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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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. Continue reading

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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A 17th Century cottage with an unusual past: the “Exorcist’s House” of King’s Lynn

The fenland town of King’s Lynn has a long history, and unsurprisingly a few dark tales have been remembered and passed on through generations of townspeople over the years.  Once a thriving port and a member of the prestigious medieval Hanseatic League, King’s Lynn (known as Lynn to locals) retains many of its historic buildings.  One such building, an unassuming 17th Century cottage huddled close to the churchyard of St Nicholas’ chapel, is known as the “Exorcist’s house.”

The "Exorcist's House", close to the church of St Nicholas
The “Exorcist’s House”, close to the chapel of St Nicholas

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Exploring West Norwood’s magnificent Greek Necropolis

The word “necropolis” is incredibly evocative – it is somehow a far more atmospheric term for a burial ground than “graveyard” or “cemetery.”  The word derives from the Ancient Greek term nekropolis (νεκρόπολις), which translates as “city of the dead.”  Rather fittingly, given the origins of the term necropolis, today we are visiting the Greek Necropolis, a small but dramatic section of West Norwood Cemetery in south London – a Greek Orthodox cemetery that contains the highest concentration of listed funerary monuments anywhere in Britain.

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The last ruins of Dunwich, Suffolk’s lost medieval town

The tiny village of Dunwich clings to the edge of the Suffolk coast and is in many ways a pretty but unremarkable place, a sleepy settlement a long way from any large towns.  There’s a beach, a place to buy ice cream, a little museum, a pleasant old pub that draws visitors from miles around.  But in the grounds of its Victorian church, and in a field on the edge of the villages, are ruins that suggest a more propserous past.  Two impressive archways welcome the motorist into Dunwich, a sign between them proclaiming that they are a part of Greyfriars, Dunwich’s medieval friary.  The ruins of this Franciscan friary are some of the final remaining relics of what was once a thriving and significant port – an ancient settlement that today is sometimes dubbed “Britain’s Atlantis” due to most of its medieval fabric now lying beneath the North Sea.

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