Cannon Street Station’s Grandiose Roman Past

Cannon Street Station. Credit Ian McDiarmid in the day and Hazel Baker at night


Excavations in the 1960s and 1970s revealed the remains of a very impressive complex under Cannon Street Station. The building was one of the largest and finest in Roman London.

Between 1961 and 1972 excavations underneath and to the East of Cannon Street Station revealed the remains of a substantial Roman building complex dating to between AD80 and 100.

Archaeologist Peter Marsden interpreted the finds as being the remains of the provincial governor’s palace, or Praetorium, because of the scale and fine nature of the building.

Subsequent consideration of his report, by Perring and Milne, threw doubt on the conclusion that the complex was a unified whole and consequently when references are now made to the site it is usually done inside quotation marks – the ‘governor’s palace’.

Marsden thought his complex consisted of three ranges, two of which – those to the South and East were revealed by his excavation. The third, supposed West range lies inaccessible under the station. 

The dig did uncover one of the largest and finest buildings constructed in first and second-century London. Most of the buildings in Roman London were domestic, and made of timber and earth, and this large stone-built construction would have stood out. It also formed part of an impressive riverside facade. The ‘governor’s palace’ lay on the Eastern side of the mouth of the Walbrook, while on the other side was a large bathhouse at Huggin Hill.

There is no official record of Londinium’s official status. Important Roman towns were municipia or coloniae, and we cannot be sure that it was either. The failure to confidently identify the governor’s palace is therefore frustrating, as it would confirm that the city was the capital.

However, London was by far the largest urban settlement in Britannia, with the latest work suggesting a peak population of around 30,000, making it the likely centre of Roman administration. We also know that the procurator was in Londinium because the tomb of one of them, Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicanus was found just to the South of Tower Hill Tube Station when the District Line was being built. The impressive reconstruction of his tomb can be seen in the British Museum. The procurator was the second most important official in a province, after the governor, and his presence indicates that of the governor too.

Explore Roman London further by booking a private Roman London tour with Ian.

Guided walks are also available, check out Ian’s walks calendar.


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