The construction of the Rogers building provided the archaeologists with a rare opportunity to examine a large area within the eastern part of the Roman and medieval city. The Museum of London Archaeology Service (MoLAS) unearthed the first signs of occupation on this site dating from the first century. The archaeological excavations took place between December 1996 and June 1997, following the demolition of Haddon House, Magpie House and most of Coronation House.
While the major landmarks of the Roman city are well known, there were many unanswered questions relating to this corner of the city. The early settlement is thought to have been founded in the Cornhill area circa 50AD, but it was not clear how far this extended to the east. There was also very little information on the nature of the settlement.
The Roman administration officially left London in 410AD. However, there is evidence that many outlying areas within the city had been abandoned before then. MoLAS hoped that the site might provide some clues. Post-excavation analysis of the findings from the site provided MoLAS with new insights into the history of the area, included in a major academic book published in 2006. [Roman and later development east of the forum and Cornhill: excavations at Lloyd's Register, 71 Fenchurch Street, City of London. MoLAS Monograph 30 (2006) by Trevor Brigham with Robin Nielsen and Richard Bluer].
Roman occupation uncovered
The earliest signs of settlement on the site were Roman boundary or drainage ditches dating from the first century AD.
Research has confirmed that the site was occupied by successive phases of Roman buildings from the late first century. Interestingly, the alignment of the buildings was generally east-west, matching that of the basilica and forum beneath Leadenhall Market nearby rather than the line of Fenchurch Street and Aldgate High Street, which had been thought to match a Roman road alignment. Some of the later Roman buildings were large, stone-built structures with shallow basements surrounded by timber outbuildings.
One of the interesting features found early in the excavation was evidence of a small stream. This would have provided fresh water and may have been a stimulus to development. It had obviously flowed in the Roman period but was blocked up the city developed.
Foundations and walls of buildings of the late first and early second century were found and the decoration of some of the walls was still apparent. The ragstone walls of one large, slightly sunken room were internally coated with a wash or render of opus signinum. Rooms added later in the second century included one whose brick-earth walls were plastered and painted with panels in five colours. Large fragments of this plaster have been pieced together by Museum of London conservators and the decoration can now be seen in more detail.
An L-shaped ragstone wall, part of another sunken room dating from the second century, was rendered on the inside with ribbon pointing. The rough faces of the stones were left exposed and thin red lines were painted onto the pointing. The overall result was a curious combination of a rustic and ashlar effect, apparently unique as a Roman internal decoration scheme.
In the west of the site, a large and important building (possibly public) of the second century was found. Again, this was sunk below the ground level of that time. Parts were decorated with the same ribbon-pointing motif. This building may well have been destroyed by fire.
Items recovered from its debris included a bronze sphinx of near eastern origin, vessel glass from the Balkans, and fragments of a shale table. These hint not only at the high status of its occupants but also possibly their origins.
In the late second century, all these structures fell out of use. The dereliction of the area reflects trends seen elsewhere on the fringes of the Roman city in the same period.
It appears the site was re-occupied during the middle of the third century. Impressions of pilae confirmed that another structure was the sub-floor of a hypocausted room, dating to the late third to early fourth century. The arrangement of rooms added later to the building perhaps reflected the continued presence of the watercourse. These later buildings were clearly high status residences or town houses. The presence of a contemporary timber structure to the east, possibly a warehouse, suggests a commercial basis for the wealth they manifested. Coins indicate that the buildings were probably abandoned in the later fourth century in common with much of the rest of the declining Roman city.
The latest evidence for Roman activity on the site consists of one shard of pottery in a rubbish pit dating to the fifth century. The area was covered in ‘dark earth’ representing a period of abandonment that lasted until the 11th century.
Stone from the Roman buildings was ‘robbed’ for re-use in the early medieval period. Medieval rubbish pits and wells found in the excavation were probably associated with buildings along Fenchurch Street, where some properties dated from as early as the 11th century. However, little of the original ground levels and floor surfaces remained.
In the courtyard adjacent to 68-70 Fenchurch Street the foundations of the first 12th century church of St. Katherine Coleman were revealed, along with twelve burials.
Walls and internal pier-bases from the brick-built church were also found. The church was pulled down and rebuilt in 1741 and finally demolished in 1926.Some spectacular finds came from 16th- and 17th-century brick-lined cesspits.
The backfill of one contained the earliest known example of imported late 17th-century Persian pottery.
Fenchurch Street before Lloyd’s Register
By the late 18th century, a great brooding mass of the East & West India Company warehouses occupied the Fenchurch Street frontage up to Northumberland Alley and extending back to Crutched Friars. Remains of the brick vaults of the tea and drug warehouse were found in the archaeological excavation.
Numbers 67-70 Fenchurch Street were the classic London stock brick terrace. The buildings contained a wide range of trades and businesses associated with the city and the East & West India Docks, from tea dealers to a manure and sewage company. Today, only the East India Arms public house (No. 67) survives of this terrace.
The sale of the site to Lloyd’s Register by General Committee member James Dixon in 1898 was clearly something of a coup. It instantly upgraded the prestige of the neighbourhood. Dixon was later able to ask for the sum of £100,000 for a remaining smaller site. The scene was set for the establishment of Lloyd’s Register in Fenchurch Street, London its home for over 115 years.