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Encounters with Londinium: Nineteenth-Century Responses to London’s Roman Past

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Wardle, Sophie 


In the nineteenth century, vast civic construction projects transformed London into a visibly modern capital. But as construction workers dug the foundations for London’s future, they also discovered its Roman past. In their trenches, these accidental archaeologists unearthed fine tessellated pavements and worn-out leather shoes. This thesis explores how these archaeological remains infiltrated the lives of Londoners, playing a part in shaping ideas, identities, and livelihoods in a shifting modern city. Based on new archival research and neglected popular and antiquarian publications, it reveals how Londinium became embedded in contemporary London in four important ways: as a reference point for understanding life during a period of rapid and alienating change; as a productive comparison when responding to emerging social and cultural debates; as a tool in (re)negotiating identity on both a civic and a personal scale; and, as an intellectual and material commodity to be traded in by some of London’s poorest citizens. By investigating a wide range of responses to Londinium—including interpreting, collecting, selling, displaying, reproducing, and even faking its remains—my work reveals how encounters with London’s Roman past helped to make its Victorian present.

Contemporary responses to the well-known Bucklersbury Mosaic—discovered in the very heart of the city in 1869—provide the frame for this wider investigation. Along the way we will discover the mosaic’s role in securing a new civic museum for the capital; meet a stonemason turned civic dignitary who built his monumental new home around a replica of this ancient pavement; and uncover in the city’s trenches a brisk trade both in archaeological information and in pieces of fake Londinium.





Beard, Mary
Millett, Martin


Archaeology, Classical Reception, History of Archaeology, London, Nineteenth Century, Roman Britain


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Pigott Studentship