Stairway to the Past

Bile-BeansI sent this postcard to my sister from London when I took a solo trip to England. Most of my time would be spent as a volunteer on an archaeological dig at a Roman fort near Hadrian’s Wall, but I spent my first week in London.

Although I enjoy traveling with others, there was an upside to being on my own—the freedom to plan whatever offbeat itinerary took my fancy.

I skipped Harrod’s in favor of visiting an auction preview to touch Regency era dresses and a 16th century silk bed cover. I took a train up to Shrewsbury for the day to visit the setting of the Brother Cadfael mysteries. And I prepped for my upcoming excavation by walking the two-mile circuit of London’s original Roman wall.

Medieval Londoners built their own wall atop the remains of Londinium’s old defenses, and although much of that was demolished, bits survived, incorporated into the fabric of 16th, 17th and 18th century buildings. World War II bombing raids uncovered some of those surviving stretches, and I decided to see them all.

I learned there was one additional bit of Roman wall not usually seen by the public because it was right smack below London’s central post office, visible on request by writing to post office security. I didn’t have time to send a formal letter, so I just showed up and asked at the counter. And the head of security was a good sport.

He walked me across the parking lot to a nondescript building, unlocked the door, led me down a steep flight of stairs (Roman London was 10-12 feet below current street level) and flicked on the lights to show me…rubble. But it was Roman rubble, the hidden remains of a 2000-year-old wall with no medieval additions. The British post had delivered.

Here’s a BBC page on London’s Roman Wall.