Above: A small fragment of a decorative fresco found on the site of the second Forum. The fragment once adorned a wall of a house owned by a wealthy Roman who lived near the first Forum in Londinium. The hand-painted work shows two deer.
In Roman times, no town was complete without its Basilica (or Town Hall) which was the centre of all administration and the Forum (or Market Place) which was usually adjacent. In the case of Londinium – which is now essentially land covered by the City of London today – the Forum lay to the south of the Basilica. The site of the Basilica stood on one of the highest points in Londinium. The land sloped southwards towards the Thames. In terms of today’s streets, the Forum extended across the modern Gracechurch Street and as far south as the western line of Fenchurch Street.
Above: The model of the Forum (near the camera) and the Basilica (along the top of the picture.
As the model shows, the Forum was a busy place, with market stalls, which acted as a general meeting place for the residents. Being so close to the Roman riverfront – which acted as the port for the settlement, with ships delivering cargoes of many commodities, including foods – the forum was well-placed to receive the many large amphorae (pottery storage jars) of wine and numerous pots of fish paste for which the Romans had a particular liking. We know all this because artefacts have been found in the ground during archaeological digs with traces of the contents still inside.
One interesting find was that of an ornate fresco that once adorned the residence of a wealthy Roman citizen who lived near the first Forum. It dates from the late 1st century – being the first decades of Londinium – and is one of the earliest surviving frescos to be found from Roman Britain. The fresco was discovered by a team of archaeologists working at 21 Lime Street at a level which lay six metres below today’s modern streets. The dig was undertaken before a new office development was erected on the empty site. During the 2nd century, the Romans demolished everything on the site of the first Forum and set about constructing a larger one. This resulted in the wall on which the fresco was painted being knocked over and subsequent structures being erected on top. The wall with its fresco lay in the ground for nearly 2,000 years before being discovered.
Above: View of the area from Google maps, showing the approximate site of the Forum (Click on image to enlarge to 1280×800).
On much of the site of the SW corner of the Forum, a large office block was built with a new Marks and Spencer store which opened at 168 Fenchurch Street, at the turn of the millennium. The store sells not only clothes but also has a large food store. Observers were quick to point out that the store was continuing the tradition of food being sold on the site which had started nearly two thousand years ago. The store extends along the north side of Fenchurch Street, from Gracechurch Street to Lime Street.
Above: Map showing the sites of the Basilica and the Forum (Click on image to enlarge to 1008×630).
As can be seen from the street map, today’s streets do align in part with either the Basilica and the Forum. It is likely that Lombard Street and Fenchurch Street possibly owe their alignment to the line of the southern edge of the Forum. However, Cornhill’s alignment does not seem to relate to the north side of the Basilica. This leads to the conclusion that after the Roman settlement fell into disuse, the late Saxons who lived within the walls of the ancient settlement did not relate to structures that had gone before.
It would be great if there was some tangible evidence for the ancient Forum. Plenty of archaeological remains have been found during several digs – including the fresco mentioned above. Sadly there is no masonry remaining on the site from the Forum, not even a decorative plaque erected in modern times!