London’s Roman Basilica and Forum
by Ben Johnson
Originally built in AD70 and then expended in AD90 – 120, London’s Roman basilica was a building unlike any other in Britain. Occupying nearly 2 hectares of land and standing at a height of up to 3 storeys high, this building was larger than the present day St Paul’s Cathedral!
The basilica acted a civic centre and housed city administrators, law courts, an assembly hall, the treasury and shrines. At its height it was also the largest building of its type north of the Alps, showing the importance of London within the Roman Empire.
A reconstruction of how the basilica and forum may have looked after AD120.
The basilica also formed one side of a forum, a huge open-air square that acted as a public meeting place (similar to modern day Trafalgar Square) and housed many shops and market stalls. The forum was also a popular place for socialising and partying in Roman London!
Throughout the 2nd and 3rd centuries, numerous structural faults were identified with the buildings and a series of repairs and modifications were carried out. However, the nail in the coffin didn’t come until AD300, when both the basilica and forum were destroyed by Rome as a punishment for London supporting the rogue emperor Carausius.
Although small portions of the forum may have survived, the majority of the basilica and forum were lost into the annals of history until the construction of Leadenhall Market in the 1880s. During this building work, a large support was found which would have acted as the base of an arch in one of the basilica’s arcades. Today, these remains are housed in the basement of a barber’s shop at the corner of Gracechurch Street and Leadenhall Market. We have marked the location on a Google map at the end of this article.
The barber’s shop at the corner of Gracechurch Street and Leadenhall Market.
The remains of one of the basilica’s arches, situated in the basement of the barber shop.
During construction work in 1987, a set of the forums remains were found at 21 Lime Street, around a hundred yards south of the remains at the barber shop in Leadenhall Market. Excavations by the Museum of London in both 1990 and 2001 revealed Roman remains dating as far back as the Boudican fire of AD60, as well as structural remains of the east wing of the forum itself including parts of the floor.
The 21 Lime Street site.
Unfortunately 21 Lime Street is not open to the public as the site is being prepared for construction of a small skyscraper. However, if you’re quick and don’t mind perching over the hoardings, you can still see the site where the excavations took place.
Easily accessible by both bus and rail, please try our London Transport Guide for help in getting around the capital.