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The history of London for many centuries is contained in the pages of this book, but it will be found divided out under the headings of the different buildings and localities and not in a connected sequence. It may therefore be useful here to set down a few notes on the various changes that have taken place in London, but as the space at our disposal is small, these notes must necessarily be brief.
That London was a place of considerable importance in British times was a belief firmly held by historians up to a comparatively recent period. We find it imbedded in that great monument of John Carpenter--the Liber Albus, where we read that London (p. 427) was “founded after the pattern and manner, and in remembrance of Great Troy, and to the present day contains within itself the laws and ordinances, dignities, liberties, and royal customs of ancient Great Troy." Now scepticism has gone to the opposite extreme, and denies the very existence of a British London.
The name, however, seems to show that there must have been some early settlement here, for whatever the etymology may really be, no one disputes that it is of Celtic origin.
Although Geoffrey of Monmouth's picture of a great British city of Troynovant, founded by Brut, a descendant of Æneas, must be dismissed as an absurdity, we need not dispute the existence of a British settlement before the Roman Conquest. The place, although probably small, must have been chosen for its commanding position on the banks of a fine river.
The discovery in 1867 by General Pitt Rivers (then Colonel Lane Fox) of what appeared to be the remains of pile-buildings near London Wall and Southwark Street throws some light upon this subject. The piles averaged 6 to 8 inches square, others of a smaller size were 4 inches by 3 inches, and one or two were as much as a foot square. They were found in the peat just above the virgin gravel, and with
1 Journ. Anthropol. Soc., vol. v. pp. Ixxi-lxxx.
them were found the refuse of kitchen middens, broken pottery, etc., of the Roman period. There is every reason to believe that the piles were sunk by the Britons rather than by the Romans, and General Pitt Rivers thinks it probable that they are the remains of the British capital of Cassivellaunus situated in the marshes, and of necessity built on piles. The fact that these piles were found on both sides of the river points to the conclusion which we may arrive at by other means, that there were two settlements, one on the north and the other on the south bank of the Thames. If so, they would probably be within the territories of distinct and possibly hostile tribes. There might have been a ferry and even a bridge, as asserted by Dion Cassius.1
A ferry, and still more a bridge, whether a bridge of boats or a more permanent structure, would necessarily involve a treaty or agreement between the two tribes on the opposite banks. For although we are apt to speak of the Britons as if they were all one people, because they all lived in one island, it is well to remember that they were not one people in fact, and that the several tribes formed separate states.
If there were any permanent means of communication across the Thames, between the Cantii in the south and the Trinobantes on the north, it could have been established and maintained only with their mutual consent. It is necessary here to mention that the great authority of Dr. Guest is strongly opposed to the notion of a British town having preceded the
He affirms that the valley of the Lea was the western boundary of the Trinobantes, and that the district between the Lea and the Brent was merely a march of the “Catuvellauni”—a common through which ran a wide trackway, but in which was neither town, village, nor inhabited house.2 The Catuvellaunian state was either formed or much extended by Cassivellaunus.
It may appear somewhat rash to dispute so eminent an authority and so careful an observer, but surely this is much too wide a generalisation from the facts at our disposal. There can be no doubt that the Britons made considerable progress during the period between Julius and Claudius, and it is possible that London as a British settlement may have come into existence during that period. But it must also be borne in mind that the ancient British coins which have been met with show that there was a Greek influence at work among the Britons long before they had any connection with the Romans; most of those coins having been modelled on Greek money of the age of Philip of Macedon and Alexander the Great. This seems to prove that there must have been considerable commercial intercourse between the Britons and, through Gaul, the Greeks of Marseilles; while some of the coins are believed to be of even older date.
In the voyage of discovery conducted by Pytheas of Marseilles, apparently in or about the year 330 B.C., he visited Kent, and seems to have sailed along the eastern coast of Britain as far as the Shetland Isles ; and though London is not mentioned in any of the fragmentary notices which have 1 Hist. Rom., lib. lx. C. 20.
2 Origines Celticæ, etc., 1883, vol. ii. pp. 391, 405.
been preserved of his voyage, these circumstances raise a reasonable presumption that it may have been the centre of the commerce of that early period, as it certainly was of later times. At all events it is necessary that this Greek influence, existing at least as early as the 4th century before Christ, and possibly long before, should be duly taken into account in estimating the condition of British civilisation during the ages preceding the Roman conquest in the ist century after Christ.
Moreover, all the tribes or nations settled in Britain had migrated thither from the Continent; separately, and at different times; and each must have brought with it that amount of civilisation which was possessed by the parent tribe at the date of the migration. The Celtic tribes, as shown by the evidence of language, belonged to the Aryan stock; and there is therefore no ground for supposing that the British tribes (especially in the southern parts of the island) were not sufficiently advanced to carry on a foreign commerce, even long before the age of Pytheas.1
ROMAN LONDON When we come to deal with Roman London we find abundance of facts, but also much difference of opinion as to the bearing of these facts.
It is very important to remember that the Roman occupation of Britain extended over a period equal to that which has elapsed since the middle of Henry VIII.'s reign. During these centuries (A.D. 43-409) there was ample time for growth, and the outlines of the City were frequently enlarged. The earliest Roman London was probably a very small place, little more in fact than a military fort for the purpose of guarding the ferry or bridge over the Thames, and thus keeping up the through communication of the north and south of Britain. Most probably the embankments on the Kent and Essex shores, which have so considerably changed the appearance of the lower reaches of the river, were thrown up by Roman engineers, although this view has been disputed.
The earliest settlement probably extended as far as Tower Hill on the east, and there is reason to believe that it did not take in any ground to the west of Leadenhall. The excavations at the latter place have thrown great light upon the early history of the City. The foundation walls of a basilica have been discovered, and from the time that was built until the present day the ground has always been devoted to public
How far north the first wall was placed it is difficult to guess.2 One help towards a settlement of the question may be found in the discovery of burial-places. As it was illegal in Roman times to bury within the walls, we are forced to the conclusion that the places where these sepulchral remains have been found were at one time extramural. i See Evans's Coins of the Ancient Britons, and Elton's Origins of English History.
2 Archæologia, vol. xlviii. p. 226.
Now no funeral relics have been found between Gracechurch Street and the Tower. The northern boundary has been drawn just below Lombard Street, and of this area the same may be said. The second extension of the City westwards was probably to Walbrook, an increase which the late Mr. Alfred Tylor set at 455 yards.
Even so central a position as that of the site of the Royal Exchange was evidently at one time outside the walls. When Sir William Tite was engaged on the foundations of the new building, he found that the ground had been used as a gravel-pit, it then became a dirty pond, and lastly was used as a receptacle for refuse.2 At that time it was probably just outside the walls.
Cemeteries once existed in Cheapside, on the site of St. Paul's and close to Newgate, and at various other places known to have been included in the later Roman London.
Neither Strabo nor Pliny the elder alludes to London, although each of them wrote on Britain, and the name does not occur in literature until it was used by Tacitus. Then it appears to have become a place of considerable importance. Tacitus distinctly says that London had not in A.D. 61 been dignified with the name of a colony. 3 Aulus Plautius, the Roman general, sailed to Britain in A.D. 43, and in the year 50 Caractacus was captured. It was not until some years after that the Romans permanently settled themselves in Britain. Tacitus speaks of Londinium as the chief residence of merchants and the great mart of trade, and one cannot help wondering how it had attained that position in so short a time if it had no existence in pre-Roman times. Still, although the historian so describes it, we know that it was not in his time the equal of Verulamium or Camulodunum. Whatever may have been its rank at this time, we have the satisfaction of finding an historical fact connected with it. The Roman general, Paullinus Suetonius, marched rapidly from Wales to put down an insurrection, but finding Londinium to be unfitted for a basis of operations, he left it to the mercy of Boadicea. She destroyed the merchant city and killed the inhabitants in large numbers.
When the British power was crushed, then Londinium asserted itself with such success that we find it appearing in the Itinerary of Antoninus, either as a starting-point or terminus, in nearly half the routes described in the portion devoted to Britain.
There can be no doubt that Southwark was also a Roman settlement. Ptolemy (who lived in the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius) places Londinium on the south side of the Thames. This, of course, may be a blunder on his part, but it is more likely that he referred to Southwark, which apparently had a distinct origin from the Londinium of the north bank of the river.
In the latest Roman enclosure the line of the wall ran straight from the Tower to Aldgate, where it bent round somewhat to Bishopsgate.
1 Tite's Catalogue of Antiquities found in the excavations at the New Royal Exchange, 1848, p. xli. 2 Ibid.
3 Annal., lib. xiv. sect. 33.
On the east it was bordered by the district subsequently called the Minories and Houndsditch. The line from Bishopsgate ran eastward to St. Giles's churchyard, where it turned to the south, as far as Falcon Square ; again westerly by Aldersgate round the site of Christ's Hospital towards Giltspur Street, then south by the Old Bailey to Ludgate, and then down to the Thames, where Mr. E. Freshfield suggests that there stood on the site of Baynard's Castle a Roman fortress. Mr. Roach Smith pointed out that this enclosure gives dimensions far greater than those of any other Roman town in Britain. There can be no doubt that within the walls there was much unoccupied space, for with the one exception of the larger circuit made south of Ludgate in 1276, for the benefit of the Black Friars, the line of the walls remained until the Great Fire.
The Thames formed the natural barrier on the south, but the Romans do not appear to have been content with this, for they built a wall here in addition. Portions of this wall have been discovered at various times.
It is very difficult even to guess when this third wall was erected, but it is not improbable that it was early in the ad century, and this wall enclosed a cemetery near Newgate. Sir William Tite, in describing the tessellated pavement found in 1854 on the site of the Excise Office (Bishopsgate Street), expresses the opinion that the finished character of the pavement points to a period of security and wealth, and fixes on the reign of Hadrian (A.D. 117-138), to which the silver coin found on the floor belongs, as the date of its foundation. The cemetery near Newgate just alluded to, remains of which were found by the late Mr. Alfred Tylor when rebuilding his extensive premises in Newgate Street, must have been in use at a very early period, for a coin of Claudius, struck A.D. 41, was found in a stone vase. Among the sepulchral remains discovered were several ossuaria or leaden vessels for the reception of the calcined bones of the dead. Little attention had been paid to these objects until Mr. Roach Smith a few years ago made them a special subject of inquiry. He referred to the wealth of the British mines as one of the chief incentives to the conquest of the country by the Romans, and he pointed out that the large use of the costly metal, lead,"manufactured with such skill, and so profusely as to supply not only the inhabitants of the towns but those of villages and villas with one of the daily requisites of advanced civilisation, proves the prosperity and even luxury of the province.”
Mr. Alfred Tylor follows out the same idea in his paper, “New Points in the History of Roman Britain,"
"2 where he asserts that the Roman occupation was connected chiefly with the development of an ancient mineral industry, to supply the wants of Imperial Rome, and not with mere agricultural colonisation.
How was the interior of the City laid out in Roman times? This is a question almost impossible to answer. There were but few open1 Illustrations of Roman London, 1859, p. 6.
2 Archæologia, vol. xlviii. p. 221.