The Museum of London opened in 1976. It was laid out, in the main, by a consulting team of designers and had one or two typically quirky features. There was a large area to display Roman finds (AD 43 – 410) and another equally large area to display medieval finds (approximately AD 1000 – 1500). To move from the Roman area to the medieval area the visitor walked along a corridor with a black ceiling – to indicate the intervening time known as the ‘Dark Ages’. That time also included the Saxon period.
After the Second World War, with so much devastation in the streets of the City of London, archaeologists carried out numerous digs. There were several burning questions to be answered. One was ‘Why did the Romans build the Roman wall in such a strange shape?’ That question was answered when they found out that the Roman Wall had been built to include an earlier fort standing almost where the Museum of London stands today.
A second burning question was ‘Why do we always find so much Roman material on archaeological digs in the City and never find any evidence for the Saxons?’ That question was not answered. Not at that time. We are talking about the decade after the Second World War – around 1945-55. It was two decades later that the Museum of London opened to the public and still the fundamental question about the Saxons had not been answered.
Another decade after that – some time around 1985 – a team of archaeologists were carrying out a dig in Covent Garden. Much to their amazement they found evidence in the clay of large wooden posts at regular intervals. Further investigations revealed that the posts were supports for a long wooden house, such as were lived in by Saxons. At last the problem had been solved. Looking for early Saxons in the City of London had revealed nothing for a very simple reason – they had not lived there. Early Saxons had lived in and around the Strand. The story took several years to develop. As more digs were carried out over a larger area, more Saxon finds emerged. Needless to say, the Museum of London removed the corridor with the black ceiling and replaced it with maps of where Saxon finds had been uncovered – including the brooch in the picture.
The beautiful brooch dates from some time in the mid-7th century. It is made of copper decorated with gold plates and gold wire and set with polished garnets. It was found during an archaeological dig in the Covent Garden area. It had belonged to a wealthy woman buried on the land, along with several rings, glass beads and this fine brooch. It is believed that they were in a bag around her neck. Due to the passage of time exact details had rotted away.
A new chapter in London’s history was therefore only discovered about 30 years ago. Those of us interested in the subject have been talking about it so much that it is easy to forget that the puzzle of where the early Saxons lived in London was only solved three decades ago.