Aspects of Saxo-Norman London 3:
The Bridgehead and Billingsgate to 1200

Ken Steedman, Tony Dyson and John Schofield   Download (66 MB)


This volume describes features dating to the period c 400 to c 1200 from four waterfront excavations of 1974-84 in the City of London; two (New Fresh Wharf, NFW74, and Billingsgate Lorry Park, BIG82) immediately below the late Saxon and medieval bridge, and two (Swan Lane, SWA81, and Seal House, SH74) just above it. In conjunction with a review of the available documentary evidence, the archaeological findings provide an outline of development for the area around the northern bridgehead and the harbour of Billingsgate (first mentioned c 1000) in the late Saxon and early medieval period.

During the period 400-900 the evidence on these four sites confirms recent suggestions that the Roman city was largely deserted; the Roman waterfront was gradually obscured by silts of the rising river, and the Roman bridge, if it still survived, probably did not form a focus of activity or public resort. There is archaeological evidence for a shift in the location of settlement from the Strand to within the Roman walls, some time in the late 9th or early 10th century. Documentary evidence demonstrates that at least one block of land near the waterfront, south of St Paul’s, was laid out in the last decade of the 9th century; and in all likelihood its occupiers were engaging in trade, perhaps through a beach-market on the site of Queenhithe. There is, however, evidence that during the 10th and early 11th centuries London looked inland rather than abroad for its commercial well-being, and this local or at best inter-regional trading network has parallels elsewhere in Europe.

The earliest post-Roman structural activities discovered between Billingsgate and London bridge were the jetty and associated rubble bank at New Fresh Wharf, dated to the late 10th or early 11th century. On three of the four sites there followed embankments of clay and timber during the first half of the 11th century; at New Fresh Wharf the embankments were constructed in parts which became individual medieval properties by 1200, suggesting that they may have been in individual ownership from the beginning. The embankments would have been suitable for the berthing of the smaller kind of shipping then prevalent, and they probably formed part of London’s expanding harbour facilities in the 11th century. The relationship of the various embankments to the rising river level is also considered.

The development of the waterfront area south of Thames Street, between the bridge and Billingsgate, can be seen within the context of the late 10th- and early 11th-century development of the immediate neighbourhood and of the city as a whole. The waterfront ends of north-south streets served as localised minor markets, situated at the only places on the foreshore to which there was public access and initially co-existing with the major harbours at Queenhithe, Billingsgate and Botolph’s Wharf. The building of the bridge by 1000 (though the precise date is not yet certain) symbolises not only London's re-established role as a distributive centre for imports or a collection-point for exports, but also its nodal position in the local and regional road network.

Development of the two sites above the bridge after 1050 was comparatively unspectacular, but below the bridge two further phases can be seen: by about 1100, the final demolition of the Roman riverside wall and the construction of the churches of St Magnus and St Botolph south of the new thoroughfare, Thames Street; secondly, the erection of stone buildings on the reclaimed land during the 12th and early 13th centuries, concomitant with the crystallisation of St Botolph's Wharf as an entry-point of civic and greater significance, a place where royal customs were received in 1200-1.

The study also comprises detailed tables describing the dating evidence (including dendrochronology) and summaries of the artefacts.

[ Special Paper 14 (1992); abstract as published]