Notes on the site of the Roman bridge in London (Appendix Five)

An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 3, Roman London. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1928.

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'Notes on the site of the Roman bridge in London (Appendix Five)', in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 3, Roman London( London, 1928), British History Online [accessed 20 July 2024].

'Notes on the site of the Roman bridge in London (Appendix Five)', in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 3, Roman London( London, 1928), British History Online, accessed July 20, 2024,

"Notes on the site of the Roman bridge in London (Appendix Five)". An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in London, Volume 3, Roman London. (London, 1928), , British History Online. Web. 20 July 2024.

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Appendix V.

Notes On The Site of The Roman Bridge At London. By Guy Parsloe.

The importance of the problem of the Roman bridge at London lies largely in the fact that its solution might be expected to throw some light upon the street-plan of the city, and in particular upon the position of the main road from south to north. Competent authorities have long assumed the existence of a bridge in Roman times, the absence of positive proof being compensated by the weight of probability. (fn. 1) No fragment of the structure itself is known to have come to light, and the recorded archæological evidence, while it may be held to strengthen the argument from probability for the existence of a bridge, seems hardly adequate to determine exactly the site on which it stood. In 1834, oak and chestnut piles were discovered in Lower Thames Street at the end of Botolph's Wharf gateway and warehouse, but these, though neither so large nor so closely packed, appear to have continued both eastward and westward, a fact which detracts from their value as evidence of a bridge at this point. (fn. 2) In the bed of the river at and near the site of the mediæval bridge were found at various times in the first half of the last century a large number of bronzes and other objects, including thousands of coins of all periods, (fn. 3) but the possibility of drift (fn. 4) makes it difficult to accept these finds as final proof that the Roman bridge and its mediæval successor stood on practically the same line.

Admittedly the archæological evidence is scanty and inconclusive, but its interpretation may perhaps be facilitated by the removal of a piece of supposed literary evidence which has long encumbered the area of dispute. The belief, held by many students of London antiquities, (fn. 5) that the Roman bridge was situated somewhat to the east of that erected by Peter of Colechurch has often been supported by Stow's statement that: "About the yeare 1176. the Stone Bridge ouer the riuer of Thames at London, was begunne to be founded by the foresaide Peter of Cole Church, neare vnto the Bridge of timber, but some what more towardes the west, for I read that Buttolfe wharfe was in the Conquerors time at the head of London bridge." (fn. 6)

It was Sir Wm. Tite (fn. 7) who first directed attention to a copy of the charter on which Stow's opinion was based, but his reference contains a misprint, the repetition of which in such a place as Archæologia (fn. 8) suggests that it may not be wholly a waste of time to put together a few notes upon the document in question. It is contained in the well-known cartulary of St. Peter's, Westminster, now among the Cottonian collection at the British Museum, (fn. 9) and purports to be a copy of a confirmation by William I of a gift made to the monastery by Alunodus de porta Sancti Botulphi and confirmed by Edward the Confessor. This portion of the cartulary has been ascribed by Sir G. F. Warner to the late 13th century, (fn. 10) while another copy of the same grant in the Westminster Domesday, (fn. 11) belonging to the early 14th century, (fn. 12) has been printed by Prof. H. W. C. Davis, with the description "spurious." (fn. 13) The essential part of the supposed charter for our purpose runs as follows: "Sciatis me concessisse deo et sancto Petro Westmonasterii et vitali abbati donum quod Alunodus de porta sancti Botulfi eis dedit quum monachus ibi effectus fuit id est curiam suam dominicam cum domibus suis et unum wearf quod est ad capud pontis Londoniarum et alias terras suas quas in eadem urbe habuit." (fn. 14)

Professor Lethaby, in a recent book, (fn. 15) has already expressed doubts as to the validity of the interpretation put upon this document by Stow and adopted by his followers. It will be observed that there is actually no mention of St. Botolph's wharf in the supposed grant. Stow transfers the donor's name to the property, using "gate" and "wharf" interchangeably. But even if we assume that Alunodus de porta Sancti Botulphi was so named from the ownership of Botolph wharf, we are surely not forced to assume further that the "unum wearf" of the charter was necessarily that wharf. Indeed the rubric in the Westminster Domesday seems to imply the gift of both "porta" and "wharf" as different things, for it reads: "Item carte eiusdem regis de wearf quod est ad capud pontis et de porta sancti botulphi Londoniarum." (fn. 16)

The same gift is mentioned in a second charter, purporting to be of the date 1067, the earliest copy of which is among the Cotton Charters at the British Museum. (fn. 17) In the manuscript catalogue of Cotton Charters there it is said to be "probably a forgery or attempted facsimile," and the date is given conjecturally as about 1250. The Westminster Domesday again provides an early 14th-century copy, (fn. 18) and later exemplifications are to be found on the Charter Rolls and elsewhere. It is summarized by Professor Davis (fn. 19) and printed in full in the Calendar of Charter Rolls, (fn. 20) in each case with the description "spurious." The part relating to the wharf reads as follows: "Iterum quidam alius honorabilis vir eiusdem urbis Aluuoldus nomine de porta sancti botulfi quia heredem non habuit consentiente Eadwardo rege sanctum Petrum heredem fecit de dominica curia sua et de domibus et de terris suis et de uno hwearfo quod est ad applicationem navium ad caput pontis illius civitatis," (fn. 21)

It would of course be rash to suggest that these fabricated charters lack all foundation of truth, but we may take it that the manufacturer of the copies we possess, dating from the late 13th and early 14th century, had in view the establishment of a title to property either already in the monastery's hands or the object of an attempt to obtain possession. We might, therefore, be tempted to make the double assumption suggested above and to identify the wharf at the head of the bridge as Botolph wharf, if we could prove that the Abbey ever possessed it or ever asserted a claim to its possession. So far no evidence in support of either alternative has been advanced, and while the earlier history of the property is somewhat obscure, there can be no doubt that in the later years of the 13th century and thenceforward Botolph wharf was in quite other hands. For in 1297 John Bretun, warden of the City, appointed by the King, restored to the Commonalty "the common wharf, in a ruinous condition, known as St. Botolph's wharf, with all rents, ruins and appurtenances," (fn. 22) From the use of the word "restored" it seems likely that the wharf had been seized for the King in 1285, when the civic constitution was suspended, but we do not at present know at what date it first passed into the City's possession, though in 1367/8–1368/9, we are told that "the said wharf was given to the City in severalty, as appears by divers muniments in the Treasury of the City in the custody of the Chamberlain, for the profit of the Commonalty of the said City." (fn. 23) Strype cites a grant of 10 Edward I (1281–2) giving "one common Key of St. Butolph next Billingsgate" to a person whom he names in one place Henry and in another Richard de Kingston. (fn. 24) Strype asserts that the grant was for the use of the Vintners and refers to the records of the Company as his authority but access to these has unfortunately proved impossible and other available sources, including the archives of the Corporation at the Guildhall, have so far failed to yield any confirmation of Strype's story. A grant for the benefit of the Vintners at this time would well agree with the benevolent attitude assumed by Edward I towards the wine trade, (fn. 25) and a Richard de Kingeston, whose will was enrolled at the Court of Husting in 1286/7, certainly left property in the parish of St. Botolph Billingsgate. (fn. 26) From the Husting Rolls, however, we can trace the process by which his property was obtained, and a study of the bounds specified proves that it lay on the N. side of Thames Street, at the eastern corner of Botolph Lane or Pudding Lane. (fn. 27) Clearly then if Richard de Kingeston received the wharf in 1281–2 he must have disposed of it before his death, and it is curious that no record of that transference remains on the Husting Rolls. The records of the Bridge Estate, not yet available for consultation, may perhaps reveal the steps by which the wharf passed into the keeping of the city. For our immediate purpose the existing evidence is adequate: it proves that in the late 13th century the wharf did not belong to the Abbey.

Enough has been said, we think, to show how little reliance can really be placed upon Stow's charter by those who seek to determine the site of the Roman bridge. The documents themselves are not charters of William I but fabrications of the late 13th and early 14th century, and it is doubtful whether by the "unum wearf" of which they speak we should understand Botolph's wharf or some one of the other wharves belonging to the Abbey. We have no other reason to suppose that Botolph Wharf belonged to St. Peter's in earlier times and we know that when these documents were manufactured it neither belonged to the Abbey nor stood at the head of London Bridge, save in a very loose sense. Such dubious evidence is a hindrance rather than a help in the solution of the problem, and it is to be hoped that its removal may open the way to a fresh examination of the question. Fresh evidence might yet be revealed by a careful study of the early topography of the banks of the Thames at and about this point.

1. Discoveries at Botolph's Wharf, 1834.—(The following note from Kelsey, Descr. of Sewers, was printed by Dr. P. Norman and Mr. F. W. Reader in Appendix I to their article on "Recent Discoveries in connexion with Roman London," in Arch., LX, 235. Compare Tite, Cat. Antiq. Roy. Exch., XXIV, and Price, Rom. Antiq. Nat. Safe Dep. Co.'s Premises, 18.)

"West End of Lower Thames Street, 1834."

"In building this sewer nearly the whole line was found full of oak and chestnut piles, but much closer and larger at the end of Botolph's Wharf gateway and warehouse than in other places, and in continuation of it westward at the foot of Fish Street Hill very substantial masonry was found, and beneath it was a strong run of clear water."

2. Discoveries in the Thames at New London Bridge, 1824–31.—The most important objects discovered "in excavating for the foundations of the new London Bridge, and its approaches" were "a considerable quantity of Roman coins" ranging from Augustus to Alexander Severus, "with a great variety of others of the Lower Empire," recovered between 1824 and 1831 (Gent. Mag., 1827, II, 69; Arch., XXV, 600). In 1825 "a small silver figure of Harpocrates" was found, according to Roach Smith in the Thames (Illus. Rom. Lond., 73; pi. XXII, 1, 2), but according to T. Allen "in digging the southern abutment foundation" of the new bridge (Hist, and Antiq. of Lond., I, 32; pi.). In addition to these the Gent. Mag., 1827, II, 69, mentions "a leaden figure of a horse."

3. Discoveries during the demolition of Old London Bridge.—The removal of the old bridge and the deepening of the river at this point resulted in the discovery of a large number of objects. Of these the first is the head of a bronze statue of Hadrian found" near the third arch from the London side of the new London Bridge, opposite Fresh and Botolph Wharfs" (Gent. Mag., 1835, I, 493), or "a little below old London bridge, on the Southwark side of the river" (Journ. Brit. Arch. Assoc, I, 287; cf. Arch. Journ., I, 113; Roach Smith, Illus. Rom. Lond., 65, and Retrospections, I, 118, II, 206). A late account gives the date of the discovery as 1832 (Journ. Brit. Arch. Assoc, XXIV, 75).

Next came a set of mutilated bronze statuettes, a large number of coins, and some miscellaneous objects. Five bronzes were found in January, 1837, representing "a Priest, or devotee of Cybele; a Mercury; an Apollo; an Atys; and the fragment of a Mercury, or, in the opinion of Sir Richard Westmacott, of a Jupiter. A pedestal of bronze was also found in the same spot" (Arch., XXVIII, 38–46). The site is defined as "near the foundations of the old Bridge, and principally about a dozen yards below the second arch of the new edifice" (Arch., XXIX, 160–6), but the Atys and the right leg of the Jupiter were recovered from gravel taken thence and spread along the towing path of the Thames between Hammersmith and Barnes (Roach Smith, Illus. Rom. Lond., 68–70, pls. XV–XIX, and Cat. Lond. Antiq., p. 5, No. 13). Two other bronze statuettes followed, the first of a "male figure girt in a toga over a tunic" and supposed by Roach Smith to represent "an artisan of some kind, at work" (Cat. Lond. Antiq., 7, No. 16, and Illus. Rom. Lond., 74–6), and the second a "disjointed and decapitated figure" apparently of "a captive seated," which was found at Barnes probably about 1845–6 (Journ. Brit. Arch. Assoc, II, 100; Roach Smith, Cat. Lond. Antiq., 5, No. 14, pl. II, and Illus. Rom. Lond., 68–70).

The coins, "a series extending from Julius to Honorius" (Arch., XXIX, 160–6) numbered many thousands. The bulk of those found between 1834 and 1841 were described by Roach Smith in the Num. Chron., IV, 147–68, 187–94, and there are many references to isolated specimens (Gent. Mag., 1833, I, 161; 1835, II, 80; Arch. Journ., I, 113; Journ. Brit. Arch. Assoc, IV, 55–7; Roach Smith, Illus. Rom. Lond., 20, 74–6, and Retrospections, I, 118, 128; II, 206). Many were gathered from "gravel spread on the banks of the Surrey Canal, and on the towing path between Hammersmith and Barnes, and at Putney" (Num. Chron., IV, 194).

Further objects discovered at the same time were recorded by Roach Smith in Arch., XXIX, 160–6. They are "a peacock in bronze" (see also Roach Smith, Cat. Lond. Antiq., 9, No. 23; Illus. Rom. Lond., 74–6; and Retrospections, II, 206); "two elegant bronze handles of vases" (cf. Roach Smith, Cat. Lond. Antiq., 10, No. 25; and Illus. Rom. Lond., 74–6); "three weights," "the beams of scales in brass," "a figure of a goat in iron cased with silver" (Roach Smith, Cat. Lond. Antiq., 8, No. 21, and Illus. Rom. Lond., 74–6); fibulae, spear-heads, rings (cf. Journ. Brit. Arch. Assoc, II, 199), and a bronze forceps "ornamented with the heads of deities and animals" (Arch., XXX, 548–50, pl. XXIV; Arch, Journ., I, 113; Roach Smith, Coll. Antiq., II, 60; Cat. Lond. Antiq., 12, No. 29; and Illus. Rom. Lond., 72–3, pl. XXI). The date of the discovery of the last is stated as 1840, and the others were probably found about the same time.

The "head of a wolf or dog" found "in a mass of conglomerate in the bed of the Thames, near London Bridge (Roach Smith, Cat. Lond. Antiq., 9, No. 24; and Illus. Rom. Lond., 74–6), the representation in bronze of "the prow of a galley" (Roach Smith, Cat. Lond. Antiq., 10, No. 26, pl. Ill, fig. I; and Illus. Rom. Lond., 74–6), "abundance of broken Roman tiles and pottery" (Arch. Journ., I, 113), and the "head of a Roman statuette of marble" found "near the site of the old London bridge" in 1837 (Journ. Brit. Arch. Assoc, XIII, 317–8), complete the list of finds that can with certainty be ascribed to this operation, though an iron key found in the "Thames, near the site of old London Bridge" in 1846 probably belongs to the same group (Guildhall Museum Cat. (1908), 65, No. 44). In the Guildhall are also an iron knife, an iron javelin-head, three bronze keys, and a vase of yellowish ware, all from the same part of the Thames (Cat. (1908), 37, No. 68; 57 No. 259; 65–6, Nos. 48, 58 and 63; and 93, No. 362).


  • 1. For the views of C Roach Smith, see Arch., XXIX, 159 ff, and Illus. Rom. Land., 20–21; cf. J. E. Price, Rom. Antiq. .. .on the site of the Nat. Safe Dep. Co.'s Premises, 18–19; Dr. P. Norman in Arch., LX, 219–29; Prof. Haverfield in Journ. Rom. Studies, I, 152–3; and Prof. Lethaby, Londinium, 81–3.
  • 2. See contemporary account of these discoveries in Appendix I to these notes.
  • 3. For a summary of these finds, see Appendices 2 and 3 to these notes and V.C.H., London, I, 109–11, which gives further references.
  • 4. See A. H. Thomas, Some Recent Contributions to the Early History of London, in History, IX, 93.
  • 5. e.g., W. Tite, Cat. Antiq. Roy. Exch., XII; J. E. Price, op. cit., 18–19.
  • 6. Survey (Ed. Kingsford), I, 23. Stow's method may be clearly seen by comparing his translation of the charter (1, 43) with the passage quoted above and with other references to the same grant in the Survey, I, 21–2, 206.
  • 7. op. at., XII.
  • 8. Arch., LX, 229.
  • 9. Cott. MS. Faustina, A, 3, fo. 63b.
  • 10. J. Armitage Robinson, Manuscripts of Westminster Abbey, 99.
  • 11. Among the Westminster Abbey Muniments: fo. 98a.
  • 12. Armitage Robinson, op. cit., 93.
  • 13. Regczta Regum Anglo-Normannorum, I, 126–7 (XXXI), 58 (217).
  • 14. Cott. MS. Faustina, A, 3, fo. 63 b.: abbreviations expanded.
  • 15. Londinium, 82.
  • 16. fo. 98a: abbreviations expanded.
  • 17. Cott. Chart., VI, 3.
  • 18. fo. 51.
  • 19. Regesta, I, 4 (11).
  • 20. IV, 330 ff.
  • 21. Cott. Chart., VI, 3: abbreviations expanded.
  • 22. Calendar of Letter-Book B, 243.
  • 23. Calendar of Letter-Book G, 225.
  • 24. Stow's Survey, ed. Strype, I, Bk. 2, p. 166: II, 193.
  • 25. See A. L. Simon. History of the Wine Trade, I, 132 ff.
  • 26. Guildhall: Husting Roll, XVII, 2.
  • 27. Husting Rolls: X, 29, 30, 31: XVII, 2, 36.