London has a long and glorious history. Over years and years it has transformed itself. Today the city that we see today is only the surface. The top layer of a rich and varied history. Stretching from pre-Roman to modern day. Underneath the surface, the city has secrets.
Many of these have yet to be discovered. Plenty though have already been found. Underneath buildings and roads exist some real gems. Often discovered during building and demolition projects they are now hidden underneath the surface of the city. This post will look at 5 of the top hidden historical wonders of London. All are still there just hidden from site but still accessible if you try hard enough.
The Roman Ampitheatre under the Guildhall
London grew up as a Roman City. Founded around the River Walbrook the Romans developed the city as a key trading post. They built a fort and a city wall the remains of both can still be seen. The absence of an ampitheatre had always confused historians. Many were convinced that a Roman City such as London should have really had one. Now the remains of the original ampitheatre can be seen underneath the Guidlhall Art Gallery. It’s outline has been marked out on the surface. It’s quite impressive and gives an idea as to it’s size and scale confirming that Londinium was no rural backwater.
Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre.
Uncovered during excavations in 1989. Rose Theatre was the first on the Bankside and hosted plays from Shakespeare and Marlowe. The great Elizabethan Actor Edward Alleyn would have trod it’s boards. It remains the only theatre from this great era of playwrights which the public can still see. To get a feeling for what these theatres would have been like back then.
Operated by volunteers it is only open on a Saturday and is free. Visitors are shown a documentary video and given a talk by one of the passionate volunteers. The outline of the theatre can be seen in red lights on the ground. The actual archaelogy however is preserved under a protective layer and not visible. The Rose Theatre Trust has ambitions to reveal the theatre once more. This though will be expensive. The remains are fragile and need to be kept moist. They are also likely to disintegrate once exposed to air. The preservation will be tricky but considering it’s incredible importance in the history of theatre. It would be very welcome indeed.
Western Gate of the old London City Fort
Underneath the road known as London Wall runs a car park. It can be accessed from an entrance close to the Museum of London. This is opposite an old but visible section of the former Roman Fort. Mainly an administrative centre the fort actually pre-dated the London wall. Bits of it also still survive nearby in the Barber Surgeons Gardens and on Noble Street.
The Western Gate of the fort however is locked away. Now it is in an annex to the entrance to the London Wall underground car park. Admittance is managed by the Museum of London. They arrange tours every month. to see the remains of what would have been the main entrance. This would have allowed access into the city. Further along the car park is an added bonus. Another section of the Roman Wall itself which post-dates the fort. Walk to the end of the car park and just by the exit it suddenly appears. A glorious section of ancient history in-between the parking bays.
The Billingsgate Roman Bathhouse
Can be found underneath an uninspiring office block at 101 Lower Thames Street. It is unfortunately rarely accessible. However occasionally on the odd day throughout the year the Museum of London will open it up for visitors. Back in Roman times it would have sat just up from the Thames. A lot of the bank has been reclaimed in later years. It remains one of the best preserved examples of a Roman building in the city. One which has the remains of walls, foundations and an underfloor heating system. The thought is that it would have, at one time, been attached to a Roman Townhouse. It’s location just inside the city walls and near to the Thames would have made it reasonably prominent.
The Roman Floor in All Hallows by the Tower
Just up the road from the Billingsgate Bathhouse is the ancient church of All Hallows by the Tower. A truly fascinating place to visit. Often overlooked because of it’s proximity to the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. It can boast also the distinction of been the oldest church in London. In the crypt of the church is a little gem of a museum. Within this can be found some Roman tressellated flooring. Discovered in 1926 and remarkably intact. The church houses many other wonders too. There are strong links with early America and is a great place to wander round.
For more excellent posts about the history of some of the places featured in this article try:
Despite having lived in London for 30 years I wasn’t aware of some of these historic remains. The Roman Ampitheatre, below the Guildhall art gallery is particularly worth checking out. This gives the best impression of how ordinary Roman people used to entertain themselves around 1,700 years ago.
Incidentally, the photos are excellent.
Hi Geoffrey thank you for the comment. I agree the Ampitheatre is really fantastic to see and the paving above ground gives a great idea of it’s true scale, fantastic