Institute of Archaeology

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First for Archaeology in UK 2015

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Institute students open Roman site in the City to the public

9 October 2012

Visitors queueing down Lower Thames Street during London Open House weekend

Institute of Archaeology students, with support from UCL and Museum of London staff, opened Billingsgate Roman House and Bathhouse to the public for several days over the summer.

One of the best preserved Roman sites in London, the excavated remains of Billingsgate Roman House and Bathhouse lie in the basement of an anonymous office block on Lower Thames Street, and are normally only open by special arrangement with the Museum of London. The result, as the students found, was that there was huge interest in seeing this hidden gem.

Over the Festival of British Archaeology weekend there were some 450 visitors, and over London Open House weekend, the team managed to cope with a massive 1445 visitors, approximately 140 an hour. The team did not want to turn people away, particularly during Open House when visitors had queued for up to an hour and a half in miserable weather, but eventually the queue had to be closed and some people turned away, such was the demand!

Sophie Mills and Sue Kennedy, with the Billingsgate stratigraphy banner (graphics by Suguru Koshikawa)

Most of the students had taken the Masters option in Applied Heritage Management, co-ordinated by Kirsty Norman, which used Billingsgate as its case site. Special interpretation material was developed for these openings, including information posters, a leaflet handout, sets of images and plans for guides to use, worksheets for children, and a banner illustrating a simplified version of the stratigraphy of the deposits over the Billingsgate site.

Students also developed material for talks on the site itself, and on Roman London, ran a handling table with building materials from the site, and a colouring table for children, and spent time cheering the wet and cold queue up, handing out leaflets, keeping people informed on progress, and imparting facts about Roman London. No wonder the public were impressed!

The project was led magnificently by Sophie Mills, and all the students who helped are to be commended for putting so much effort into preparations for these entirely voluntary, unassessed openings while MA dissertations were being written. Institute staff and students would like to record their thanks to the City of London who facilitated the project.

Best comments from the public?
  • Your young people who are guiding are lovely.
  • So good I’ve actually forgotten I stood for an hour in the rain!