A barbershop is certainly an unsuspecting location to house ancient Roman ruins, yet believe it or not this barbershop and hairdressers tucked within the Square Mile of London has exactly that. Nicholson and Griffin is a modern gents barbershop and ladies hairdressers that has fragments of the Roman London’s basilica hidden underneath its floorboards.
The basilica was originally built in AD 70 and underwent expansion in AD 90-120. It acted as a public building and was a place used for administration and governmental purposes, housed courts of law, the treasury and shrines – similar to a modern day town hall.
Londinium’s (as the Romans called London) basilica was in fact the largest Roman building north of the Alps. It took up almost two hectares of land and stood at a height of three storeys, making it larger than St. Paul’s Cathedral!
The basilica formed one side of a larger structure with the forum forming three sides, this created a large open-air square that acted as a public meeting place. The forum served as a marketplace with numerous shops and market stalls, and later on become more functional as a place of public meetings and affairs.
It was the epicenter of Roman London. Interestingly the basilica has remained in the heart of London’s financial and legal industries, as it lies beneath an army of offices as part of London’s leading financial district.
Unfortunately, most of the basilica and forum was destroyed in AD 300 as part of Rome’s punishment for London supporting the rebel emperor Carausius during his revolt. Some small fragments of the destruction did survive luckily, including the remains in Leadenhall Market which were found during its construction in the 1880’s. Other remains of the forum were found on Lime Street however these sadly aren’t open to the public.
The barbershop is tucked by the Gracechurch Street entrance of Leadenhall Market which is a part of the fabric of London’s history too. The market dates back to the 14th century and was originally a meat, poultry and game market. Now it is some restaurants, bars, cafes, and boutique stores, and has even featured in a Harry Potter film. It was used as the exterior of Diagon Alley and The Leaky Cauldron (10 points to Gryffindor if you can guess which film).
The ruins are free to see, although we recommend asking of one of staff nicely if they could allow you to view the remains. The ruins are visibly through a glass door on the lower floor of the barbershop and is preserved by the Museum of London, who have thoughtfully added an information board by the site.