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The pre-urban and Roman topography in the King Street and Cheapside areas of the City of London

John D Shepherd

Over 20 excavations and observations of Roman features are examined, within a study area ranging from Gresham Street (north) to Pancras Lane (south), and from Milk Street (west) to Old Jewry (east). Since some of the records date from the 19th century, the quality of information is variable. More recent work, however, both compensates for this and enables us to reinterpret earlier conclusions.

The study shows that prior to the construction of two east-west streets – one of which was a major thoroughfare roughly on the line of modern Cheapside – parts of the region were cleared, and marking-out trenches were dug. This work probably took place during the Neronian period (c AD 55-60), and suggests centrally authorised planning. Between the two east-west streets, and to the west of the more northerly street, an apparently random network of routes was constructed. It is possible that the wet environment in the Blossoms Inn area, in the west of the region, had some influence on the street layout there. In general, however, streams or other adverse local conditions appear to have had more effect upon the location and construction of buildings than of streets. Occupation appears to have been mainly residential in character, with some evidence for minor industrial activity. The region was severely affected by fire during the Hadrianic period (c AD 120-125). Although some sites show evidence for earlier fires, these appear to have been local events and none can be associated definitely with London’s destruction during the Boudican revolt (AD 61-2).

Before the Hadrianic fire an attempt had been made to develop further the northern part of the study area, beyond the more northerly of the east-west streets. North-south streets were constructed over earlier buildings. These were on the same alignment as the Cripplegate fort to the west, suggesting that the building of the fort, in the late 1st or early 2nd centuries, was itself the catalyst for this extension to the street system.

After the Hadrianic fire the nature of occupation altered. Some streets were abandoned, especially in the northern part of the study area, and some property lines, which had survived since the mid 1st century, were disregarded in subsequent rebuilding. Construction techniques also changed. In the main, clay and timber buildings gave way to stone, tile and mortar constructions, occasionally with plain or patterned mosaic floors. The later Roman history of the area is unclear. At Blossoms Inn an important 3rd-century pottery assemblage, including East Gaulish samian and Argonne ware, was apparently dumped as rubbish. On a number of sites ‘dark earth’ can be identified.

The archives for all the sites included in this report are housed in the Museum of London.

[Transactions 38 (1987), pp 11 – 58; published abstract, modified and augmented ]

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