologistsBy JOHN MALONEY in the 1880s, ntil last year here had been noopportunity for a thorough archaeologicalinvestigation ofany part ofthe basilica site andsubsequently here was a paucity ofevidenceregarding mportant questions uch as ts date,interior and exterior elevations nd ts eventualfate.As first reported in Lloyd's log last May(see Down among he dinosaurs), he proposedredeveiopment fa large site on the corner ofGracechurch Street and Leadenhall Street overthe east end of the basilica permitted pre-liminary investigations n the basements f thestanding uildings. A professional eam romthe Museum of I-ondon's Department ofUrban Archaeology xcavated ix rial trenches,revealing rchaeological eposits xtending oa depth of4m beneath he basement loors, andproviding important evidence or the develop-ment ofthe site rom Roman o medieval imes.Incredibly, given hat the site s virtually on topof Cornhill, the earliest Roman evels werefound at a depth of some 7.5 m below modernstreet evel When l,ondon was ounded around AD 50,initial activity on the site consisted fpits dugto obtain brickearth a natural clay/silt used orbuilding purposes), uperseded y a successionof timber-framed buildings, with floor andhearth surfaces surviving, representingindustrial and domestic occupation. Thefragmentary remains of these buildings weresafely buried'by large-scale umping aroundthe Cornhill plateau n preparation or the con-struction ofthe basilica. Clearly, he centre ofthe thriving Roman settlement was entirelyreplanned at this time in accordance ith agrand civic proiect o reflect ts prosperity andstatus. The normal Roman civil engineeringstandards were not met, however, because nthe nave ofthe basilica an bpus signinum' floor(concrete mixed with broken ile which createda durable surface with an attractive pink colour)had o be repaired on frequent occasions ue oits subsidence into an underlying uncon-solidated it. Three successive pus signinumfloors were ecorded, he upper ofwhich wascovered with tile debris from the roof. Thedemise of the basilica was confirmed by the col-lapse fthe south wall ofthe nave. The site henappears o have been abandoned erhaps or aslong as 500 years with no evidence of re-occupation until about the 10th century.As the Victorian excavations oform the basements f the build-ings on the site had resulted nthis area n the removal of some3.5m of the upper part of thearchaeological mound' from the Saxon periodupwards, here seemed ittle likelihood of find-ing any major medieval eatures except oun-dations r the bottoms fpits. In fact, he mostspectacular iscovery during these preliminaryinvestigations was he existence f a medievalwa1l still standing o a height of 14m Whilstexcavating renches n a basement djacent othe old l-ondon Metal Exchange, he oppor-tunity was aken o also nvestigate he fabric ofthe Victorian building with the result thatmassive medieval masonry foundation archeswere uncovered ehind 19th century render-ing. Probing ofthe wall at higher evels evealedthat the medieval work continued from base-ment up through three stories o rooflevel.Research nto the history ofthe site resultedin the positive dentification of the medievalmasonry as having been part ofthe west wall ofthe l5th century Ledynhall, comprising agmnary, chapel and market hall. The earliestmention of l-eadenhall ccurs n 1296 as Lalrdene Halle, the name perhaps referring tothe hall having a ead oof which would havebeen unusuai at such an early date. By 1321 hesite was used as a market for 'foreign' poultry(i.e. rom outside he City) and n 1377 egula-tions or cheesemongers ere added. The sitewas conveyed y Richard ('Dick') Whittingtonand others o the City in 1411, and in 1440workbegan on a granary. The Common Coun-cil diverted John Croxton, builder of theGuildhall and ts chapel, o the enterprise ndthe esult was a civic building n its own way asimportant as the Guildhali. Four ranges fbuildings enclosed arge open area similarto the Basilica/Forum ground plan - and earlyin the 16th century he Commons equestedthat the City designate t as a public market orforeign merchants.From 1631 Leadenhall was the principalmarket store or textiles,'new draperies', hichwere a significant part of I-ondon's inter- Roman Civic Centre roiect: evealing he City's ommercial ast' 44  i**kil[:i;irr.: centuries f Ciry Hfe T'; tt, r"d$ : iryq Artist's mpression of the Roman basilica n its heyday. national rade. n 1663 Pepys noted that hebought a leg ofbeef, a good one, or sixpence'there nd n a plan of 1677 t is referred o as heBeefMarket. hough -eadenhall urvived heGreat Fire at east n part early n the 1 9thcentury t began o be demolished: n etchingof 1 812 ecords arts ofthe granary nd chapelbeing ulled down. But it is now apparent hatthe stretch ofmedieval wall recently discoveredsurvived ecausg ortuitously, t formed a partywal1 etween eparate uildings and hereforehad o be maintained ntil such ime as all theproperties oncerned were amalgamated y asingle redevelopment scheme as has nowhappened.Undoubtedly, more walls and foundationslrom medieval -eadenhall till survive, houghbelow ground as ecorded n the lBB0s whenthe splendid Victorian market was beingerected. ndeed, not only is the continuity ofthe use of the site as a market olace notable.more emarkable tillis he acr har he preseniVictorian uilding is partially supported by theremains fits medieval redecessor hich n itsturn bears down on Roman wal1s and foun-dations f the basilica.Apart rom the trial trenches here had notbeen controlled archaeological nvestigationon any part ofthe basilica, nd he -eadenhallCourt redevelopment ot only covered 0 percent ofthe total area but represented he Jirstand last opportunity for major excavations.Acknowledging he mportance f the site, hedevelopers, -egal & General, entered ntonegotiations ith the Museum of -ondon andEnglish Heritage (Historic Buildings andMonuments Commission).As a result the Roman CivicCentre Project was ormed and twas agreed hat rebuilding wouldbe delayed or a year to allowMuseum archaeologists, irectedby Simon O'Connor:Ihompson and GustavMilne, to carry out extensive nvesrigarions.These began ast November when Phase ofthe redevelopment reed an area m x 25malong Leadenhall Street for excavation.Immediately the basement loor had beenbroken out, a masonry wall was evealed t hewest end ofthe trench, para1le1 o GracechurchStreet, hich was probably 1 7thl18th enturyalteration or extension o medieval ,eadenha11.It incorporated a large number of medievalstone mouldings, he majority of which src-inally came rom a large arcade-a series fsuch arcades re shown on the LeadenhallStreet frontase n an illustration of 1785.Further, there s reason o suppose hat a row offive substantial tone iers or buttresses oundlying parallel o l-eadenhall Street ormerlysupported he arcading. Considering ogetherwith the other mouldings rom windows, door-ways, stairs, ornices, tc, a detailed econstmc-tion of major architectural eatures of 15thcentury -eadenhall an now be attempted npaper.As with the trial trenches, o evidence asbeen orthcoming hat after he Roman periodthis area ofthe site was reoccupied ntil lateSaxon/early edieval imes. Even so, he onlystructure of that date was a timber-lined wel1,but it is significant har rhe north wall and oun-dations of the Roman basilica appear o havebeen argely robbed' ofits building stone aboutthis ime. n recent ears esearch nd evidencefrom excavations as ed to the increasinslvconvincing rgument hat Saxon nndon wassrcinally established n the Aldwych area ndthat t was not until the ate 9th centurv. nderrhe eadership f Alfred, hat the ,.ril.rn.n,moved to within the relative safety of theRoman defensive alls o escape iking raids.The north wall of the basilica. ocated ustwithin rhe south-wesrern dge f the Phase excavatlon rea, was some 2 m wide. Much of itsstonework had been 'robbed' in the early45  I medieval eriod due o the nearest uarries orgood building stone being a considerabledistance away rom l-ondon in the Medwayregion. Tho large cracks are evident n thefoundations fthe wall and although t is notclear at what period hey occurred, nce morethey apparently elate o shoddy practices ythe Roman builders. At one point the bottom ofthe foundations are unsupported, here being avoid some 0 cm deep which was probably heresult ofsubsidence.The east-west oman road bordering thenorth side of the basilica has been revealedand appears o have been n use hroughoutthe Roman period. It was resurfaced bouteight times with the result hat the level ofthe latest oad was over a metre above hat ofthe earliest. The road was 3.9m wide and tssurfaces were mainly of compacted gravel.Along its southern edge was a drainage itchfor surface water and he trench bordering tsnorthern edge ad srcinally contained seriesofwooden pipes, ach bout 2 m long, astenedtogether y iron collars which (unlike he pipes)have survived. The diameter of the bore ndi-cates hat he pipes had probably arried reshwater, hough what he source nd head press-ure of this water would have been at aboutthe highest oint in the City-is somethingof a mystery.Beyond this trench the remalnsof timber-framed buildings havebeen ound some with masonryfoundations which faced thebasilica and would have iterallystood n its shadow. most nteresting spectof the Phase excavations s that it allows arare opportunity to investigate he relation-ship between he basilica and he civic centrearea generally. Once the road surfaces avebeen recorded and removed, -ondinium'searliest buildings will be progressivelyuncovered and examined n detail duringthe summer.Equally exciting is the prospect of thePhase I excavations uring which a muchlarger area fthe site will be excavated evealingthe nterior ofthe basilica tseli so hat or thefirst ime n almost 1,600 ears he floors andwalls of l-ondon's first 'town hall' wiil beexposed o view. When the excavations ome oan end in October and large earthmovingmachines ppear, archaeological eatures pan-ning 1,700 ears f the City's history will havebeen emoved or all time, although ascinatinginsights nd much invaluable detailed nforma-tion should have een gained nto he develop-ment ofthe l-eadenhall rea.But, despite generous ontributions o theRoman Civic Centre project, here emains ashortfall fd200,000 fthe project s o realiseits goals. To that end the City of l-ondonArchaeological irrst has aunched an appeal owhich he Corporation mmediately donateddi0,000: hopefully, eading nstitutions andindividuals f this ancient important centrelor businessmen nd merchandise' will f;lrespond n similar ashion. F John Maloney s the Museum ofLondon's xmoations Officer t'or heCity of London. Acknowledgementsgo o Simon O'Connor-ThomPsonand Mark Samuel. Above: medievalmap showing'Ledden Hall'.GracechurchStreet, Cornhilland Bishopsgateare already wellestablished ntheir modernroutes.Left: Leadenhallat the end of the18th century. 47
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