Romans

There have been many Roman finds over the last decades in Bankside and Borough which have shown that the area in Roman times was larger and had greater prominence than previously thought. Now it is believed that this area of Southwark was viewed as an extension of Londinium that shared in its prosperity as high quality mosaics and wall-paintings have been discovered reflecting wealth. Archaeological finds show a busy community with industry, and expensive masonry buildings suggest an administrative-military presence, indeed it is likely that the Romans created a rudimentary military settlement in Southwark before crossing over to what became Londinium.

Though a few pre-roman worked flints and pottery pieces have been found, there is nothing to suggest there had been a settlement in Bankside and Borough prior to the Romans arrival in 43 AD. Soon after the invasion, the Romans embarked on building roads, including Watling Street which ran from Canterbury in Kent to St Albans via Londinium, and Stane Street which ran from London to Chichester in the South west and these two roads converged in an area close to todays Borough Station. The area to the north of this spot was mostly marsh with the area closest to the river consisting of low-lying sandy and gravelly islands intercut with water channels running from the River Thames. However, the strip of land that roughly corresponds with today's Borough High Street was higher and sandy and this became the approach road that joined the point where Watling Street and Stane Street met to the wooden bridge the Romans had built to cross the river to Londinium. This bridge was located a few metres downstream from the present bridge and a settlement quickly developed that followed the approach road as traders and industry hoped to benefit commercially from a constant stream of people travelling from Kent and the South to the City.

Amphora

An amphora discovered during excavation works at London Bridge Station.

The Romans began to reclaim the land along the river in about 70 AD with a series of revetted embankments and infill which decreased the risk of flooding and made it possible to build on the former marshy land. At Winchester Palace (in todays Clink Street) the rivers edge advanced by 9 metres. Excavation works under the medieval Winchester Palace revealed a substantial and palatial Roman masonry building which included a bath house with caldarium and plunge bath and fitted with underfloor heating or hypocausts. Archaeologists were able to reconstruct from fragments a wall painting in yellow, green and red of Cupid holding a plate and standing among garlanded pillars. The wall plaster was imported from Italy and of high quality which suggests the building was of high status occupancy, perhaps part of it formed a residence for an official of the Roman administration in Londonium.

There was a military presence during the beginning of the Roman period but it is thought this presence was probably only temporary whilst the military skills of engineering, road and bridge building, land drainage and the building of revetments or waterfronts were utilised. It was possible to moor boats on these waterfronts for loading and unloading goods and whilst some trading took place in this way, this may have been limited when compared to activity on the other side of the river as there is no evidence of large public warehouses or large timber quays as there is on the north bank. Neither have there been any finds of concentrated remains of Samian ware or amphorae which are usually found along the waterfront in city ports. Navigable channels ran from the river on the South Bank which enabled delivery and collection of goods locally and the remains of a Roman flat-bottomed lighter have been found near Guys Hospital. Also found during the excavation works near Guys Hospital were discarded oyster shells and timber tanks have been found alongside waterways, possibly for the storage of live river produce such as fish, eels and oysters.

Excavation at Southwark Cathedral has revealed it was built on the site of a substantial Roman building, possibly a villa. Tessellated pavements have been found in the church-yard and at the northern end of the cathedral and a well has been discovered under the Choir. In the crypt, three religious artefacts have been found: a hunter dog accompanied by a dog and deer, part of a sea god made of Greek marble which is thought to be either Oceanus or Neptune, and a figure made of sandstone thought to be of Genius, a god which is attributed to a particular place such as the home.

Further south, remains of two Romano Celtic temples and a villa dating to the mid second century have been found in Tabard Square which faced onto a piazza or open space. There were remains of three plinths which were probably the foundations of statues. A plaque was found on this site in 2002 and made of white marble, it bears an inscription which, when translated, reads:

"To the spirits of the emperors (and) the God Mars Camulos, Tiberinius Celerianus, ranking moritex of the (traders) of London (set this up)."

The god Mars Camulos was worshipped in the Rheims, a wine producing district of France, which points to the supplicant Tiberinius Celerianus originating from this region. It is believed that moritex means negotiator so its likely Tiberinius Celerianus was a wine trader from Rheims in Londinium to import wines.

Archaeological work was undertaken when the extension of the Jubilee line was built and discoveries included a row of houses, shops and workhouses built around 50AD that lined the approach road. The buildings were rectangular and built of clay and timber frames, with thatched or tiled roofs. Some buildings had wooden floors but most had hearths, mainly domestic in nature, but several of these hearths may have been used for industrial purposes as they had associated iron waste. These buildings were destroyed by fire in the first century as fire debris has been found and this fire may have been started by Boudicca when she set fire to Londinium in 60 AD as she and her army attempted to overcome and drive out the invading Roman army. The buildings though were used for industrial purposes and maybe the fire was caused in other ways. The settlement was rebuilt in the late first century/early second century with further clay and timber buildings and also masonry buildings. The new buildings were now set back about 6m from the road which perhaps formed a market or pedestrian area. Archaeologists discovered signs of carbonized wheat in one of the buildings, suggesting perhaps it had been a bakers although no remains of baked bread were discovered, whilst in another building there were remains of large quantities of butchered bones, suggesting perhaps a butchers shop. It is thought that another of the buildings was almost certainly a blacksmiths.

Excavations on the site of the former Courage brewery site (formerly Barclays, Perkins Brewery)in Park Street revealed a series of clay and timber houses, shops and workshops, and later stone houses from the second century. These excavations provided further evidence of iron and copper alloy working, but the scale of this indicates that although some products may have been for use outside the area, most manufacture was for use within the area. In early roman times, items like nails and studs required for construction were produced and, as the settlement grew, domestic items such as cooking vessels were made. There is evidence that antler working was carried out, and combs, buttons and knife handles were made from red deer antlers. Also on the Courages site a timber warehouse was found close to the river. It was sunk into the ground and would have been ideal for the storage of food and wines as it was cool and damp.

The decline of Roman Southwark started before the Romans left Britain in 410 AD as the settlement reduced to the area around the bridgehead in about 350 AD. When the Romans returned to Rome, just as Londinium was abandoned and the city left to decay, so too was the area on the south bank, and quickly became unpopulated.

In September 2011,Network Rail announced remains of a Roman Bath House had been found on the corner of Borough High Street and London Bridge Road during work connected with the building of the new railway bridge over Borough High Street. More information can be found here.

Sources:
Cowan, C. Roman Southwark, settlement and economy : excavations in Southwark, 1973-1991.?Museum of London Archaeology Service (2009)
Cowan, C. Urban development in north-west Roman Southwark : excavations, 1974-90.Museum of London Archaeology Service (2003)
Hammer, F. Industry in north west Roman Southwark. Museum of London (2003).
Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Excavation Committee,Below Southwark: the archaeological story. London (2000).
Southwark and Lambeth Archaeological Excavation Committee, Southwark excavations, 1972-74. London (1978)
Yule, B. A prestigious Roman building complex on the Southwark waterfront : excavations at Winchester Palace, London, 1983-90. Museum of London Archaeology Service (2005).
www.pre-construct.com/sites/highlights/Tabard.htm, posted 2003(Accessed May 2011)

Roiman hunter god

Roman hunter god found in crypt of Southwark Cathedral