Leadenhall Market: the Heart of Roman London

Leadenhall Market stands in the very centre of Londinium, for underneath its buildings and avenues lie the remains of the forum.

The Romans began their conquest of Britannia in 43AD, and the settlement of London began sometime after. We do not know exactly when, but perhaps the most important find from a great deal of archaeological digging in the capital points to very rapid development. A timber drain found under No 1 Poultry dates to 47AD, indicating that a road was constructed by then running from the centre westwards.

The first forum dates to about 70AD, when a series of public buildings was erected by a flourishing town re-establishing itself after the devastation of the Boudican revolt of around ten years earlier. In addition to the forum, the Romans constructed an amphitheatre on the site of the later guildhall, built a new temple to its south, and a bathhouse where Cheapside lies.

This forum was however soon replaced. It was smaller than the one at Verulamium (St Albans) and perhaps insufficiently grand for the inhabitants. Londinium’s forum was rebuilt in around 100 to 130 AD, and this time it was enormous. It was second only to Trier’s in size among fora north of the alps, and its basilica, which was the most important civic building in a Roman town, was the largest of all outside Italy.

For many Romans, Britannia was about as remote as you could get. The historian Cassius Dio, for example,  wrote of the inhabitants: ‘They dwell in tents, naked and without shoes’. The sheer size of the remains under Leadenhall Market, however, present a contrasting image of the province’s largest city boasting of an importance on an imperial scale.

You can hear more about the forum and other Roman sites on our ‘Roman London Walk’. Private tours available.

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