Above: Viking grave marker found near St Paul’s Cathedral.
Any history book about the City of London will explain that the Vikings attacked the east coast of Britain and, with time, they occupied parts of London. The name ‘Viking’ is a generic one and refers to people from what we now call Scandinavia – in most cases from Denmark and Norway. Most of the Vikings who attacked East Anglia and London were mainly from Denmark. They eventually settled in and around the City of London. There are three locations that spring to mind. (1) Vikings in the Strand are remembered by the church still called ‘St Clement Danes. (2) Vikings occupied the south side of the Thames – Tooley Street which derives its name from ‘St Olave’s Street’ is a reference to a Danish settlement once in the locality. (3) Vikings even lived within the old Roman Wall of the City. They were eventually driven out of it in AD 886 by Alfred the Great who re-established a Saxon community. Evidence for Vikings in the City is probably less well known by the general public. This article seeks to highlight just one item.
The City once had three ‘St Olave’ churches but only one remains today – St Olave, Hart Street, on the east side of the City. In the Museum of London is a far more tangible piece of evidence. It is a grave marker, which was found in 1852 on the south side of St Paul’s Cathedral. The stone was found broken into four pieces but it is otherwise in remarkably good condition. Cut into the stone is a depiction of a stylised lion fighting a serpent. The stone would have originally been painted. Two pieces of the larger original grave-cover were also found nearby. They have less visual impact than the grave marker but they are also on show in the Museum of London.
Walking through the Museum of London is rather like walking around a large shopping precinct. There are so many things of interest to attract your attention that it is impossible to remember everything that you have seen. This item may be in that category but it is well worth a look (in the Medieval Section) the next time you visit.
Every now and then new historic finds are made when archaeologists move onto a site in the City. Of recent times no Viking objects have been discovered that have ‘hit the headlines’ but that is not to say that there are no more under our feet, waiting to be found one day, as we walk its many streets and alleyways. Seeing a find like the one just described helps to understand that these people were not just brutal invaders. They had a well-developed culture of their own and had mastered skills that are obvious when you look at such fine stone-carving.