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.
One of the best-known Roman structures that still exists outside of Rome itself is the long defensive wall that snakes from the Solway Firth to Newcastle across the north of England: Hadrian’s Wall. Just south of the wall, in Northumberland, the remains of a Roman fort are being uncovered. Vindolanda’s story is ever-evolving: each summer a team of archaeologists and volunteers uncover more of the fort, discovering buried structures and artefacts that continue to enrich our knowledge of this amazing site. The most precious of all things found at Vindolanda – miraculously preserved due to the damp nature of much of the site – are the little wooden tablets with their written accounts of life on the Roman Empire’s northernmost frontier.
Tucked away in a pretty garden that was once an old churchyard near the River Thames is an extraordinary, richly-carved tomb. Decorated with exotic scenes and creatures, it marks the resting place of members of the Tradescant family, who made a name for themselves in the 17th Century collecting plants and other curiosities from all over the world.
St George’s Gardens, the park on the site of the former churchyard of St George in the East in Stepney, is a neat, peaceful place – when I visited, the play area was full of children, and other people were relaxing on benches or looking at the old monuments near the church. In the midst of all of this is a derelict building that looks terribly sad and out of place. However, this forlorn little building has a fascinating history that includes that most infamous of East End criminals, Jack the Ripper, and later became a pioneering centre for the education of local children.