Above: The two sides of a seal found on the site. The images are copyright.
Although some of the buildings standing beside Borough High Street look rather shabby, many of them are now within a zone of protected buildings. For that reason few new developments are permitted along the street. One exception is the site of Nos 127-143 which were partly listed but were in a very poor state of repair by 2013. New proposals were then approved for the large campus of King’s College London – based at the adjacent Guy’s Hospital – to be extended into Borough High Street. The listed parts of the row of buildings have been preserved within a new development which has just been completed.
Over the last two years an archaeological team has been carrying out a dig on the site – ahead of the construction of new buildings facing onto Borough High Street. Evidence for several Roman, Saxon and medieval structures were found, for which the details have not yet been revealed. Probably the most interesting find – and certainly the most unusual – was the discovery of a Papal Bull, lying in the ground, from Pope Innocent III.
Pope Innocent III was born ‘Lotario dei Conti di Segni’ in 1160 or 1161, sometimes anglicised to ‘Lothar of Segni’. He began his papacy on 8 January 1198 and remained Pope until his death on 16 July 1216. He was one of the most powerful and influential Popes.
A Papal Bull is a particular type of letters patent or charter issued by a Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. It is named after the lead seal that was appended to the end of the document in order to authenticate it. The word in Latin for the seal is ‘bulla’.
It seems surprising that the seal of such an important document, issued by a Pope, should carelessly be dropped while the bearer was passing or visiting a building in Borough High Street. No doubt more details will emerge with the passing of time – when the archaeologists have carried out further research. It should also be pointed out that Borough High Street was part of the main road from Dover to the City of London, ending with London Bridge. If the seal was to be lost in transit, then the most likely place would be along that route. The bearer may well have travelled from Rome, crossed from France to England, landed at Dover and travelled via Southwark to somewhere in London – possibly Westminster.
Whatever the scenario, it is certainly an interesting object. We now await the completion of the new development on the east side of Borough High Street. The new buildings are on the site of the old Spur Inn.