Reception – G, Roman House – B

Over the next couple of months, until August actually, the Museum of London will be putting on tours of the Billingsgate Roman House & Baths. These Roman Londonium remains are located under an old 1960s office block in Lower Thames Street, just across from Customs House.

The site is believed to be a private residence from about the 2nd century, with a bath house added on to it about a century later.

I’ve been a couple of times before when they’ve had open days. Usually you are visiting the site along with 20+ other people, so getting a good look, and getting all the info from the guide can be patchy.

Walkways over the Billingsgate Roman House & Baths
Glorious walkways! Also some tiled floor.

This time around, there were four of us in total on the tour which was nice. Since I was last there, they have also extended the walkways over the remains, allowing you to see oh so much more. Being able to see the entire site from the walkways really helps in being able to put it all together. 

The tour is great and explains all the parts of the site, and how they were connected.

Underfloor heating, Billingsgate Roman House & Baths
Underfloor heating in the tepidarium.

One of the best bits from our tour this past weekend was during the health and safety briefing. Stick with me here. The Museum of London staff were telling us to keep our belongings close, as if we drop something, say our phone while snapping pictures, there’s no way to get it back out of there. As a cautionary tale, we were told about a colleague of theirs who dropped their name badge the other day, and it’s still there…

Dropped Name Badge - Billingsgate Roman House & Baths
Just to the right of the badge are the remans of a Roman road, and then the edge of a Roman wall.

Guessing they’ll be able to get it next time some conservation work is done? Or maybe it will be found several centuries later for archeologists to puzzle over. Much like the Saxon brooch that was found on the site, on top of a pile of collapsed roof tiles.

There are loads of opportunities to see this site until August, and it’s definitely recommended.

And if you want to delve into Londinium a bit more, the City of London Guides do a Roman London walk every Monday afternoon and Friday morning from the City Info Centre.

Billingsgate Roman House & Baths
Roman bath built onto a (likely) private residence. You can see the furnace for the caldarium.

That Tudor Hunting Lodge in Epping Forest

While I may not have done as much exploring over the Christmas break as I would have liked, I still managed to have a little afternoon trip within Greater London. Last week I hopped on a train at Liverpool Street Station with Chingford as my stop. Destination: Epping Forest, and more specifically, Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge.

The walk from the station was a lot shorter than I thought it would be, and pretty quickly you get the feeling of being ‘out in the country’

Oh god, Epping Forest

The Forest (with a capital F) and the lodge, and indeed the whole lot are run by the City of London Corporation. I may not be in the City, but do I ever really leave it? There’s City crests a plenty. Here’s the entrance to The View visitor centre.

The View Visitor Centre, Epping Forest

And immediately next door is the building I’m here for, complete with 16th century guy waiting for the rest of his family outside. On hunting days, the lodge would have been covered with banners such as these.

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

Calling it Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge is a bit erroneous though. The name didn’t crop up until the Victorians. It was at this time that a story surfaced of Elizabeth coming here to celebrate the victory over the Spanish Armada by riding her horse up the inside staircase. There’s no actual evidence that ever happened, or anything really substantial to say she was indeed ever here. There’s a chance she was. One of her favourites, the Earl of Leicester, owned nearby Wanstead Park so it’s possible she was in the area and maybe stopped by for a visit.

The timber-framed lodge was built for King Henry VIII in 1543 and originally called The Great Standynge (Standing) as it was the first one in England to have three floors. By this time the King was, how shall we say, far past his hunting prime but still wanted to shoot at some animals. When the lodge was first built the upper floors were completely open. Henry and his party would perch up at the top, and animals would be rounded up and fire off some rounds, a bit like a shooting gallery game.

Inside, the ground floor is a large kitchen which would have prepared all the food required for a hunting feast. The hearth remains and contains quite a bit of original brickwork.

Tudor kitchen hearth, Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

Tudo kitchen, Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

The large central beam in the kitchen has some interesting markings on it. These would have been made by rush lights places in front of it to provide lights for the kitchen workers. The flames would have burnt the grooves into the wood.

Marks in a wooden beam made by rush lights, Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

Before you head up the stairs, there’s a odd shaped bit of timber. In the bit that is cut out, there would have originally been an oven for baking bread.

The cut out bit is where a bread oven would have been, Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

Heading up the stairs that Henry VIII may or may not have been able to manage, and a warning about taking care on the stairs.

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

A bit 'Tudor', Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

Lots of timber frame, roughly 90% of which is original. Not too shabby. The lodge would have been flat packed – the timbers were all pre-made and assembled on site. In the main entrance, there are some carpenter marks (that I didn’t get a photo of as it was too dark) that helped them put it all together. How very modern.

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

The top floor where all the hunting was done from, with a rather nice timber frame roof. The curved pieces in the middle were made to resemble antlers.

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

The floor below had a few of these markings called apotropaic marks. You can just about make this one out, it looks a bit like a flower in a circle. These were put near windows and chimneys to ward off evil spirits from entering.

Apotropaion mark, Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

It may not be very big, but it is definitely worth a visit. This year they are starting to do 30 minute guided tours of the lodge, as well as some guided tours of Epping Forest.

Queen Elizabeth's Hunting Lodge

For some more photos, head on over to Flickr.

The big 1-2-0, it’s Tower Bridge

120 years ago today Tower Bridge was officially opened in a large, Victorian spectacle with the the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII) and his wife (the future Queen Alexandra) as the top billing, well other than the bridge itself.  Fittingly, for today entry to the Tower Bridge Exhibit is £1.20.

I thought I’d put together a mega-photo-and-video post. Here are some images I’ve captured of the bridge that a lot of people think is much older than it actually is…

The Spirit of Chartwell passes under Tower Bridge
The Royal Barge, The Spirit of Chartwell, goes under the bridge as part of the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant. The bascules are fully raised in salute to the Queen.
Tower Bridge Lights
New lights fitted a few weeks before the opening of the 2012 summer Olympics.
Olympic Rings on Tower Bridge
Same shot, but in daylight with the Olympic Rings on show.
Victorian control room, Tower Bridge
Inside the old Victorian control room.
Accumulator in the south tower, Tower Bridge
Accumulator in the south tower, taken while en route to beneath river level…

Inside the south tower’s bascule chamber, beneath the water level of the river.

The end of the south bascule, Tower Bridge
Back end of the south bascule.
Tower Bridge Engine Room
The Victorian engine room
North tower from the west walkway, Tower Bridge
Up in the elevated walk way.
City stamp, Tower Bridge
City corporation tag on some of the engine room equipment. Tower Bridge was built by the City of London Corporation and they still maintain it.

Leftovers in Bank Station

If you’re walking between the DLR and the Waterloo and City Line platforms at Bank Underground Station, at one point you’ll come across something that was left behind in 1898 and found 100 years later.

What could it be? A tool, some graffiti? Well, it’s this:

Greathead Tunnelling Shield at Bank Station

That red ring going around the tunnel is part of a ‘Greathead’ Tunnelling Shield, which was used in the construction of the Waterloo and City Line in the 1890s. It protected the construction workers by supporting the tunnel they were excavating. They would work in the shield, digging away the soil by hand. When they dug far enough, the shield was moved forward and the tunnel lined with metal plates.

The name Greathead comes from James Henry Greathead, who devised the shield building upon previous designs by Sir Marc Brunel and Peter W. Barlow. Brunel’s design, the first of its kind, was rectangular in shape. Barlow changed this to be round. The round shape was better at keeping the surrounding soil at bay, as the pressure was distributed all around the shield, rather than just the top and bottom as would be the case with Brunel’s shield.

When the Waterloo and City Line was completed in 1898, the tunnelling shield was left behind. It was found in 1987 during excavation work for the Bank extension of the Docklands Light Railway and later integrated into the foot tunnel when the DLR opened.

Greathead Tunnelling Shield at Bank Station

James Henry Greathead is commemorated in statue form outside Bank station.  Just along the south side of the Royal Exchange in Cornhill is a statue of Greathead, be-hatted and looking down at a set of plans.  Apparently the plinth the statue is on is hollow and acts as a ventilation shaft for the Underground.  Also on the plinth, you can see an engraving of a tunnelling shield in use.

The same general idea of a tunnelling shield is still in use today. The tunnel boring machines making their way across London, carving out the tunnels for Crossrail operate on the same principal.