British History

The hidden history of London

The capital is a mysterious place. With its thousands of bustling streets and buildings, London’s vastness makes it at once fascinating and incomprehensible in its entirety.

Only those who have lived there for decades can claim they know it well, and the city withholds many secrets from even them. Beneath its bustling surface is buried the remnants of a fascinating history lasting over 9,000 years.

To get to know the hidden history of London’s archaeological heritage, we’ve taken a dive into the Museum of London Archeology’s scintillating blog. When you walk the streets of the capital on one of our enlightening walking tours, spare a thought for the thousands of historic treasures that lie just beneath the surface.

Prehistoric London

The construction of a new underground line is always a voyage of discovery for the city. When digging deep below the city streets, you never know what you might encounter.

While digging tunnels for London’s new Crossrail system, archaeologists found extremely rare evidence of human activity from the Mesolithic period over 9000 years ago.

One hundred and fifty flint tools and blades were discovered, indicating the presence of a ‘tool-making factory’ that would have supplied the region with stone-age implements. These are amongst the oldest archaeological discoveries made along the banks of the Thames.

Roman London

Before London was London, it was settled by the Romans as Londinium. The City of London – the capital’s main financial district – is settled upon the remnants of this 2000-year-old city, and some of its features can still be seen today.

You can see parts of the wall that once protected Londinium by Tower Hill, Barbican, and the aptly named London Wall Road. Of course, much of the city area has been built over with buildings, many of which contain ancient sections of the city in their basements.

The lowest level of The Old Bailey holds sections of the London Wall. The Guildhall Art Gallery hides sections of an enormous Roman amphitheatre. Beneath an office block on Lower Thames Street, you can find the remains of a Roman bathhouse and private villa.

Medieval London

By the Medieval period, London had grown in size and stature to become one of the most important cities in Europe. A few Medieval buildings actually managed to survive the Blitz during World War II and stand to this day. However, most have been lost over the years to fire, war or the unstoppable march of progress.

One of London’s most fascinating Medieval ruins is Winchester Palace – the home of the extremely powerful Bishops of Winchester. It was destroyed by an enormous fire in 1814 and uncovered in its entirety in the 1980s.

Another fascinating medieval structure is the arch on Inner Temple Lane, once part of the Knights Templar estate in the 12th century. Today, it supports the city’s only surviving Jacobean townhouse.

Walk past some of these fascinating locations and let your imagination run wild with thoughts of what happened here thousands of years ago.

Although we will never uncover all its mysteries, London’s hidden heritage provides us all with a fascinating glimpse into the past. If you’d love to learn more about London’s history, take a look at our Big Bus London tour.