The project

Wessex Archaeology worked for Frogmore Developments Ltd on the archaeological excavation at 60 & 63 Fenchurch Street in the City of London EC3. The site was redeveloped to provide a prestigious new office building. The excavation was completed in August 2002 and removed all archaeological remains on the site prior to construction of the new building.

Wessex Archaeology has been involved with the project from the outset. Desk-based studies and trial excavations have allowed us to understand the nature of the archaeological remains that were likely to survive on the site before planning permission was granted. As a result, the need to excavate and record the archaeological remains has been acknowledged and included in the development programme since the beginning of the project.

Wessex Archaeology has a 20-year track record of complex urban excavations and we hope that visitors to our website will enjoy following the progress of this excavation with us.


Archaeological evidence

The first evidence we have of humans at the site is a small group of flints probably dating back to the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age, 10,000-4,000BC) and later. We also found some pieces of pottery dating to the Middle-Late Iron Age (AD400BC-AD43) below the earliest phase of the Roman road, but we cannot precisely date this.

The earliest Roman activity on the site we found was a number of large ditches defining the line of the road, but probably pre-dating the earliest road surface. These ditches were revetted with substantial timber posts and were probably lined with planks, suggesting that they also served as drainage ditches.

We also found a small cremation cemetery including three cremation burials and dumps of pyre debris (several burials were found during excavations in 1872 and 1925 at 112-114 Fenchurch Street, approximately 20m to the north). All three of the cremation burials had been severely disturbed, probably very shortly after the cemetery fell out of use. It is possible that these had been deliberately damaged. It is tempting to see this action taking place during the revolt of Queen Boadicea (Boudicca) of the Iceni in AD61 in which London was attacked and burnt to the ground, although it is not possible to confirm or deny this.

An unusual inhumation burial, found in the base of one of the earliest ditches is probably contemporary with the cremation cemetery. The body, that of a middle aged or elderly man, appears to have been placed in the base of the ditch, following the removal of the lower legs, and the head of a young woman, probably at least partly decomposed, was then placed between the legs. The body was then left to be covered by the gradual silting up of the ditch. Again it is tempting to see this as a deliberate desecration of the graves of people buried within living memory, possibly during the Boudiccan Revolt, however, similar burials are known in the Roman period, though they are rather unusual.

At about the same time as the earliest metalled road surface was laid (this was resurfaced four times during the 1st-3rd centuries), the early ditches were deliberately filled in and the entire area levelled with a large dump of clay and sand. The earliest clay and timber buildings were constructed upon this deposit, probably between AD75-100. 

Roman burial at Fenchurch Fenchurch early Roman building remains showing clay floors and posthole remains

These relatively short-lived buildings were replaced in the late 1st or early 2nd century by a series of eight small industrial buildings in the east of the site. These appear to have been largely associated with metalworking, both smelting and smithing, although finds of metalworking waste and dumps of unused tesserae (small pieces of stone or tile that made up mosaics or floors) indicate that they were also used for other industrial functions. In the western side of the site the early building was replaced by a larger timber framed building, which appeared to consist of domestic or storage rooms to the rear with a large room fronting onto the road with a line of large amphora set into its floor. This was probably a shop of some kind.

In the mid 2nd century two large masonry buildings (Buildings 1 and 2) replaced the industrial buildings and the shop. These have been interpreted as town houses; the associated opus signinum (fine Roman concrete) and tessellated floors suggest that these were for people of high status. In the late 2nd or early 3rd century a third masonry building, a small square structure, was built in the extreme western side of the site. Although the function of this building is presently uncertain, a series of hearths within it suggest it was used for domestic purposes.

The buildings may have fallen out of use by the mid 3rd century, although the masonry walls were not finally completely destroyed until the 11th or 12th century. By this time the course of Fenchurch Street was altered from that of the Roman road to its present line.

During the medieval period the area was used for a variety of domestic and industrial uses. Although modern basements had removed all traces of medieval structures, it is apparent from the distribution of pits and wells on the site that this area was divided into two properties. This was in almost the exact position of the modern buildings and on an only slightly different alignment to the earliest Roman boundary.

In total, 15 Roman buildings and associated open areas, dating from the later 1st century to the late 2nd/early 3rd century, have been identified, as has the course of the Roman road between Aldgate and the Via Decumanus to the east of the Forum.

Work is continuing on the objects found at the site. They will be cleaned, identified, analysed and recorded on a database. Soil samples have been taken and will be analysed shortly. Eventually a comprehensive report will be written on the site. 


The Roman city

The archaeological remains that survive on the site include buildings, floor surfaces, a road and demolition deposits relating to the Roman city of Londinium (London).

The city was founded in about 50-55AD and developed into the capital of the Roman province of Britannia (Britain).

The Roman city was walled and extended over much the same area as the present-day.


The Roman road

The Roman road found on the site is probably part of the street that ran along the approximate line of present-day Fenchurch Street from the east gate of the Roman city at Aldgate to the administrative centre at the forum.

The road is made up of a series of compacted gravel layers. At least four successive surfaces, made of larger pebbles and worn smooth with wear, can be identified. A Roman coin dating to the later 1st century AD has been found beneath the road: it is hoped that further excavation will tell us more about the age and use of the road.

Excavating a medieval pit which cut through the lighter gravel of a Roman road at Fenchurch

The Roman buildings

Traces of a number of buildings of later Roman date, apparently fronting onto this road, have been found. These would have had stone footings, but the stone has been robbed after the buildings fell out of use, probably to be reused elsewhere.

Fragments of tessellated (tile fragments) and opus signinum (fine Roman concrete) floor surfaces have been found, suggesting that the buildings may have been fine houses.


Earlier Roman deposits

Also preserved on the site are a series of earlier deposits relating to the construction, destruction and rebuilding of structures on the site during the Roman period. Some apparently burnt surfaces are present, which may be linked to the great fires known to have afflicted Roman London on at least two occasions.

At least 2 phases of earlier timber and clay buildings with mortar or clay floors have been identified. Finds of iron and copper alloy slag, hammer scale and large dumps of charcoal suggest these buildings had an industrial function, probably smithing. At least one of these structures was destroyed by fire.

Other recent finds include painted wall plaster,a series of ovens, and some narrow rooms of an early Roman building.

Painted Roman wall plaster during recovery. The quantity and quality of the finds suggest a fine house of some status.

Burnt soil marks at Fenchurch during archaeological excavations Distorted opus signum floor under excavation at Fenchurch

Medieval archaeology

Following the end of Roman rule in Britain, after about 410 AD, the city of London was largely abandoned. It was not reoccupied until the Late Saxon period, after about 900 AD. Again, the site lay in the heart of the medieval city.

However, archaeological remains relating to the medieval and later use of the site have been largely destroyed by development during the 19th and 20th centuries, when buildings with deep basements were built on the site. Evidence of medieval activity survives on the site only in the form of large pits of 13th or 14th century date, from which animal bones have been recovered; these pits were almost certainly used for tanning (the processing of hides). An unusual medieval animal burial has been found. The bodies of a pig, a cat, and a bird had been deliberately buried together.

A number of post-medieval (16th to 19th century) cess pits, some lined with timber, have also been found.


The finds

Roman object depicting the head of a goose or swan

Decorated copper alloy object depicting the head of a swan or goose. Possibly part of a bracelet or decoration from a larger object.

Roman 'melon' bead and worked bone needle

An example of a worked bone needle used in the textile industry. A fragment of a blue 'melon' bead, Romano-British in date.

Samian potter's stamp

The stamp reads: OFPONTI

O or OF in front of the name stands for "officina" - workshop or factory of... and its position before the name is generally indicative of a 1st century AD date.

The stamp probably refers to Pontus who worked at La Graufesenque in Southern Gaul. A similar stamp found at New Fresh Wharf, London, is dated to c. AD65-90.

Tudor goblet

A near complete example of a Tudor green goblet, dating from the late 15th to early 16th centuries.

Sherds from 13th century jugs

Sherds from 13th century jugs, recovered from a pit. Green glazed vessels with applied, rouletted and finger impressed decoration, imitating imported pottery.

Animal bones from medieval pits

Animal bones recovered from medieval pits, representing domestic waste.