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MoLAS 2002: annual review for 2001

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Office development

The year 2001 saw the continuation of several large archaeological projects and the start of many new ones at office development sites in Central London and elsewhere in the Greater London area, reflecting the continued buoyancy of the London commercial property market and the strength of London's role as a world financial and business centre.

City

At 12 Arthur Street, EC4 (Shieldpoint Ltd), redevelopment required implementation of an archaeological mitigation scheme involving excavation of 52 pile locations and an associated watching brief. Work revealed a complex sequence of Roman and medieval deposits up to 4m thick. Roman waterfronts on the northern bank of the Thames, wells and masonry buildings - some with hypocaust systems and mosaic floors - have been found. A particularly important discovery was of a wooden bucket-chain water-lifting device in a Roman well, similar to those found in the western well at Blossom's Inn. The Roman sequence was overlain by medieval reclamation, pitting and walls associated with masonry buildings. More work will take place in 2002.

Watching brief coverage in advance of construction of the Swiss Re tower at Baltic House, St Mary Axe, EC3 (Skanska Construction UK Ltd on behalf of the Swiss Re Group), follows on from archaeological excavations in 1995-6 and recently published. The recent work revealed further evidence of Roman quarrying, an early Roman boundary ditch, late Roman occupation and medieval pitting.

One of the major projects of 2001 took place at Blossom's Inn, 20-30 Gresham Street, EC2 (Land Securities PLC), a collaboration between MoLAS and AOC Archaeology Ltd. Sherds of Late Neolithic pottery were found at the site, where a natural stream channel had persisted until the 1st century AD. The Romans first stripped the topsoil and quarried gravel, and three burials were also found, but the area generally was not built on in the 1st century. Backfill of the largest quarry included 1st-century amphorae (storage jars) and the life-sized left hand and forearm of a gilded, cast bronze statue which had been hacked apart and discarded unceremoniously. Roman roads were laid out as part of the reconstruction of Londinium after the Boudican revolt of AD 60. Some roadside building were constructed, including multi-room houses with stone foundations and mosaic floors, but large areas remained open well into the 2nd century and were used for the disposal of demolition debris, soil and rubbish. Painted plaster from these layers included scenes showing Bacchus (the God of wine) and female figures, and panels depicting fluted columns, horses and seahorses.

Two unusually large timber-lined Roman wells and a cistern were found near the southern side of the site. Tree-ring dating of timbers from the earliest well indicates that it was built in about AD 63. The well was abandoned in c AD 71 following its partial collapse which had preserved a significant find: part of a rare water-lifting mechanism, a 'bucket-chain', comprising twelve hollowed-out wooden water-boxes, originally linked by iron pins and couplings, and a wooden roller possibly from a gear. An even larger well to the east and dated to the early 2nd century contained part of a second bucket-chain made of boarded oak buckets and wrought iron pins and couplings. The water containers were charred, indicating that the overlying well house had been destroyed by fire. A complete copper-alloy cauldron was found in the base of the well, along with late 2nd-century finds. The nearby cistern stored water from the wells, perhaps a supply for the nearby baths at Cheapside or general public consumption. The Blossom's Inn wells were capable of supplying several thousand Londoners with fresh water, and their discovery demands a reconsideration of the public infrastructure of a town which lacked any obvious aqueduct or integrated water supply system.

Evidence from the late Roman period included pits, external soil horizons and a small, square, stone-lined subterranean room interpreted as a shrine and containing coins of Claudius II (AD 268-70) to Constantine the Great (AD 306-37).

Saxo-Norman rubbish pits were found across the site, along with several sunken-floored timber buildings. The cellars of 12th- to 16th-century buildings were located along the medieval street frontages, with stone-lined cesspits and wells in the gardens and yards behind. A 13th-century Jewish ritual bath or mikveh was discovered within a building on Milk Street, including seven stone steps leading down into a small apsidal bath. Generous funding from the Bevis Marks Synagogue Trust has allowed the mikveh to be dismantled and removed for rebuilding in an appropriate setting. A 17th-century barrel-vaulted icehouse, a culvert and several wells were also found. One well contained debris from the Great Fire of 1666.

Another large excavation, begun in 2000 and reported on in MoLAS 2001, took place just to the west at 10 Gresham Street, EC2 (the Standard Life Assurance Company). In the early Roman period the site lay near the western boundary of the settlement and just to the south of the later location of the fort at Cripplegate. Evidence of up to 11 early Romano-British roundhouses may prove hugely significant. The buildings, which date from c AD 50-70, were between 5m and 8m in diameter and contained hearths, beaten earth floors and, in two cases, had east-facing doorways. Activities associated with these huts include glassmaking in a British style but using Roman materials. This early phase of activity may represent a definably 'British' enclave on the periphery of the new Roman settlement. If so, it was swept away before the end of the 1st century and replaced by the expanding Roman street pattern and the more familiar rectilinear buildings of Roman London.

By the early 2nd century two Roman roads crossed the site; one running east-west and another leading north towards Cripplegate fort. Roadside buildings lay along the north-south road, and included a well-preserved mudbrick and timber building destroyed by fire. One room in the building possessed a fine mosaic with a central polychrome design of simple lozenges and triangles combined with more complex twisted chains ('guilloche') and ivy leaves. A collapsed wall with painted wall plaster covered the mosaic floor. A veranda and a gravel courtyard lay to the east of the room. Another room to the west may have been a kitchen and contained at least 18 broken pots, strewn across the floor. The post-Roman ground surface was truncated by modern cellars and nearly 200 pits, although some medieval cellars and foundations survived, including the base for a staircase turret.

Excavations at 19-31 Moorgate, EC2 (the Moorgate Investment Partnership), found evidence of Roman occupation but, interestingly, a relative absence of industrial activity in an area of the Upper Walbrook known for that. There was some evidence of medieval industry and occupation, including hearths and wattle buildings dating to the 11th and 12th centuries. The basements of two post-medieval buildings destroyed in the Great Fire were also recorded.

Redevelopment at Paternoster Square, EC4, included several archaeological sites just to the north of St Paul's Cathedral. At Newgate Triangle, EC4 (Paternoster Associates/Griffiths McGee Demolition Company Ltd), the earliest features were two early Roman burials, a ditch and several large quarry pits. The main Roman road leading west from the city to Silchester lay at the northern edge of the site. There were at least five roadside timber strip buildings, separated by narrow gravel alleyways. The buildings were destroyed by fire in the Boudican revolt of AD 60. Scattered medieval foundations and deep cesspits were also found. A post-medieval Delftware drinking cup in the shape of a penis was perhaps the most unusual find of 2001.

On the southern part of the Paternoster site, excavations at Charterhouse Building, EC4 (Charterhouse Bank Ltd/Griffiths McGee Demolition Company Ltd), uncovered early Roman timber buildings overlain by upcast from nearby quarrying. At the same time a north-south road was established and roadside buildings constructed. One of these contained evidence for plastered walls and a small oven in one of its rooms. A 3rd-century building had tessellated floors, but by the 4th century much of the area had reverted to open ground and graves were dug into the surface of the Roman road. Little survived from later periods because of truncation associated with development of the site in the 1960s. The remains of a buried lead pipe formed part of the medieval 'Great conduit', London's first public water supply, established in the 13th century. The conduit's main cistern was found at the site of 1 Poultry, near the eastern end of Cheapside, in 1994.

Excavations at the south-western corner of Paternoster Square, at Juxon House, St Paul's Churchyard, EC2 (the Standard Life Assurance Company), revealed early Roman timber buildings, wells, pits and surfaces. Another Roman road, again aligned north-south, crossed the site, flanked by three phases of buildings to the east, some overlying quarries. A large north-south channel running across the western part of the site was probably an early medieval ditch, established as part of the vallum of St Paul's precinct or associated with the post-Conquest refortification of the city. The eastern part of the site was a cemetery in the medieval period, and nearby foundations may be part of the bishop's palace complex.

Our largest excavation in 2000, reported on in MoLAS 2001, was at Plantation Place, Fenchurch Street, EC3 (The British Land Company PLC). In 2001 further work included archaeological excavation in advance of foundation piling and the monitoring of other construction works. This follow-up proved valuable, allowing the recording of deep features such as Roman gravel quarries and medieval wells. A watching brief conducted during construction of the basement slab for the new building allowed accurate quantification of surviving strata. Archaeological features below the level of the new basement slab were recorded and left in situ, including a north-south aligned Roman road and associated buildings. The findings generally confirmed the results of the main excavation, with additional evidence for a post-Boudican military enclosure recorded to the north of the main east-west road.

The year 2001 saw the redevelopment of two of MoLAS's old offices. Excavations opposite the Museum of London at 1 London Wall, EC2 (Hammerson UK Properties PLC), uncovered important new evidence of Roman landfill, quarrying, rubbish pits and ditches on the edge of the settlement near the Roman fort. Medieval pits, wells and part of the City defensive ditch were also present. Parts of the defensive ditch were excavated, allowing profiles of the ditch to be drawn. A surviving section of the Roman and medieval city wall was recorded west of Noble Street. At Walker House, 87 Queen Victoria Street, EC4 (Legal and General Group PLC), an evaluation located isolated archaeological remains in the south-eastern corner of the site but nothing had survived previous deep basementing in the 1960s and before.

Islington

Evaluation work at 1-3 Rawstorne Place, N1 (Bennett Associates Ltd), found that the site had been occupied by a livestock watering pond before the construction of the first buildings in the late 18th century. The Barn, a listed three-storey brick building documented from 1790, still stood in the centre of the site and is to be retained in the new development.

A watching brief at 29-30 Glasshouse Yard, EC1 (CgMs Ltd), located a medieval burial which may have been part of the West Smithfield Black Death cemetery or, alternatively, a burial within the garden of cell S in the London Charterhouse. The latter possibility is summarised in the recently published MoLAS monograph on the London Charterhouse.

Southwark

An excavation at 116-126 Borough High Street, SE1 (El Da Management Ltd), uncovered early Roman ditches containing human bones, overlain by a Roman building sequence with evidence of associated industrial activity. Large storage pots and a complete flagon were found beneath the floor of one the buildings, which were truncated by medieval pits.

Excavations at Bear Wharf and Riverside House, SE1 (Chelsfield PLC), recorded the chalk foundations of two 13th-century buildings. A post-medieval waterlain deposit contained horse and dog bones relating to the animal baiting that took place on Bankside from c 1540. A brick building with polygonal walls may be the Hope theatre, built in 1613. Biscuit-fired earthenware pottery provides evidence of the Bear Garden kiln, which was producing tin-glazed pots or Delftware from 1702 to c 1710. Several other brick buildings related to the late 17th- or early 18th-century Bear Gardens glasshouse.

Westminster

Excavations at the start of the year at 8-9 Long Acre, WC2 (Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society Ltd), found pits and a barrel-lined well dated to the early or middle Saxon period. Finds included pottery dated to c AD 650-730, a loomweight, a quernstone and a sandstone hone. Post-medieval features included three 17th-century wells associated with the development of the area in 1630-41.

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