Caught by the fuzz.

Another day, another London outing with pal Craig.

London is an interesting city, it’s not all bankers and luxury flats and Russian money laundering, you know. Talking of money laundering (and tenuous connections), our latest London day out included a visit to one of those off-the-beaten-track relatively little-known sites that London is so good at. Today it was the City of London Police Museum, a fairly new addition to the London museum-scape.


Truncheon made by the Worshipful Company of Bakers, 1737.

Since 1839, the City of London Police force has been policing the Square Mile and that’s what this museum is about; the force itself. How it came into being, how it has developed, its methods, successes, setbacks, it’s role  in counter-terrorism, and in the financial frauds that have tainted the City. The exhibits are used as prompts to highlight how the cases were cracked using careful investigative method and science, and how the investigation of crime has developed, rather than going for sensation and gore.

That doesn’t mean that it’s boring though. There are installations; there’s a view into a police cell containing a rather huffy hologram of one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, Catherine Eddowes.

She was banged up for being flat out drunk in the street, and then later released and sent on her way, only to be murdered shortly afterwards. Whenever I see that there’s a Jack the Ripper display, I start to roll my eyes but, for once, in this display the victim is a person not just a prop in a gory story.  The display is actually fairly low key and looks at the police officer’s beat, the murder spot, and how the unfortunate Eddowes ended up where she ended up.

There is a larger display on The Houndsditch Murders of December 1910, and the associated Siege of Sydney Street in January 1911.

‘City policemen murdered by alien burglars’

Three officers were killed in the line of duty, and another two wounded while attempting to capture members of a Latvian gang who were robbing a jewellery shop in Houndsditch. After the robbery and murders, members of the gang were captured or killed but the last two suspected members were holed up in a house in Sydney Street, which was besieged by the police, and a shoot-out ensued. The building in which the miscreants were hiding then caught fire and, once the fire was damped down, the bodies of the two were found inside.  Some of these events were actually caught on film by Pathé news and the whole kerfuffle was immortalized in the 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much and again in 1960 in The Siege of Sydney Street.

In the museum there’s quite a lot about this case and they really reflect on evidence and detection techniques at the time. These small jars contain bullet fragments carefully collected and labelled as evidence and a replica of the murder weapon.

There are also mugshots of suspected gang members and an image of the ‘Wanted’ poster, which was printed up in Hebrew and Russian as well as English (Sydney street is in what was the Jewish East End).

The museum also contains a range of items and images to do with the history of terrorism in the City. Interestingly, and perhaps controversially, Suffragette action is included in this section. The point made is that the actions taken by Suffragettes could today fall under the modern definition of terrorism:

The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

This innocent looking tin of Keen’s mustard is, in fact, a bomb!

And there are images of the destruction caused by IRA bombings in the City. I remember this stuff.

I loved the rather alarming display of weapons used by criminals, some improvised, including this crude but effective rock-in-a-sock.

Right at the end, as is so often the case in museums, there’s the opportunity to dress up. Craig, as always, obliged 😀

This is actually a really good little museum (it is actually really little, but packs a lot in). It’s also free to visit so go and have a look.

The City of London Police Museum can be found at The Guildhall. Go towards the Guildhall Library entrance on Aldermanbury and follow the arrows.

Roman walls in car parks. This is actually a ‘thing’.

In 2012, archaeology in car parks hit the headlines. The perfect mix of the prosaic and the sensational; the ancient and modern, seemed to excite the interest of people who usually had no interest at all in archaeology. Of course, you throw in a king and an ‘odd feeling’ and that gets the tabloids going. But I am a Romanist and we don’t do kings. We do, however, do car parks.

On my wanderings I have found myself in many a car park, squeezing between Vauxhall Astras and Ford Focuses, tramping about the place to look at…what? Walls. There’s loads of them. So many that I’ve decided that ‘Roman walls in car parks’ is an actual ‘thing’. So here are a few.

York (Eboracum).



Ok, that doesn’t look like much but York was an extremely important and powerful city in the Roman period. Founded by the soldiers of the ninth legion in 71CE;  the seat of Roman power under Septimius Severus’ from 208-11 (and the site of his death in 211), the capital of Britannia Inferior under Caracalla; the location for Constantine’s accession to the purple in 306.

This is all big stuff. Seriously.

It’s ok. Those bits of wall in the car park aren’t the only surviving Roman walls. There are some quite impressive sections still surviving to full height. With bastions.


There is also Roman wall in other British car parks. Here in London (Londinium), you have to go underground. Under the aptly-named London Wall is the London Wall Car Park and if you go along to the motorcycle bays (around Bay 52), you can find… the London wall.



I like this because you can see the construction methods clearly, the inner core made from rubble with tile courses for stabilization, faced with nicely worked  stones on the exterior, all on a beautifully chamfered  plinth.


Nearby, hidden behind a nondescript door by the side of the ramp down to the bit of the London Wall Car Park that’s under the Museum of London…



This is what remains of the west gate of the fort and it’s associated guardroom, which stood in the north-west corner of Londinium. Built in about 120CE, the fort predates the city wall and was utilized to form the north-western corner of the enclosed city when the wall was built  in the third-century.



This isn’t always accessible but the Museum does do regular tours/talks so look out on their website for those.

And here’s Colchester (Camulodunum).

In Colchester you can see a mixture of original and recreated Roman wall. Here’s a bit of the recreated.


Basically you can just see what the Roman wall looked like when it was pretty new, and you can, again, see the way that the wall is built using courses of stone blocks with layers of terracotta tile for stabilization.


Round the corner is a decent stretch of the real thing.


It’s looking a bit less pristine but then, it is pushing 2000 years old. The city was fortified with walls when it was rebuilt after its destruction during the Boudiccan revolt of 60/61.


The walls were built fairly rapidly and utilised whatever building material they could find. Within the wall structure you can see bits and bobs, like this piece of roof tile (tegula), some of which show signs of burning.


Again, there are other, pretty extensive, Roman walls surviving in the city. And they are easy to follow round, taking in some of the city gates on the way


I’ve observed that this is not just a British thing.

Arlon (Orolaunum)


Further afield, in the Belgian city of Arlon, is this magnificent section of wall, complete with a bastion.


The foundations were built using old bits of worked stone, inscriptions and tomb stones, and it’s possible to still see some of those in-situ.

arlon-3 arlon-4

An earlier blog post has a few more pictures of the delights of Roman Arlon and some more of the many many carved stone monuments found there.

Paris (Lutetia)

There is a rather sorry little section of the Roman city wall in Paris. The door here was locked so I could only see it through the glass but it’s not that impressive in any case. Still, here it is.


It’s in the stairwell of an underground carpark on Boulevard Saint-Michel.

As far as I’m aware, that’s about it for the Roman city wall of Paris but I discovered that there are some other Roman walls in a car park in Paris. The brilliant Crypt Archeologique at Notre Dame is one of the best places to see the remains of Roman Paris (see also the amphitheatre, the ‘arènes de Lutèce’; and the great big bathhouse at Musee Cluny). I had thought that Crypt Archeologique was just next to the Notre Dame carpark…


…but a display about the discovery of the remains shows that the site is actually inside the carpark, albeit separated from the vehicles, so I’m claiming this one too.


The crypt contains, among other things, Roman houses, a bathhouse, a bit of a bridge abutment and part of a quay on  the River Seine.

Nimes (Colonia Nemausus )

Nimes is another city where it is possible to follow the circuit of the old Roman walls, happening upon gateways, decent sections of standing wall and sorry little scraps along the way.

Here’s one of the sorry little scraps.


On the Rue Armand-Barbès, just by the side of the pavement, are these hardly-noticeable remains of the city wall.  It’s a bit more obvious when you look at the run of the wall that leads into the nearby car park.


It’s not much to look at but it’s just a small element of the, quite extensive, remains of Roman Nimes and so, for a Romanist like me, worth looking out for on my way round town.

Angers (Juliomagus Andecavorum)

In Angers, in terms of Roman remains, there is, frankly, not much. In the Roman period there were the usual houses, bath-houses, bridges and temples, including a Temple of Mithras. All of this has been built over,  plundered for later building work, and swept away for the construction of the castle and later ramparts.

So what is left?

Apart from some artefacts, now in the local museum, there is only this stretch of wall on Rue Toussaint.


It’s a chunky stretch of wall made mostly of petit appareil but also looks like it has been altered, built on and up against, and knocked through so that it contains elements of Roman and later construction. It’s actually by the side of a road but there are designated parking spaces all along this stretch, so I’m calling it a car park.

A few kilometres away, there’s more.

Tours (Civitas Turonum)

Enclosing the carpark behind the Studio Cinema on Rur des Ursulines is this stretch of the Roman city wall.


The wall has clearly been built from reused material with a mixture of petit and grand appareil


There’s another stretch in the Jardin de St Pierre le Puellier. This area has actually been set out as a public garden with signage about the walls and the bastion.

Cologne (Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium)

And, lastly, I was just in Cologne, a city with some quite decent stretches of its city wall still standing, on my latest car park-related jolly. So here it is, the Roman wall of Cologne, in a car park.



And another car parky-bit.


These are in an underground car park right underneath the Cathedral. The remains of the north gate of the city have been reconstructed up at ground level but down here we can see the in-situ remains. This being a rather historical car park, there’s also a medieval well!


And down the road is another section of the wall bordering another car park.


Ok, this doesn’t look very Roman, does it? But, trust me, it is. The Roman wall core has subsequently been faced with brick so it all looks much later but, at its core this is still in-situ Roman wall. You can see this better at the exposed end of the wall.


In the making of this post I gatecrashed a tour being run by one of the Curators of The Museum of London. He raised an interesting point about how the decision to preserve the particular bit of wall we were looking was taken. As a car park is, essentially, a big empty space, I started to wonder about the discussions that preceded the decision to preserve or not preserve, and how that discussion might differ if it was, say, a row of houses rather than a big empty space that was being built. How many chunks of Roman wall have been swept away, demolished to make way for new homes and shops? Probably loads. Maybe it’s easier to argue for the preservation of ancient monuments in car parks specifically because a car park is big empty space. That might explain why there are so many bits of Roman wall in car parks.

And so I rest my case. Roman walls in car parks are clearly a ‘thing’. The evidence speaks for itself.

Oh, and if you’re planning to seek out random archaeology in random places people will, inevitably, wonder why on earth you’re taking photos of a crappy bit of old wall in a car park, so be prepared for funny looks.

The city beneath the city: part 2

In part 1 we looked at the sewer system of Paris but now were going to go way back in time and a bit further east to Cologne.

Part 2: Cologne, the Roman Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium (CCAC).

Travelling over to Cologne, and way back in time, I found myself, for the second time, down in a sewer. This sewer is without poo these days but in its day it was the main sewer of Cologne.


The cloaca maxima (main sewer) of CCAA lies about 10m under the modern street, Grose Budengasse and is accessible for about 150m.



The Romans are rightly known for their skills in engineering, urban planning and hydraulics. Cologne attained the status of imperial capital of its province, Lower Germany (Germania Inferioris) by the mid-third century and was well provided with all the infrastructure and facilities you’d expect. Aqueducts brought water to the city from sources in the foothills of the Eifel mountains, about 90km away. Water conduits and public fountains formed one half of the cycle of civic water management. The sewer system formed the other half.

The sewer is constructed from well-cut blocks of tufa (a porous limestone) together with some bits and bobs of reused material.


The cutting of the stone for this construction would have been carried out by masons, probably being paid according to the number of stones cut. I spotted what looks like a mason’s mark on one of the stones, used to identify the work of a specific mason.


A small part of the sewer system has been taken up and reconstructed at ground level, nearby. This makes it easy to see the voussoirs  (the wedge-shaped stones) that form the arched ceiling.


Waste from public and private toilets washed into the sewer, which was accessed via vertical shafts. This one has been reconstructed from the original stones


The tunnels must have been easily accessible for over a millennium because they were used as cellars during the middle ages and then as air raid shelters during the Second World War. Then they seem to have been misplaced but were rediscovered as the result of works to Cologne’s transport system.

If you want to visit the cloaca maxima, it’s accessed via the Praetorium exhibition on Kleine Budengasse.

The Human Zoo

I’ve just been in Paris on a brief jolly and I decided to visit somewhere a little off the tourist trail while I was there. And so, on a cold cold February morning, in the cold cold rain, I went in search.


Out to the east of the city is the Bois de Vincennes and on the western side of the park is Le Parc Zoologique de Paris, the zoo. On the far south-eastern side are the crumbling remains of a rather shameful period in Paris’ history; Le Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale, the human zoo.


Set up as a part of the Colonial Exhibition of 1907, this garden contained examples of architecture, horticulture and people from French colonial lands; people from the Sudan and Congo, Madagascar and Indochina, Morocco and Tunisia, all living in villages and pavilions representing their cultures and countries, set up in a park in Paris. They lived here while visitors paid to come and look at them. Literally a human zoo.


This wasn’t a niche entertainment. During the six months of the exhibition at least a million people visited  and this site was just one of many around Europe displaying the exotic ‘fruits’ of colonial domination. The unfortunate exhibits, who had been brought from their homes to France for display, were highly susceptible to diseases and infections to which they had absolutely no resistance, and so suffered a high mortality rate.


Looking round the remains of this great exhibition, it’s possible to identify examples of the buildings and decorative elements from different French colonial lands but they’re mostly just wrecks. Visitors are welcomed by the remains of the oriental gateway that featured prominently on souvenir postcards. Now, of course, it’s all moss and peeling paint.


Porte Chinoise


Walking around, I could just catch glimpses of other elements of the formerly smart, bold exhibition; the expression of French colonial pride. Now it’s all half-hidden in the undergrowth, increasingly overgrown with ivy and moss and brambles.


Pavilion de a Tunisie

Many of the buildings are fenced off, obviously unsafe.


Pavilion de la Reunion



Serre du Dahomey

There are also several memorials to people killed in various colonial conflicts, and the information in the newer signage dotted about, is mostly about the site’s use for hospital and convalescent accommodation during these conflicts.


Stupa dedicated to Cambodian and Lao soldiers who died for France.

Apparently, the authorities in Paris were in a bit of a quandary about the site, Restoring it might be seen as exhibiting pride in this unsavoury episode from the past. Pulling the whole place down may be seen as equally unfortunate, as if they are somehow trying to hide the truth about colonial attitudes. And so, for many years, the gardens were just left. A couple of the old pavilions have been renovated to be used for exhibitions and events and the aforementioned signed installed, but it’s all quite low key.


Maison Cochinchinoise

Modern Paris celebrates its internationalism in different ways these days and exhibiting humans is now considered unacceptable. Unless it’s on ‘reality TV’ that is. Then it’s  fine.



The nearest RER station is Nogent-sur-Marne.

The city beneath the city: part 1

We’re going to go down, deep down.

On my travels, I’m always on the lookout for unusual and interesting side visits to complement the main events. I decided to go on a couple of quick jollies to Paris and Cologne to see Teenage Fanclub (cos, y’know, why not?), but as well as Fannie, these two cities have something else in common. Poo.

Yuk, but poo is a fact of life and the engineering devised to manage the basic necessities of sanitation is pretty impressive, especially in cities where there’s a lot of the stuff.

Part one: Paris

p1710628 (1)

First Paris, and a visit to an exhibition of the modern sewage system. Organised waste management and sewerage in Paris dates back as far as the 12th century but these sewers only date back to the 19th century. During this period, under Napoleon III, the old jumbles of little streets and slums that made up Paris, was brutally swept away as Baron Haussmann planned and laid out the new streets of Paris, creating the wide elegant boulevards we see today. Under the ground, the engineer Eugéne Belgrand was creating the corresponding fresh water and sewage systems. There are even street signs.



It’s possible to follow a route around about 500m of the sewer system, but don’t worry, although it is a little bit fruity-smelling, you’re well separated from the business end of it all.


As well as the sewer, the associated tunnels also contain drinking and non-drinking water pipes, pneumatic tubes, compressed air distribution pipes, fibre optics and the cables that control the traffic lights. There are no gas pipes or electricity cables though.


There’s a fascinating exhibition that explains the history of sanitation right from the Roman period, and you can see some of the equipment used to keep Paris nice and regular. There’s loads of information and artefacts, but it was all set up on a grill over the sewer.


The water was rushing quite brusquely beneath the grill and, to be honest, it was freaking me out so I had to walk along the path at the side and lean in the read the panels and look at the artefacts and models. (2)


A lot of the machinery, real and models, and gadgets on show are involved with keeping the sewer channels clear, removing blockages and maintaining the necessary free flow of water. Most of these seem to work by pushing the sand and other solids along, using built-up water pressure, to sites where they can be removed by crane. The different pieces of machinery are designed to work in different shapes and sizes of sewer channel.

Then there are these cleaning balls that run along the tunnels squashing the debris, which is dredged out by another machine. The ball’s diameter is a little bit smaller the that of the tunnels and it’s pushed along by the water pressure behind it.




At certain points along the sewer are Le Resevoir de Chasse, reservoirs of non-drinking water which can be released to created a surge of water. Again, this helps to keep solid matter; waste, sand, rubbish, moving along. Going through these points, you can hear the water really roaring along.

There are stretches of open sewer  where you can see a few things floating past, but it’s really not that pooey.


So this is the underground Paris, the hidden escape route taken by Jean Valjean and the wounded Marius, as described by Victor Hugo in Les Misérables. It’s a little bit smelly but don’t let that put you off.

Part 2, to follow in a couple of weeks, will be a look at another fascinating sewer from the more distant past.



(1) Museum of the Sewers of Paris, Musée des égouts de Paris, can be found on Quai d’Orsay, near the Pont a’Alma RER station.

(2) I should say, it’s perfectly safe, the floor isn’t about to give way or anything. It’s just me. It was just freaking me out. Seriously.

Looking for Londoners: Working the Walbrook

Having to get a job.

If I was independently wealthy I wouldn’t have had to have gone to a job interview the day before yesterday but, things being as they are, I did have to go to a job interview the day before yesterday.

I blame my parents.

Anyway, after the interview I went off to meet my pal Craig for one of our, now pretty regular, weekly wanders. After doing a few others things, we ended up at the Museum of London. This is always a great place to pop in, see what’s new and have another little look at familiar things, and there’s currently a really good free exhibition of images of blitz-damaged London (

In the space dedicated to ‘Looking for Londoners’, there is also a free display of Roman hand tools, excavated from various sites along the Walbrook Valley, which I was very keen to get a look at.


The Walbrook, one of London’s famous ‘Lost Rivers’ cut a north-south slash through London from Finsbury Circus to Canon Street and along its banks were workshops of all kinds. Leatherworkers, metalworkers, coopers, jewellers, carpenters and more all set up shop along the Walbrook and archaeologists excavating sites along its course have found the lost and discarded remnants of their trades.


One thing to flag up straight away: check out the condition of these artefacts! Some of them are pristine. This superb preservation is the result of the waterlogged conditions of the sites. The thick wet mud lacks a crucial ingredient for decay and rust; air, so these anaerobic conditions slow down the normal processes by which objects deteriorate and, often, entirely disintegrate.

So let’s have a look.


This fantastic looking implement is actually a double-ended scraper/brush tool, found at Bucklersbury House. To the left is a cutting/smoothing tool (think of a paint scraper or polyfiller knife), and to the right, a socket into which bristles would have been packed to create the brush. It’s exact use is unknown but it may have been used for applying gold leaf or for smoothing and painting small areas of wall plaster like this (below), found at St. Mary Axe (the Gerkin),


Sometimes tools feature text; stamps giving a maker’s name as a form of advertising, stamps marking goods made by or for the Roman state, owner’s name, and so on.


The stamp above is inscribed, in reverse, with ‘MPBR’, which has been interpreted as an abbreviation of Metalla Provinciae Britanniae: ‘the mines of the province of Britannia’, so may have been an official stamp to mark ingots of metal.

These two tools, a bradawl found at Moorgate Street and a chisel found at Bucklersbury House, have marks stamped into them.


The chisel has been stamped with ‘MARTIA(L)’. Possibly the maker’s name.


The, possible, maker’s mark on the bradawl hasn’t been punched very clearly and is illegible.


Nevertheless, in these tools we see evidence of two layers of London’s industrial life. The stamps represent evidence for those making the tools, either locally or further afield, that other workers then used to make products for Londoners.

As well as the tools, there are are a few pieces of the products being made. This scrap of cut and printed (or maybe stencilled?) leather, found at Lower Thames Street, is the vamp of a slipper (the front and centre part of a shoe’s upper), decorated with a  gilded design.


I was trying to work out what kind of shoe it might have been and it looks like it might have been part of a toe-post sandal, with the post held in place by the hoop at the top.

The display also contains a really unusual tool.


I don’t think that I’ve seen one of these before but it’s actually a sort of saw, used in barrel- and bucket-making. It’s for cutting a groove around the inside of the bucket or barrel, into which the base would sit. It’s called a croze.*


It’s unusual to find the wooden elements of barrels and buckets as, unless they are found in anaerobic conditions (they’re sometimes found in wells), these organic elements just rot away and disappear. This croze is clear evidence for the coopers who made the buckets and barrels needed in London, and the specialist tools used.

Lastly, there is this lovely, near complete pot from St Thomas St. Southwark.


A close look at the neck of the pot reveals these details. The pot is decorated with tools of a trade; a smith’s hammer, anvil and tongs.


The pot was found at the bottom of a timber-lined well and it’s not unusual to find objects deposited in wells as part of a ritual closure deposit. Perhaps the well belonged to the smithy and was ritually closed down when the smithy ceased trading, with an offering of thanks to the god Vulcan.

There are lots of other tools in the display. This is just a small selection. The Museum of London is free to visit so do go along and have a look.

This display was curated by Owen Humphreys (@Roman_Tools), PhD student, Museum of London & University of Reading.

*UPDATE: Someone I used to work with just read his blog and then messaged me to say hat her Dad had one of those crozes, which his Dad, a blacksmith, had given him some time in the 1940s. Hand tools really haven’t changed in millennia.

Let there be light.

January is a dull and dreary old month…or it used to be.

Ever since the UK has discovered and embraced the concept of Lumiere, January is a little less dull and a little less dreary. This time last year I was enjoying the lights in central London, this year I’ve trekked down to Docklands to see the installations at Canary Wharf.

Meeting up with visiting pals Pete and Dayna and London Bridge (and avoiding a WW2 bomb found just upriver at Westminster) we made our way to spend a freezing evening wandering round Canary Wharf. And this is what we saw…



Ovo by Mustafa Hadi + Pol Marchandise


The Garden of Floating Words by Elisa Artesaro


Transforming from Stardust by Lorna Carmen McNeill


We Could Meet by Martin Richman



Water Wall by Andrew Bernstein+ Gregory St. Pierre


Bloom by Squidsoup



Horizontal Interference by Joachim Slugocki + Katarzyna Malejka


Origin by Philipp Mohr + Selektivton



On Your Wavelength by Marcus Lyall


Inflow by Ronan Devlin


Passage by Bonjour Interactive Lab


Omega Point by Marios Athanasiou

15-copy 16-copy

Selected Works by Aphra Shemza

A freezing cold evening warmed by good friends and cool displays.