Inside the Collection

Archaeology Week- ‘Pompeii of the north’ in Powerhouse’s Guildhall Collection

Photograph of Earthenware oil lamp
A3161 Earthenware oil lamp, 1st-2nd century AD
Collection: Powerhouse Museum

There is currently great excitement in London as evidence of Roman lives – wonderfully preserved in the London mud – are being extracted by archaeologists. Among the material are hundreds of Roman shoes, jewellery, waxed wooden writing tablets with their writing styli, jewellery, cosmetic tools, part of the Temple of Mithras and of course, pottery galore.

The three-acre site being prepared for the Bloomberg Development has been dubbed the ‘Pompeii of the north’ thanks to the waterlogged conditions created by the Walbrook, one of the many now-buried tributaries of the River Thames. The perfect conditions for organic material (such as leather shoes) to survive is either constantly dry, or as in the case of the Walbrook flowing under the city’s streets, permanently wet.

Photograph of Roman writing styli and shoe from the 1400s
Roman writing styli (A3160) and shoe (A3218) from the 1400s. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Somewhat surprisingly, the Powerhouse Museum is home to many similar artefacts from the same area of London thanks to a gift made in 1938 to this Museum from the Guildhall Museum to celebrate Sydney’s sesquicentenary. The Guildhall objects in the Powerhouse were found during municipal works rather than from archaeological excavations. However, many objects are noted with their ‘find-spots’ – either a street, location, or ‘the Walbrook’. From time-to-time we display the Guildhall material. Watch this space for notification of a display of our own ‘Pompeii in the north’ items which include a broad range of material spanning Roman, Mediaeval, Tudor through to 1700s. In the meantime search ‘Guildhall’ in the Powerhouse online catalogue. An example can be found at this link:

Photograph of Shoe parts
A3182 Shoe parts, Guildhall, London, cAD300. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

For more information see the links:

Written by Dr Paul Donnelly, Design and Society Curator.

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