Hyde900 explores Alfred’s London

datePosted on 14:20, June 3rd, 2014

Walking King Alfred’s London


On Saturday 17th May an intrepid group of Hyde900 members and friends along with Morris the cockerpoo, set off in search of King Alfred’s London, in the capable hands of City of London Guide, Val Pretlove.


Assembling in the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral we learnt that after the Romans packed up and left Londinium in 410 AD, it was abandoned and used as farmland. In 886 AD Alfred reclaimed and regenerated the city by taking the land from the Vikings and turning it into the habitable Lundenburgh; building houses, markets and churches, creating streets and wards and a structure of governance headed by aldermen.  The current Queenhithe and Billingsgate became important quays.


The first St Paul’s Cathedral had been founded in 604 AD and burnt down in 962 AD. The rebuilt church was moved to the current site, probably on to the site of a Roman temple on the western hill away from the derelict Roman forum and basilica. Whilst Alfred would have been familiar with the area where we were standing, he certainly would not have been familiar with the traffic and building noise that assailed us once we moved out of the cathedral precincts.


Arriving in Ludgate, Val explained that this was the most likely gate through which Alfred would have entered the city, as he came in from the west.  The Roman gates would also have played a crucial role in determining the main streets of Alfred’s city, with the lesser streets connecting on a grid system. Thus Cheap, Criplegate, Cornhill, Dowgate, Queenhithe, and Wallbrook all signified the cities original entrances.


Walking along Cheapside we learned that this street had been Alfred’s major market area with the roads leading down to the river named after major commodities e.g. Bread Street, Milk Street, Wood Street and Bow Lane.  Cheap, or chip therefore meant not inexpensive but market and appears in the same context in towns such as Chipping Norton.


Guildhall Square is always an impressive place to visit and Val pointed out the shape of the Roman forum outlined in the paving and speculated that this had probably been the focus of government in the west of Alfred’s city.


There isn’t a great deal of Alfred’s London left to see and touch but with a knowledgeable guide and a good imagination we began to get a sense of Arthur’s city and it’s impact on the London of today. However, moving down to the river the extraordinarily well preserved Saxon Queenhithe dock, established by Alfred, was a surprising exception.


Val speculated on the site of Alfred’s bridge across the Thames but crossing the river certainly wasn’t a problem for us, so having thanked her for a fascinating tour, Hyde900 set forth fearlessly across to the south bank to experience the delights of Borough Market at lunchtime.


Comments are closed.