Philobiblon: Rewriting London's early history

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Rewriting London's early history

Historical memory is a fickle thing. Look at London. The Roman city has always loomed large, but Anglo-Saxon London - or rather Lundenwic (c. 600-886) - was forgotten. For centuries, scholars scoffed at Bede's description of a thriving trading centre. It has only been in the past two decades that archaeologists have found what he described, a large, rich settlement in the area that is now Soho and Charing Cross.

It is thus apt that the Museum of London should decide to revamp its medieval gallery now, when some sense has been made of the glorious finds. The new display - which contrary to its name covers more than a thousand years, nearly half the city's history - was opened last week, and was worth the wait.

The Museum is well known for its accessible presentations, and the new gallery fits the mould, although with fewer reconstructions than its justly celebrated Roman displays. In presenting the newly rediscovered Ludenwic in particular, for which there is so little other information, the history has to be "read" from the objects found. These might have been what were once called the "Dark Ages", but beautiful things were still celebrated and sought after.

Some would have belonged to the aristocrats of the age, such as the still stunning brooch of gold and gold wire, set with garnets, that was buried in a woman's grave in what is now Covent Garden in the mid-600s. Read more

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