The British Museum’s Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition starts this week, so we thought we’d take a look under London’s streets at some of our own Roman remains.
Underneath Cannon Street station is an enormous building that dates to around the late first or early second century AD. It was once thought to be the Roman Governor’s palace, but is now considered more likely to have been administrative buildings, though with its splendour you can forgive the earlier assumption. It was about 130m x 100m, reaching from Cannon Street to what would have been the waterfront at Upper Thames Street. Terraced on three levels, a series of larger (state?) rooms stretched from the eastern edge of the station – the walls probably help support the railway arches – to Bush Lane, with a further wing continuing to Laurence Pountney Lane.
To the south of these rooms was a garden and, in a lovely touch, an ornamental pool 10m wide and up to 55m long, holding around 200,000 gallons of water. Picture the pool: with statues, probably some fountains and, beyond, a view of Southwark’s marshes.
Under Suffolk Lane is another large building, about 70m x 40m with mosaics, underfloor heating and possibly a colonnaded front looking over the river. This could have been the Governor’s private home or housed another important official, or the Governor could have lived in another impressive building where Winchester Palace is now.
London Stone, the oft-missed and ancient chunk of stone currently housed in a Cannon Street niche, is thought to have once been a part of this building’s entrance. Where now the stone is a small lump, it was once a huge monolith (it used to stand in the middle of Cannon Street and was broken up when increasing traffic made such an obstacle impractical). What else would a massive block of Chiltern limestone be doing in that part of town?