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Covent Garden's Mysterious Past

Jubilee Hall Market - an Archeological Site

By Derek Reed

(creator of the 3D Map - referencing Ray Green's book)

This archeological find proved what had long been a mystery, the location of middle Saxon London in the seventh - ninth centuries. This was the gap between the abandonment of the Roman colony and its subsequent reoccupation. As the Roman period petered out, Londinium became depopulated, but there was little evidence of Saxon occupation. The contemporary writings of the Venerable Bead suggest that Saxon Lundenwic, as it was called, was a large and thriving port; but despite extensive excavation, no hint of it had been discovered within the area of the Roman city now buried beneath the City of London. Some archaeologist therefore concluded that the urban Saxon community did not come into being before the tenth century.

The body in Covent Garden was an exciting discovery because it was the first to prove that the area had been occupied during the middle Saxon period. The excavations at the Jubilee Hall and later sites in Covent Garden solved the historical puzzle. It is now apparent that for about 300 years from AD600, Saxon London lay, not within the Roman city, but along the Strand foreshore, between the River Fleet, now Farringdon Street and Trafalger Square.

These finds confirmed the theories of Professor Biddle who conjected that the ancient Saxon port of London might have been located about a ¾ of a mile (1 kilometre) upstream west of the walled city, around Aldwych (‘Wic’ in Saxon canmean a stream of farmstead; ‘wych’ as in Aldwych is the plural) rather than within it, as conventional wisdom held.

Professor Biddle's theory was based upon the evidence of three other Saxon villages uncovered outside the walls of Britain’s ancient cities of Southampton (Hamwic), Canterbury (Fordwych), and York. In the forth and fifth centuries in settlements, the pestilence caused by overcrowding had ravaged the classical world. The people saw the culture die in cities, while in the apparently barbaric lands, such as Germany. the primitive tribes fared better.

The seafaring middle Saxons described the deadly walled cities as “mausolea with nets” and perhaps this as well as economic reasons was why they preferred to establish themselves in open areas. Feeling more comfortable in these broad areas like at the side of the Aldwych by the sloping gravel banks of the Thames.

The presence of animal and cereal remains uncovered by the archaeological teams suggested that considerable husbandry of cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. Bones of these animals, mingled with oyster shells, were found in great numbers at all depths. One layer contained a profusion of mussel shells. There was also evidence of trading in imported goods from Belgium, France and Germany.

This points to Covent Garden having surely been a major market place, probably further back than the seventh to ninth centuries.




This FAQ (frequently asked questions) is also a running Q&A (questions & Answers) so you can ask and we will answer or find out for you.

Archeologists May 1985
Archeologists May 1985
on the Jubilee Hall site

The famous headless Saxon skeleton
They found the famous
headless Saxon skeleton

Click here for info and
purchase of the book.


A Walk Around The Piazza

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