Fenchurch Street, City of London

After an initial archaeological evaluation conducted in 2014, PCA undertook extensive archaeological excavations throughout 2015 in the vicinity of 10 Fenchurch Avenue, 12-14 Fenchurch Avenue, and 117-120 Fenchurch Street in the heart of the City of London. The works were commissioned by Generali Saxon Land Development Company Limited, in advance of a proposed redevelopment of the site, previously occupied by six 20th century office buildings, with an approximate area of 4000m2. The archaeological potential of the site was high due to its location within Roman Londinium, less than 100m east of the Roman Forum/Basilica. The evaluation had confirmed the survival of Roman and post-Roman archaeology below the concrete basement of the extant modern buildings.

The archaeology was multi-phase with features and deposits dating to a considerable range of periods; the Roman period was represented by six phases, with numerous sub-phases, dated AD 50-70, 70-120, 120-180, 180-250, 250-350, 350-410, the early-medieval period, AD 900-1150, the medieval period, 1180-1450 and post-medieval period by three phases, 1450-1650, 1650-1750 and 1750-1900.

The earliest Roman activity on the site, between AD 50-70, involved ground preparation and the creation of a boundary ditch on the eastern side of the site. Prior to building, a road junction was established, forming a T-shape, delineated by roadside ditches. Over time, as these ditches filled with sediment, a small cremation cemetery emerged. Excavations unearthed three cremation burials at 60-63 Fenchurch Street, along with an inhumation found within one of the ditches. Given that Roman law prohibited burials within settlements, this suggests that the early settlement had not yet expanded to reach the road junction at the time of these burials.

During the Flavian reconstruction of Roman London (AD 70-120), the site saw numerous construction phases of timber buildings, accompanied by external activities like pitting. This period also marked the first evidence of a Roman road, identified by a compacted gravel surface and roadside ditches mainly in the northwestern part of the site. This road, previously identified in nearby excavations, formed part of Londinium’s eastern grid pattern.


General view of the site.

Working shot showing road deposits.

The Hadrianic period onward (AD 120-180) saw the site at its zenith of Roman activity. Considerable Roman settlement was represented by a continuous Roman road dissecting the site on a northwest-southeast alignment, to the northwest this road would have connected with the forum/basilica complex and to the southeast would have connected with the existing road network. A number of phases of timber buildings were also located in association with the road, most of which would have fronted onto its northern side. External features were also recorded in association with these buildings and were predominantly represented by pitting. A considerable assemblage of material culture including pottery, glass, building material, animal bone and metal small finds was recovered from both the Flavian and Hadrianic periods and provide considerable information about activity in and around the area of the site.

The end of the 2nd century AD and into the 3rd century (AD 180-250) saw a period of decline in activity across the site. The road previously dissecting the site was now out of use and the limited activity during this phase was represented only by small groups of pits, with no evidence encountered for buildings.

The later 3rd century into the 4th century (AD 250-350) saw a resurgence in Roman settlement activity with a number of stone buildings now being constructed on the site along with small timber buildings. Notable amongst these buildings was a complex of at least two stone buildings which was delineated by a stone boundary wall. This later Roman activity coincides with a generalised change to the nature of activity and settlement in Roman London, shifting from a commercial centre to a suburban environment, and is therefore a period of great interest and importance.

The end of Roman activity in London (AD 350-410) is represented on the site by groups of pits predominantly located on the eastern side of the excavation. Late Roman activity in the City of London is one of the least understood periods of Roman activity and therefore adds greater significance to the evidence from this site. A deposit called ‘dark earth’, a soil horizon which forms over the urban core of London and Southwark post-Roman abandonment, was recorded in limited locations on the site sealing the Roman stratigraphic sequence. Dating evidence from this deposit suggests it began to form in the second half of the 4th century.

One of the most complete Roman clay-and-timber buildings which had painted plaster and the remnants of a tessellated surface.

A late Roman building.

The first activity following the end of the Roman period was a number of pits dated to the early medieval period (AD 900-1150). By the 11th century Fenchurch Street, along with Leadenhall Street, is thought to have formed the main axes of wards and parishes and were the main focus of local settlement. The pits recorded dating to this period relate to the disposal of rubbish and cess.

The medieval growth of London (AD 1180-1450) is well documented and indeed considerable medieval activity was recorded on the site during the excavation. This was represented by a number of chalk foundations, representing the below ground basement elements of buildings, at least three of which would most likely have fronted onto Fenchurch Street to the south. Considerable external activity was recorded in association with numerous structures including chalk-lined wells and cess pits and many other probable rubbish/cess pits.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, London’s population surged, but the core of the medieval city remained largely unchanged. By the 16th century, the city was densely packed with buildings lining main streets and filling the alleys. The area around Fenchurch Street featured large tenement buildings and St Gabriel’s Church with a well. However, the beginning of the post-medieval period on the site (AD 1450-1650) was less well represented archaeologically. Documentary and cartographic sources state that the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers acquired a plot of land in 1457 on the eastern side of the site which they converted into their Hall. Although these sources illustrate the site to be densely occupied this period was less well represented in the archaeological record with only two brick buildings encountered along with a small number of brick cess pits and soakaways.

Cartographic sources continue to show the site to be intensely occupied through the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. During this time the Ironmongers Hall, extant in the south-eastern corner of the site, was rebuilt in 1587 and 1745. Again this period is not as well represented in the archaeological record with only a small number of structures and features dating to this period, although some of the buildings encountered may relate directly to the Hall. However, a considerable artefactual assemblage was recovered from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries which consisted of a large number of high-status items which almost certainly related directly to activity within the Ironmongers Hall and adds considerable significance and interest to this assemblage.

The backfill of this cellar contained large amounts of pottery, building material, clay tobacco pipes, and glass dated mainly to the mid-17th to early 18th century, suggesting a single clearance event. The presence of chamber pots and Bartmann jugs indicates that drinking played a central role at the property or establishment from which the pottery originated, with the nearby Ironmongers Hall a probable source.

Key finds

The exceptionally rich artefact assemblage revealed by the excavation is of paramount importance in unraveling the historical narrative of the area, particularly during Roman and post-Roman periods. The Roman pottery collection stands out as a cornerstone, offering insights into the chronology of archaeological features and shedding light on the activities that took place in and around the site. Its expansive nature, spanning almost all periods of Roman occupation, presents a rich dataset for statistical analysis, contributing significantly to our understanding of Roman pottery trends in the City. Similarly, the post-Roman pottery, though locally significant, provides crucial dating evidence and socio-economic insights. Complemented by the examination of other artefacts such as glass, clay tobacco pipes, small finds, building materials, decorative plasterwork, animal bone, lithics, iron slag, and environmental samples, this assemblage forms a comprehensive mosaic of the area’s history, offering invaluable data for further research and publication.

Unique Roman lamp
Continental glass bird feeder
Decorative plasterwork
High status pottery