Roman remains in Victorian newspapers

Alice Bright, Volunteer, Billingsgate Roman House and Baths

Billingsgate Roman House and Baths was discovered in 1848 and reported in the London Illustrated News. We at the bathhouse, where I am a volunteer, wanted to know how other Roman remains found in the City of London were reported in Victorian newspapers.

I researched Roman London in the archive of The Times newspaper. The first mention thatI found, from December 1825, Remains of Roman London, described a number of finds in and near the City, some during the digging of sewers in Southwark. A 4ft vase found by workmen was promptly destroyed in an accidental axe swing and the pieces swept away! This article describes two rival men who sought Roman artefacts: Mr Gaitskell, a magistrate, and the more successful Mr Gwilt, an architect, who formed a small museum at the back of his house in Union Street, Southwark. His collection was sold to the British Museum on his death.


Pottery jar, barbotine decoration
© The Trustees of the British Museum  

Sixteen years later in 1841, The Times reported the discovery of various Roman items when the foundations were being dug for the Royal Exchange, by the entrance to the Bank of England. The area ‘was employed to furnish materials for the use of the Roman citizens.’ The finds included weaving instruments in which part of the wool remained, as well as shoes, sandals, coins, bones and other objects.

Plan of the Royal Exchange where Roman remains were found
Plan of the Royal Exchange showing where Roman remains were found
©London Metropolitan Archives

These villas are referred to again in an article called Ruins of Roman London in 1860, when further discoveries were made in the area, including a female head made of coloured stones and glass, found somewhere between Threadneedle St and Cornhill.  The article describes some of the wonderful mosaics that were found – Europa on her bull between Bishopsgate Street and Broad Street, a peacock in Fenchurch Street, and Bacchus on the panther in Leadenhall Street.


Roman Mosaic found in Leadenhall Street in 1803
Roman Mosaic found in Leadenhall Street in 1803
©London Metropolitan Archives