Uncovering the story of Roman London’s mysterious Mithraeum

In November 2017 one of London’s most famous Roman sites reopened to the public after spending several years hidden away in storage.  The Mithraeum, a subterranean temple dedicated to the god Mithras, has had an eventful afterlife since its celebrated rediscovery in 1954.  Moved from its original site to make way for a new office development, it was reconstructed at a new location nearby before the great wheel of redevelopment turned again and offered the chance for the Mithraeum to be reinstated at its original location on the banks of the now-underground river Walbrook.  The Mithraeum offers modern Londoners a glimpse into one of the Roman period’s more unusual elements: the secretive cult of Mithras, and the work to restore its ruins to the banks of the Walbrook also gave archaeologists an incredible opportunity to discover more about Roman-era Londinium.

The new entrance to the Mithraeum at 12 Walbrook

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Knights, Jacobites and a rebellious duchess: the effigies of All Hallows, Great Mitton

At the heart of Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, standing close to the banks of the River Ribble and overlooking Pendle Hill, is the church of All Hallows, Great Mitton.  Within its walls is a remarkable collection of effigy graves, dating from the 16th to early 18th Centuries, all commemorating members of a local family whose fates were intertwined with some of the major political and religious upheavals of those centuries.  Their elaborate graves also reflect the changing fashions both in clothing and in funerary architecture from the Tudor period through to the Stuart and early Georgian periods.

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West Norwood: the first Gothic Revival cemetery

West Norwood, which opened as the South Metropolitan Cemetery in 1837, is one of London’s most spectacular cemeteries, its grand tombs and monuments laid out along landscaped paths and mature trees.  Of the “Magnificent Seven” cemeteries that opened on London’s outskirts in the early Victorian period, West Norwood was arguably the most sought-after of them all as a burial place, with its beautiful location on a south London hillside.  The wealth of many of those interred there is reflected by the beautiful memorials raised in their memory.

Mausoleum of Alexander Berens, a wealthy linen draper and seller of luxury goods

We’ve already visited the Greek Orthodox enclave within West Norwood, but now it’s time to explore the rest of the cemetery and the plethora of historic and interesting graves that can be found there. Read More

Remembering Grace Darling: heroine and Victorian media sensation

Although the Northumberland village of Bamburgh is dominated by the fortress that has stood on its cliffs since the 7th Century, one figure who looms large in the area’s history is not a king or a warrior, but an ordinary woman whose act of bravery in 1838 made her internationally famous. Grace Horsley Darling’s role in the rescue of sailors from the wrecked vessel Forfarshire in September 1838 was widely covered by the media both in Britain and further afield, and led to an outpouring of donations, gifts and even offers of marriage. The veneration of Grace Darling was not unlike the cults that grew up around many medieval saints, with souvenirs featuring her likeness being sold, items belonging to her and her family put on display or up for sale, and songs and poems being written about Grace and her deeds.  Despite her untimely death from tuberculosis at the age of 26, Grace remained a well-known figure, celebrated for her bravery and her Christian values.  The fame of Grace Darling provides a fascinating insight into the way that the 19th Century media helped to create modern-day heroes, and how Grace’s character reflected the period’s idea of the virtuous woman.

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Two artists and their beautiful tomb in a Chiswick churchyard

Chiswick Old Burial Ground is a large extension to the old churchyard at St Nicholas, Chiswick, close to the River Thames in west London.  The Georgian graves clustered closest to the church (including the grand tomb of the artist William Hogarth) give way to Victorian and more modest headstones, filling a site that’s just under 7 acres in size.  Unlike some of London’s larger Victorian cemeteries, most of the memorials here are fairly modest in scale and ornamentation, made from stone or occasionally marble.  But one incongrous memorial catches the eye, despite being tucked away near the cemetery’s northern boundary wall: a striking copper tomb turned green by the passing of the years, which marks the burial place of two artists.

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A Victorian marvel beneath the streets: Crystal Palace subway

Part of the A212 road runs along one side of Crystal Palace Park, carrying traffic between the suburbs of south east London.  However, beneath a section of the road – unbeknownst to those passing above – is a quite astonishing structure, usually hidden from the public.  This is a subway, but not of the concrete, graffiti-ed, dubious-smelling variety more commonly seen beneath Britain’s roads: it is something else altogether.

The entrance to the Crystal Palace subway, usually sealed off

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Romanov rumours and the lonely grave of a mysterious woman in Kent

In a corner of a burial ground in the remote marshland town of Lydd in Kent is a lonely grave, set a little apart from the others.  It is the final resting place of a a soldier’s wife – there’s nothing particularly out of the ordinary in that, as Lydd is home to a military base, but her unusual name has attracted attention over the years and rumours spread that this mysterious woman may in fact have been a member of the Russian imperial family.

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